Getting sketchy at SXSWedu

Sketchnote from the SXSWedu keynote by Bill Gates in Austin, TX on March 7, 2013.

Sketchnote from the SXSWedu keynote by Bill Gates in Austin, TX on March 7, 2013.

My trip to Texas this week was my first time to attend anything SXSW. Hell, it was my first visit to Austin. (Hook ‘em Horns!) SXSWedu is the kid brother to SXSW Music/Film/Interactive: Edu is only 3 years old and has a mere 5000 attendees—so while more than double the 2000 who attended last year it pales in comparison to the nearly 40,000 who attend Interactive.

But it still presents attendees with the same challenges that all conferences do: so many competing sessions to choose from and so much information to absorb over a short period of time.

So during my three packed days at SXSWedu I experimented with a new form of documentation that’s gaining traction: sketchnotes. Put simply, sketchnoting transforms traditional note taking with illustration: you draw what you hear. Instead of just plain text, a sketchnote also includes fonts, drawings, and symbols of the sketchnoter’s own imagination. The beauty is that it forces the sketchnoter to creatively distill the speaker’s message down to its essence. And it’s catching on: the hashtag #SXnotes for all sketchnoters at SXSW is already active on Twitter.

A sketchnote by the author of a SXSWedu session hosted by Jennifer Chan, Don Adams, Jonathan Lau, and Kathryn Meisner on March 5, 2013 in Austin, TX.

Sketchnote by the author of a SXSWedu session hosted by Jennifer Chan, Don Adams, Jonathan Lau, and Kathryn Meisner on March 5, 2013 in Austin, TX.

I was first introduced to sketchnotes by Jessica Esch (@jesch30), who is one of 15 sketchnote artists featured in the 2012 release The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking, authored by the man who coined the term “sketchnote” and is the granddaddy of them all, Mike Rohde (@rohdesign). He’ll be at SXSWInteractive along with the NYC duo Image Think, who are hosting a SXSW Sketchnote Meetup on March 10.

I attended 11 sessions during my time at SXSWedu and I produced a sketchnote for each one. (You can view my entire SXSWedu collection on my Flickr page). Some standout sessions included four Toronto education reform sparkplugs (@jennzia, @explorcuriosity, @donaldbadams, @kathrynmeisner) who presented “Breaking Down the Walls of School,” a keynote from educator superstar Alan November (@globalearner) entitled, “Creating a New Culture of Teaching and Learning,” and a panel devoted the future of college campus design moderated by the architecture firm Gensler (@gensleroncities). In every case, I listened differently and I remember more days later.

This coming quarter, MCDM student and Flip contributor Cheryl Lowry will be conducting an independent study with me on sketchnotes, where she’ll research this growing visual communication strategy.

A final thought: sketchnoting blends the high and low tech parts of my personality: I love the simplicity of a pen and graph paper, and I love to strategically tag and push my sketchnotes out on social media.

It’s a digital-analog marriage built to last.

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