How I Made Sketchnoting My Convo-Starter

I sketchnote talks I attend, stories I hear, interesting people I meet. Here are some of my favorites and how I got started.

It all started with a sketchnoting lesson from the incredible Kate Rutter, “it’s a lesson in listening,” she said, “not in art.”

“Hmm,” I thought, “listening is art… wait what?”

Obviously I needed a lesson in listening. So I decided to take up sketchnoting. The first sketchnote I ever attempted was this one:

Julian Treasure — How to speak so that people want to listen

After I finished, I realized that I was indeed absorbing the content and synthesizing it into pictorial form as opposed to just mindlessly copying down all words uttered by the speaker.

My mind didn’t wander. My brain stayed on topic.

So I continued.

Jennifer Ng — “Don’t ask me what I didn’t do, ask me how I am.”

Since I attend a lot of guest speaker talks, I started sketchnoting them and tweeting the notes at the speakers. I did this for about 3 months.

Then I realized something… this wasn’t a thing that a lot of people did. And this was getting me attention. People were tweeting me back.

Like Asana’s Sam Goertler.

Sam Goertler (Asana) — “You go to the design room during a redesign, and it’s like totally A Beautiful Mind in there.”

Sam Goertler — “Meet Fred. Fred is awkward. And that was kind of like Asana.”

And Netflix’s Gibson Biddle

Gibson Biddle (Netflix) — “Wicked Hard Decisions- Like Qwikster. Oh god Qwikster.”



And Audrey Liu from Thumbtack.

Audrey Liu (Thumbtack) — “You’re designing a product for the nooks and crannies of someone’s life.”

Thumbtack — Look at your remote control. “Uh.. what?”

I started reaching out to people via sketchnotes. In a sea of thousands of designers in San Francisco, I needed a differentiator. And eventually, I started forming connections here and there because of my sketchnotes. People even started reaching out to me, asking for lessons.

And before long, I found myself in a strange situation where Phil Jaber from Philz Coffee was hunting me down for my sketchnote, introducing me to his assistant, and the Philz Coffee Marketing team was reaching out to see if they could instagram my stuff.

My stuff.

Like… what?

Phil Jaber (Philz Coffee) — “I visited 1100 coffee shops. I wanted to see why people go there.”


In the end I realized one thing:

Just because you enjoy doing something and it comes easily to you… doesn’t mean that it is any less valuable than if it had been difficult.

Find your super power. Speak to it. Turn it into a conversation piece.


Here are some more of my favorite sketchnotes.

Nir Eyal (Hooked)- Habit Forming Products — “it’s time to get unHooked.”


Eli & Anne (Airbnb) — Speak to Your Superpowers- “Everything you’ve done, is super valuable.”

“Pester that recruiter.”


Kathy Zheng (GitHub) — “Design is Not Art. Design is Problem Solving.”

“I drew foxes. I started a blog. I got followers. That’s how I started my career in UX.”


Audrey Crane (DesignMap) — “Just because it’s easy, or you enjoy it… doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.”

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