iPad Sketchnotes: A Simple Template - Verbal to Visual, Doug Neill

iPad Sketchnotes: A Simple Template

For the most part, I’m a pen-and-paper guy. I lean toward analog note-taking materials as opposed to digital tools.

But with the release of the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, there was a shift in my perspective. The process of writing and drawing with that tool combination in particular was close enough to the pen-and-paper experience that I knew I wanted to explore more.

So I’ve been on the lookout for what my approach to iPad sketchnotes might be. In this post I’d like to share my most recent experiment.

The First Failed Attempt

It started with a failure.

I wanted to sketchnote an interview with Jia Tolentino about her new book Trick Mirror, but it was a bit clunky from the start.

My failed first attempt at real-time digital sketchnoting.

I used a dot grid background to help with consistent sizing and spacing, and I created a color palette from the book cover, but what I didn’t put in place was a process for how I’d go about filling the page.

So after fumbling through a bit note-taking, I decided to pause, add some simple guidelines to the page, and then get back to it.

A Simple Template

I tend to think of two different categories when it comes to the layout of your visual notes: a structured approach and an organic one.

With a structured approach, you add some dividing lines to the page before the note-taking begins so that you don’t have to decide on the fly where each individual idea goes. Instead you just fill one chunk of space with one idea, and then move on to the next.

That’s the approach that I took with this simple template for my iPad sketchnotes:

A simple approach to structuring ideas on the digital page.

I gave a long horizontal space at the top for a title, six equally-sized boxes to capture six stories that came up during the conversation (this time an interview between Justin Vernon and Zane Lowe about the new Bon Iver album), and a small space at the bottom to add my signature.

With that added bit of structure in place, I was ready to jump in.

A Few Reflections

About an hour later, here’s how my sketchnotes turned out:

The completed sketchnotes of Justin Vernon’s conversation with Zane Lowe about the new Bon Iver album.

A few reflections on my experience:

  • I used layers a lot, pretty much for each line of text and each drawing. That allowed me to do some repositioning later as necessary (I like to center things). Later on I merged some of those layers to make repositioning a group easier.
  • The dot grid came in real handy for drawing straight lines, keeping text height consistent, and making sure that I didn’t drift up or down as I wrote across the screen.
  • Within a few boxes, I just got the text down first (without a visual), and then moved on. It was helpful knowing that I could add a visual for it later, or maybe merge that idea into a future box, or get rid of it entirely.
  • I did the final arranging of each chunk after I had finished listening to the interview. That’s also when I added the title and signature. It was nice to complete those at a slower pace, without any new information coming in.
  • As someone newer to real-time sketch noting on the iPad, this level of constraint (the chunking of one story per box), was really helpful. I would definitely use this approach again.
  • There are also a few other processes that I’d like to try out in a digital form: a mind-map or a flow chart that has connections as the focus instead of individual scenes; maybe some two-stage sketchnoting (first filter the ideas with a bullet point list while listening, then decide how to visualize them on the screen).

So all-in-all, I’m happy with how these sketchnotes turned out and excited to keep experimenting with digital sketchnoting.

Dig Deeper

Want to take these types of visual notes yourself? To learn the basics (for either digital or pen-and-paper sketchnoting) check out our course An Introduction to Visual Note-Taking:

Reconnect to making marks by hand as you learn to use text, layout, imagery, and color to engage your visual brain.

That course will walk you step-by-step through the process of developing all of the individual skills you need, and then you’ll get to bring those skills together into your own sketchnoting process.

You can also check out our full course library here.

No matter what tools you use, good luck capturing interesting ideas and doing something useful with them!