South By South West Sketchnotes

South By South West Sketchnotes

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By Mike Rohde

Published on March 18, 2008

For the last few years, Milwaukee-based designer Mike Rohde has been diligently taking notes at the various conference sessions he attends. But Rohde’s notes are slightly different than you or I might take—the inveterate doodler fills page after page of his moleskine notebooks with quotes, sketches, and soundbites; creating a unique record and feeling for the speaker and topic.

Digital Web spoke to Mike about his ‘sketchnotes’ approach and his latest visit to chronicle South By South West.

DW: Are sketchnotes something you’ve always done, or did it take a while to nail down the form?

MR: The sketchnotes have evolved over time from more traditional, text-based notes with the occasional drawing or illustration. I’ve taken notes at talks of all sorts for many years, and have learned how to listen for concepts and capture them in text form. As I began introducing illustrations and emphasis of text through use of hand-drawn fonts, I found these enhancements to my notes made them much more interesting to review after the fact, and fun for others to view too. I’ve been experimenting for a few years now on various blends of text, drawings, and hand-drawn fonts, capturing three recent events with a “sketchnote” style. These include UX Intensive, the first SEED Conference in Chicago, and SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas.

DW: How do you work—is it all captured during the talk, or do you go back later and fill in the details?

MR: My approach is to capture concepts in real time, summarizing what the speaker is saying in concise statements, illustrations and headlines on a Moleskine pocket sketchbook, using a black Pilot G2 gel pen. Instead of trying to capture every last detail, I am forced to analyze and capture broader concepts and ideas, along with little illustrations to reinforce those ideas. I also like capturing memorable quotes from a talk, that might spark memories of the ideas when I review the notes later on.

DW: Do you ever worry about missing out an important part of the presentation—why is this approach better than long-form note taking?

MR: I think the sketchnote style works best for awakening concepts from talks in attendees’ minds even months after the fact, yet are full and clear enough that even those who didn’t attended the talk can find useful ideas in them. Technically speaking, I find the small size of the pocket sketchbook limiting enough to force me to summarize ideas I’m hearing, plus it’s easy to carry around all day long. The thicker weight sketchbook paper of the Moleskine works well to stop bleed through on the backs of pages, and holds heavy ink coverage well. So far my SXSW Interactive sketchnotes seem quite popular, and I love that they are helping attendees and non-attendees alike glean useful information and ideas from the sessions I was able to attend.

Digital Web is pleased to present sketchnotes covering three of the most popular sessions at South By South West, fully transcribed for a more accessible experience, together with links to supporting material online.

A General Theory of Creative Relativity (Jim Coudal)

From the SXSW panel schedule:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, good ideas don’t just pop up out of nowhere. Mediocre and even bad ones do too. Using a strict pseudo-scientific methodology, unsubstantiated analogies and unnecessarily obscure pop-culture references, Coudal will present, for the first time anywhere, a unified theory of creativity. Supported by a smattering of dubious statistical research as well as half-baked documentation and unreproducible experimental data, this unified theory holds the promise of challenging everything we know about “the creative process.” Or perhaps not.

“Needing to know Math pushed me into Advertising and Design from being an architect or scientist. Theory: When we evaluate something (e.g. a film) it’s hard to get to the heart of that creative event. What makes creative things happen? We have chalkboard paint on the bathroom walls at Coudal. Created “Booking Bands”; combine a book name with a band = funny jokes.”

“Either temporarily holding a book title in your mind, looking for a matching band, or holding a band name while seeking appropriate book names – NOT randomly flipping through both.

“Elemental: constant + variable = a creative event

“Known + unknown is a method to creative telling of stories, design and more… associating the two elements is the creative act we do.

“Pricing and Value? Either painful projects that take hard work and are tough to do, or projects you get in a flash going through a toll booth. How can you build a business on these two disparate ways of solving creative problems? Obey the passion. It comes from inside – a moment of enthusiasm. It’s a wave form – a creative amplifier. “I live for that!”

“Rules, restraints and limits help us to solve problems, not unlimited options. On the other end is refining to infinity – never good enough.

“Look through other ways of solving their problems to help solve my own problems. This is LIKE1. LIKE2 = summary; LIKE3 = comparisons as aesthetic decision. Used daily. Taste is ephemeral and can’t be taught.

Key quotes:

  • “We don’t have any plans about anything. Purposefully without a business plan for the 13th year.”
  • “Nothing will get your attention faster than not enough money on Wednesday to pay the payroll on Friday.” (on how his firm made the jump to products from services)
  • “Come together and unify on the goals – then break and make up rough ideas – then come back together and argue about it.” – on how the Coudal team break creative blockages they face
  • “Get new people” – on colleagues who fear sharing ideas

Listen to the podcast.

From Frustration to Elation: Getting Emotional by Design (Dan Rubin, Eris Stassi, Didier Hilhorst)

From the SXSW panel schedule:

Why do users form relationships with some products over others? What makes people develop feelings for software (good and bad)? We’ll show practical ways to make your application more appealing to your users avoid creating abusive relationships, and discuss what it means to practice responsible design, including:

  • Recognizing your audience’s emotional attachment.
  • Understanding how (and when) to think about the emotional elementsof your product/design.
  • Ways to improve your process so you can avoid creating “abusive” products.

“Why do we have attachments to the things we use? Happy, content, pleased, successful, delighted – cool. When this is done correctly we don’t even notice. First impressions are very powerful – more powerful than subsequent impresions, so it need to be positive and we must work to hold that sense by using communications.

  • Communicate: Those products who communicate well have a step on their competitors – super key when unexpected things occur.
  • Trust and commitment: Building and maintaining trust tied into a commitment to provide a level of service or quality we can count on – and this can then be projected outward by the people who use it.
  • Forgiveness: Not user or product, it’s people! We will make errors and NOT get things right – so we need forgiveness.
  • Respect: Sums up all the rest of the elements – built on a consistency and is an attitude a product (or a person) can build by being consistent and reliable. “A product that can correct our mistakes as they happen gains our trust” – John Maeda. It’s about watching out for users.

“Translate concepts you’ve experienced with people and translate those concepts into how our products treat users of our products.”

  • Bad Relationships: Not appreciated; Being used; Feeling ignored; Agitated; Resentful of the product
  • Conflict and escalation: When conflicts tumble out of control. Blaming and being stubborn leads to bad things – deception and jealousy, leads to nightmares. Aim at Hope and Redemption – The Golden Rule.
  • Experience of Flow: There is always a story to tell others.
  • Memory recall: Tastes, smells, music. These kinds of memories can evoke emotions for users.
  • Symbolic meaning: Symbols have power to effect our feelings and emotions.
  • Tactile experience: Hard to offer in software very easily – yet can be done to a degree. Explore tactility.

Feelings – Function – Form. Form follows feelings and function.

Visit the website and download the slides.

Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Great Design Hurts (John Gruber, Michael Lopp)

From the SXSW panel schedule:

The core dilemma for talented designers in any field is this: If you strive for greatness in your design, you will meet resistance; if you strive to avoid resistance, you can’t do great design. Different is scary. Great design has to fight with the idea that many see “better” as meaning “more of the same”. The better your work and the higher your standards, the more you’ll have to fight against the urge to stay within the warm, safe confines of mediocrity.

“Design has many definitions. The obsessive Mentos theory: the Mentos box is cardboard yet it has a latch that works. Design is a present. Those who open presents at Christmas because they enjoy the build-up. [Apple] packaging porn. How? Keep the bar high.

“Fear of Blue. There is no barrier to having a design opinion. “I want a pony!” – something important only to higher-ups who have power over you.

Where to sweat? Pixel-perfect mockups – tons of work, but there is no ambiguity about what is being decided upon. These kinds of mockups are work, but provide clarity. 10 to 3 to 1. Paired design meetings: brainstorm and production (blue sky ideas and reality check). The pony meeting – showing the “pony” people what’s up every 2 weeks – lets the pony people get ideas heard.

“Better design work equals less resistance is a fallacy. The Beatles White Album was different and now we see it as amazing – back in the 60s that wasn’t true for every Beatles fan. New does not necessarily equal Better – new and different is scary. Common client request: “Exactly the same but better.”

“Great design is the opposite of taking the plea bargain – it’s risky. Could be awesome or terrible from the client’s perspective. Paul Rand: “Don’t try to be original, just try to be good.” Different vs. original – focus on being good not original. “Do or do not, there is no try” – Yoda.

“A logo derives its meaning from the quality of the thing it represents, not the other way around” – Paul Rand. The ABC logo – another Rand logo design – is just variations on the circle. It seems very simple but it isn’t.

“Idea vs. Production – the ideas is more important. Don’t confuse great design with quantity of design.

“The Apple logo = Temptation, desire, wanting. How to design to stand the test of time? Project back 20 years.

“Design is making decisions and packaging them as a whole” – Gruber

“Alfred Hitchcock was the one who made entire films by planning out his movies with storyboards and shooting them just that way. One way.

“Are you willing to be called an A-hole?” – Gruber

Be dedicated to the integrity of your work to the point of not compromising on what you believe is right. Say NO.

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Mike Rohde is an art director, designer and blogger. With more than 20 years experience as a professional designer and art director, Mike specializes in corporate identity design, web design, and icon design at MakaluMedia Group. He’s been blogging at Rohdesign Weblog since 2003, and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.