Sketchnoting Layout: Portrait or Landscape?


Is it better to take notes with your page in portrait mode or landscape mode?

That’s the question we’ll be exploring today.

Defining Our Terms

Let’s start by defining our terms.

Landscape refers to the orientation that is wider than it is tall. It’s the horizontal option.

Portrait, on the other hand, is taller than it is wide, which makes it the vertical option.

When it comes to deciding which orientation is best for your skethchnotes, I think the question to ask yourself is this:

What is your process for filling the page?

Defining your note-taking process is something that I encourage because it takes away some of the fear of the blank page. It gives you a starting point for the sketchnotes you’re about to take.

With that  question in mind, let’s take a look at each of our options.

Landscape

To me, landscape feels like the more open option.

I think as human beings we’re better at scanning horizontally than we are at scanning vertically, which is why landscape mode feels more natural to me.

A few specific processes come to mind when I think about what approach is best suited to landscape note-taking.

The first is one that I’ve named the brick road approach, which entails filling the page one imagined rectangle at a time, each rectangle containing some combination of words and visuals.

I think that landscape also lends itself well to a mind-mapping approach to your sketchnotes, where you might start in the center of the page with the main idea or guiding question and then add details around it.

Both of those are examples of more flexible processes of filling the page. There are a few constraints, but also a lot of freedom.

Portrait

While landscape feels open to me, portrait feels a bit more closed. That’s not a bad thing, though, it simply influences the type of note-taking process that’s best suited for it.

In this case I think a simpler, top-to-bottom approach would work well, with each row containing a single idea expressed with some combination of words and visuals, similar to the rectangles of the brick road approach.

That process can be found within the combined Cornell Method plus sketchnoting techniques that I describe here, which is also well-suited for the more vertical page.

In these cases, what we see are more structured processes that are a bit heavier on the constraints.

A Few Examples

Which mode works best for you depends largely on which type of process you feel better suits your skills and your needs. I’ve enjoyed using both, and I’ll share a few examples from each side.

There was a period of time when I was sketchnoting primarily in the small pocket Moleskine notebooks:

I used each page in portrait mode, working top-to-bottom, never worrying about running out of space because there was always another clean page that I could turn to.

Now here’s an example of using a mind map approach in a landscape orientation:

I enjoyed this process because it allowed me to make connections between the various ideas that came up in an hour-long podcast episode.

Finally, here’s a large-scale example of the brick road approach:

This one is heavier on the visuals with a bit more color as well, and not quite the same capacity for connecting ideas as the mind map approach, but still enough to place related ideas next to each other when possible.

Your Turn

I hope that that break down of options and those real examples help you to decide which approach to layout might fit you best.

You’ll never know until you give it a try though, so just jump in and see which feels more natural to you.

Good luck!

-Doug

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Want To Dig Deeper?

If you’re new to the idea of sketchnoting and excited to develop more visual thinking tools, I think you’d enjoy our foundational course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking.

If you’d like to make sketchnoted videos like the one you saw here, we’ve got a course for that too! Check out How To Make Sketchnote Videos.

And if you’re an educator interested in bringing visual note-taking into your classroom, check out Sketchnoting In The Classroom.