how visual thinking affects creativity and memory with Mike Rohde

Mike Rohde is the bestselling author of The Sketchnote Handbook and The Sketchnote Workbook. He presents sketchnoting workshops around the world that encourage people to use visual thinking skills to generate, capture, and share ideas more effectively.

In this awesome interview, we talk about sketchnoting, including what it is and how to do it. And we talk about Mike’s traditional publishing journey and how he was able to make his book a success.

Visual Thinking Benefits

Visual thinking isn’t just a skill that’s important for right-brain, ultra-creative designers. In fact, visualization and visual thinking evolved to help our ancestors better survive, and it’s a key aspect of human intelligence.

Even if you tend to be a very poor visual thinker, practicing with sketchnoting and drawing can make a big difference in your creative output and ability to solve problems.

There are huge benefits to using visual and spatial thinking. It can boost your creativity, activate differents parts of your brain, and help you come up with new and unique ideas that you never would have come up with otherwise.

So don’t worry if you can’t draw, find it almost impossible to visualize, or scored poorly on visual or IQ tests. You don’t need to be a genius to benefit from the fun and creative insights that can come from a little visual thinking.

And one of the best and easiest ways to get started is with sketchnoting.

What Is Sketchnoting?

Sketchnoting is a visual way of taking notes. Normally, notes are text-based. But there’s a problem with that: text-based notetaking limits the type and amount of information that you can record and remember.

Text-based notetaking relies on just that one mode of taking notes. The human brain processes text-based notes one way and image-based notes in a different way.

Sketchnoting allows us to capture more data and use more areas of our brain, increasing the likelihood that we’re going to remember that data.

Using the sketchnoting technique allows you to process information visually. Human beings are very visual people, and we’re becoming more so in the Internet Age, especially now that smartphones are everywhere.

Just think about how you react to image posts on Facebook or Instagram, in contrast to long text posts. Pictures get your attention!

people pay more attention to pictures

The Four Components of Sketchnoting

There are four main things elements involved in sketchnoting:

1. Drawing

This is exactly what it sounds like. You’re drawing images related to what you’re taking notes on.

2. Lettering

Here, you draw the letter rather than print it—you’re using your visual brain and your drawing and handwriting skills to process information differently so you remember it better.

3. Writing

Your drawn and hand-lettered notes aren’t the only way to remember things. In sketchnoting, you also add text-based notes to accompany your drawings, giving you multiple ways to process, record, and remember information so that you use all parts of your brain.

4. Selection

You don’t have to write down every word you hear. Record the really important stuff, whatever jumps out at you about the topic you’re taking notes on. You’ll remember more if you don’t try to remember everything, but pick out the important bits.

Handwritten Notes vs. Notes Typed on a Computer

Scientific studies have shown that people who write handwritten notes recall the subject matter much better than people who use a laptop to type what they’re hearing word for word.

When the scientists looked into the results more deeply, they discovered that actually using pen and paper to record notes forced the people who were doing it to analyze what they were hearing and condense it. Writing by hand means you have to think about the subject matter actively in order to take notes.

In contrast, the people who were typing acted like stenographers and were unable to recall the material as well because they didn’t actively engage with the material when they took notes—the words flowed onto the page without actually getting processed, so they lost out on a valuable part of the learning and memory process.

How to Use Sketchnoting

You can use sketchnoting to:

  • Take notes in a meeting
  • Capture processes
  • Capture experiences

Check out Mike’s sketchnote about a latte art competition at a café!

how to use sketchnoting

Sketchnoting Is for Everyone

You might feel like sketchnoting is something you can’t do because you aren’t good at drawing. But that’s not true! Sketchnoting is for everyone in the same way that writing and typing are for everyone.

Sketchnoting is about capturing ideas visually. You’re taking notes for yourself. If you draw something that captures the idea that you want to remember, that’s all you need to do.

It doesn’t have to be a museum-worthy art piece. It just has to capture the idea you want to recall and use later, in whatever way works for you. And by adding a little extra visual element to your notes, you can boost your creativity and improve your memory.

What’s not to like?

Mike Rohde quotes

The Five Basic Elements of Drawing

In his efforts to make sketchnoting accessible to everyone, Mike hit on the five basic elements of drawing:

  • A square
  • A circle
  • A triangle
  • A line
  • A dot

In The Sketchnote Handbook, Mike teaches you how to combine these elements to be able to sketchnote the idea that you want to communicate, no matter whether you think you’re good at drawing or not.

Sketchnoting incorporates sketches and text to communicate ideas. So if you’re not really good at sketching when you start, you can lean more heavily on text.

The ratio of sketches to text will also change depending upon what you’re taking notes on. If you’re taking notes for a meeting and need to record details, you’re probably going to rely more heavily on text.

But if you’re sketchnoting a TED Talk, you might be more inspired to sketch most of your notes.

Mike Rohde’s Traditional Publishing Journey

Mike got his book deal because a published author friend of his encouraged him to write a book about sketchnoting, then recommended him to the acquisitions editor at Peachpit press.

From there, he created a book proposal, drafted the book, and came up with graphic art for the project.

Mike attributes his success to developing friendships with people without a motive. His approach to networking is to be friends with as many people as possible, and to be nice to everyone.

Mike’s Marketing Plan

Mike did two things to market his first book on sketchnoting:

  1. He blogged regularly about the process of creating the book.
  2. He used social media to identify influencers in his market space to send review copies to.

Mike believes that regular blog updates coupled with sending review copies to influencers allowed his book to be a success faster than it otherwise would have been.

Links and Resources Mentioned in This Interview — Mike’s website — Connect with Mike on Twitter — Connect with Mike on Instagram — See other people’s sketchnotes on this blog and get inspired

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking — Mike’s book on sketchnoting

The Sketchnote Workbook — Mike’s second book on sketchnoting, which teaches sketchnoting techniques


Have you tried sketchnoting? Share in the comments!


For more creative note-taking ideas, read on: