How we sketchnoted an entire conference…

Redgate recently ran its second internal product development conference — LevelUp 2019 — with promises from the organisers of it being bigger and better than the first iteration. On Tuesday 19Th March, 120 people from across the organisation, from product engineering to sales, from marketing to support, jetted off to IWM Duxford for a day full of learning and jet planes!

Unfortunately, we faced the awful yet very common problem at conferences, where the program is so good it’s hard to decide which sessions to attend. We had an amazing lineup of over 40 Redgaters delivering a wide array of talks and workshops across three themes, Culture, Build and Customers. To tackle this problem, a small but determined group of sketchnoters set out to capture as many sessions as possible in all their glory, with the ultimate aim of collating them all together into some sort of glossy comic-book-slash-brochure to remember the conference by!


Wait, what the heck is a sketchnote?

Sketchnotes are a way of taking notes that combines simple written notes with more visual elements, such as shapes and connectors. Combining words with visuals stimulates more of your brain that words alone, meaning sketchnotes can aid with memory, plus they also look so much better than just a bunch of bullet points. This makes them a great way of capturing things such as conference talks!

So I need to be an artist, right?

ABSOLUTELY NOT! Sketchnoting does not require any real degree of artistic skills, just the drive to represent ideas and concepts visually. I mean, I personally hated art class at school, but loved the idea of jazzing up my notes! Most of us were inexperienced as sketchnoters — all I’d done is attend a whistle-stop “intro to sketchnoting” workshop from one of the other attendees — but we created a safe space for everyone to flex their doodling muscles, regardless of ability.

How did we organise?

In order to capture as many sessions as possible, we used the tried and trusted organisational method of a slack channel to share our plans for LevelUp. We also used the visual medium of the conference program itself and a bunch of coloured dots with our names on them to mark who was planning to attend which session. Given we held an array of different positions within the company (designers, software engineers and even a tech lead), this covered most of the sessions with very little input, as we were all planning on going to different sessions anyway. With the safety net of knowing the sessions were being recorded anyway, we knew we could also go back and sketchnote any that we missed after the conference!

How we organised who would sketchnote what

How we did the sketchnotes

In order to keep some degree of consistency across our sketchnotes, we agreed upon a fairly standard format beforehand, with the theme on the left, title in the middle and a doodle of the speaker on the right. This ensured we captured all the essential information about each session, while still leaving each person with enough freedom to add their own creative flair.

An example of a sketchnote header

What gear do I need to sketchnote?

To get started with sketchnoting, literally all you need is a sheet of paper and a single pen! Like famous artists, we all have our own styles, and our own equipment preferences. For instance, some people sketchnote on a iPad with an Apple pencil and some people use exotic pens you can’t buy in UK shops. Personally, I use a bunch of fineliner drawing pens with different thicknesses I got from Hobbycraft, and some lovely pastel colouring pens to a pop of colour and emphasis. This trick is to experiment and find what works for you. For a crash course in how to sketchnote, I’d highly recommend checking out Chris Spalton’s “Intro to Sketchnotes Cheatsheet”, available at https://uxplanet.org/free-intro-to-sketchnotes-cheatsheet-d1cf8566441b

How did it go?

Overall, the sketchnotes were a huge success! Not only were they great fun to make, we’ve had feedback from attendees that they captured all the important information from a bunch of sessions that they unfortunately couldn’t attend. I’ll let the below examples speak for themselves.

Credit to Adrian Banks (Adrian’s twitter)
Credit to Ian Johnson (Ian’s twitter)
Credit to Sybil Hoang (Sybil’s twitter)
Credit to Chris Spalton (Chris’s twitter)
Credit to me (Thomas Walshtwitter)