Sketchnoting and working analog with Mike Rohde

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I've been following Mike since he first published the Sketchnote Handbook. For many of us sketch noters, he's The Godfather of this work. We talked a bit about working analog and how we approach the divide between the digital world and the physical world.

Bio About The Guest

Mike Rohde is a Principal User Experience Designer and Visualizer at Johnson Controls helping innovate business with visual and design thinking. He's the author of the best selling book The Sketchnote Handbook and creator of the Sketchnote Ideabook.

Episode Summary

In this episode, Mike and I spoke about...

  • Prototyping
  • Sketchnoting
  • Transitioning to analog to digital
  • Creating The Sketchnote Handbook The Sketchnote Workbook

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Thank you for listening. Engage with me, join my community by texting (206) 279-6694.

Date recorded August 13th, 2020
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This podcast was edited by Naya Moss and Namos Studio


Daniel Hoang: [00:00:00] I'm really excited to introduce this podcast guest, because Mike Rohde, I'm a big fan of him from the Sketchnote handbook. He's what got started me into kind of really bringing sketchnoting into my work. But as I interview him, I realized that he is more aligned to what Nineteen80 is all about because his philosophy in everything that he does is the philosophy of Nineteen80. It's one day when I have a board of directors, Mike is going to be the first to be invited and I hope he would join.

Well, here we go. So, hey! Welcome back to the Nineteen80 Podcast. Today, I'm joined with the, my, one of my amazing heroes and guests. One of the people, the original, the original, and the one and only Mike Rohde on ROH Design. And I'm going to look at it, I'm looking at his web page right now, as I do as an introduction. And to see it, I'm going to go backwards 'cause at the bottom, he's a family man. He's a husband and father. So on my, and I love the fact that you include that in your professional profile, he's a podcaster and I'm looking at him right now. He's got this amazing mic on the other side of the screen. So that's incredible. And I could go on and on you're an illustrator, a speaker, a teacher, author. You are just basically the Renaissance man. I'll put in just, in the simplest term - Mike is the Renaissance Man, so welcome to the podcast Mike, how are you doing?

Mike Rohde: [00:01:28] Well, thanks Dan. It's really great to be here.

Daniel Hoang: [00:01:31] I'm excited because in the next episode, I'm actually interviewing Sunni Brown, who was actually the first person that got me into this whole idea of just doodling.

And I think I read The Miseducation of the Doodle and that just woke something up in my brain. And I went to the article and she'd reference the Sketchnote Handbook, I bought that book and that was the Genesis of me just really doing Sketchnoting and really embedding that into my practice. And so tell me, how'd you get into the space? Like what started your role?

Mike Rohde: [00:02:00] Well, I mean, the Sketchnoting thing came from pain. It seems like as I observe other things that we appreciate now, they tend to come from painful situations and someone having to solve them. So, mine was no different. I was actually a really good note taker, but I hated taking notes.

So that's like a really bad space to be in. Part of the problem was the practice or the way that I approached it was a little bit, wrong. I'm not sure how I ended up in this place. I think because when I look back, like in my college years, even in my high school years, I was kind of doing sketchnoting. I mean, Sketchnoting has really been around for a really long time, if you want to go back far enough. Leonardo, and I mean, I guess if you want to say caves of Lascaux in France, right. There was some form of visualization and trying to communicate a story has existed for a long time. So it's not like anything I've invented. It's just, I discovered this way of doing it in a certain manner, which is really fun. So for some reason, even though I had all this history of being so analog and drawing and using visuals in this way, I really got into computers, really was a Mac computer guy. Our duo is back in the day and just fell into palm pilots. And like, all of this technology is really cool to me.

I've always had sort of a part of me is been very technically minded, but also the other part of me is very artistic and wanting to express artistically. So I think I sort of indulged my technical side a little bit more. Part of it was my role at the time I was an assistant manager, as well as a designer.

So in our small design studio, we had a network computers, all these old Macs connected with ethernet cables. We had a backup, a server, and we had backup tapes running nightly. And I was the one when Quark would eat your file, QuarkXPress this desktop publishing app, back in the day, I was the one that would try and either fix the file or go back to the backups and restore for you.

So I, I sort of leaned into my technical side in that period. And I think that's where I sort of leaned on lots of typing, and I moved away from handwritten notes. But then as I started to rediscover analog, I was moving back into this analog space, but I kind of kept the mindset of typing. So I felt it was almost like I was typing with a pencil in a giant book.

And I felt like I had to write everything down. And if I missed something that would, I was always worried about missing something or losing something. And so it was really pressure filled, which I didn't much enjoy. So I got to this point late in 2006 and said, I can't sustain this. I can't do this any more, this way.

I feel like I'm a good note taker, I'm a pretty good listener. I can analyze and strengthen analysis and sort of seeing patterns and such, but the note-taking was getting in the way of that being enjoyable. Which I knew that if it's not enjoyable, you're not going to do it, right? That's a downward cycle.

So, um, in that pain, I said, well, what would I do? How could I break out of this being a designer? You know, you're always faced with constraints of all kinds. You know, you got to use this logo. It's gotta be these two colors. You have to do it by Tuesday. Right? Always some limitation or constraint. And I'm used to working in that.

I think I work best under constraints. And so I thought, well, nobody's really putting constraints on me, but I can put a constraint on myself. And so I said, what would happen if I just inverted everything I'm doing? It's like Seinfeld and George Costanza, when he does everything the opposite and his life gets like a hundred percent better.

It was kind of like that. Except instead of a big notebook, I had carried these 8 by 10 lined rule hardcover notebooks around. And I wrote with a pencil because I was worried about making mistakes. Um, I switched it up. I said, okay, what if I went to a small pocket notebook, I purchased a moleskin notebook that was sitting around not being used because it was too pretty.

And so I said, I'm going to take, I'm taking that notebook and would be the most opposite of a pencil. And that would be, at the time, a Pilot G2 gel pen. And then I'm just going to go to a conference and see what happens. Like I didn't even have any plan for how I was going to attack this problem other than I had a small amount of pages and small page size.

And I think the importance of having the pen meant that I had to be really careful and intentional about what I put on the page, because once the ink's on the page, it's not going to come off of there. You gotta make something of it or you have to live with it. So I think the combination of those two restrictions on myself pushed me to remember that the benefit of this stuff is the analysis in the moment. The, wow, that's a really great idea. I should write that down some and use that tomorrow kind of thing, or, you know, that's really interesting idea, but it doesn't apply to me. I'm not going to capture that. Like the freedom to say that for me was really big because before that I had felt like I had to write everything down. And the big problem that, with that notetaking method I did the old way was I was really good at it. It was, I hated it, but I was really good at it. I wrote a lot down, but it was such a volume of notes that I never wanted to go back and find the value.

So it really didn't serve the purpose that I had hoped that it would provide. It was really optimistic to be, to think you could write everything down and you'd pour over your notes, but I never did. So shifting to this way of like moving the analysis into the moment really helped me sort of make those decisions up front.

And I just simply captured the things that I thought were valuable. The big ideas that I was seeing. And then the beauty of that was very, I had suddenly felt like I had all this free time to do something else. So then I was using like, I love typography and lettering. So I was doing lettering and images were coming up on the slide deck and I was drawing pictures and it was all mixed together with writing and I really had fun doing it.

So that was really good. Like the 180 degree George Costanza moment really was there. Where it was totally opposite and totally like in every way better. And then at the end I could flip through my five pages from, you know, the conference, like the whole conference I fit in five pages or something instead of, you know, 20 pages of, you know, handwritten, tiny lettering that I'd have to, I guess I really have to look through this? Like, forget it. Right?

So it was really enjoyable. And then at the time, because it was a awhile ago that the hot social media at the time was Flicker. Which does still exist in with a different owner now, but so I posted images up on flicker and I started getting comments both from the people who were presenting at this design conference, and then other people who had, had not even been at the conference all saying that it was really valuable to see my take on the, on the event.

So that was a real important sign for me that, wow, I intended these for me, but these could be really valuable for other people. That's really interesting. And it's sort of that, the combination of all those positive reinforcements sort of encouraged me to keep going forward and do more of it and experiment. And it just led to doing it a lot. And then eventually having the opportunity to write a book about it and then teach about it and sort of build a whole community around this concept as people, more and more people started doing it and finding value in  taking it ways I couldn't have imagined. That's been really fun.

Daniel Hoang: [00:08:53] And then it's a, your Genesis story is a fantastic lesson for this new digital generation, right? In this world, I'm seeing a lot of notetaking. And this younger generation is really about taking notes and knowledge management and are using tools like Evernote and whatever is out there, right? And then they're just collecting and gathering everything under the sun.

And I think what I love about your constraints is it's the opposite of that lesson, right? Like don't collect everything in the real world, right? Just like in everything in business world, you don't want to just collect data for the sake of collecting data. You don't want to measure for measuring. You want to be intentional.

And I think what I love about your method is by using, putting constraints, it forces you to be intentional. And in fact, as this world is progressing more and more to be more tech-driven, it helps us retain our humanity. Right? And not necessarily that's, what's unique with humanity, right? We're not machines. We're not about processing terabytes of data. We're about processing things like a human,

Mike Rohde: [00:09:44] Right, we have different strengths. Yeah. Pattern recognition and seeing connections and things. I think the funny, here's the funny thing - it's after doing the Sketchnoting, a lot analog. And of course now I use, I have an iPad pro and I do it digitally.

It's the same principles. It's just a different tool, in my perspective. But when I do typewritten notes, I use a tool called Ulysses for my note management. It's funny because the notes that I type actually follow more of a Sketchnoting approach. So I'm still typing, but I'm not typing everything.

I'm typing what I think is valuable. I'm making analysis that like, so the process is the same. So in a lot of ways, it's more of a mindset and an approach and an attitude. And then the method by which you capture is almost in some ways secondary. So, which really puts a lot of emphasis on listening really is the secret weapon of Sketchnoting or notetaking, listening and analysis.

The drawing is way secondary. I mean, it's, I love a great Sketchnote that a great illustrator can do. But I would rather see really good analysis and capture of information. And I think it's like, once you learn that way of doing notes like then it's just choosing the medium, what's the right medium for this capture that I'm making?

Maybe it is typing it, right? Because it's, I can send it out and it's easier to consume. Right? Or, but maybe in some other cases maybe want to slow somebody down. So you intentionally do a Sketchnote because there's, the problem with text a lot of times is trying to describe things can take a lot out of, you can burn a lot of herbs to do that where a few simple sketches together can do that much more effectively than typing and typing and describing, right?

So you have to sort of weigh that. What's the best use of my analysis? How's the best way to convey it?

Daniel Hoang: [00:11:23] Oh, I'm going to gleam on a little bit of a, your thing when you said when you were taking notes in Ulysses, what I heard there was just through the process of Sketchnoting, right, it forces you to take information in, do the analysis, make the connections and then capture it.

The limitation was Sketchnoting as a, you can only go so fast, right? So if someone's speaking really fast or you're gathering a lot of information from a talk or something, whatnot, you have to process in real time, do the sketching and your writing. The same holds true, but at what I'm capturing from this as the same holds true, when you're taking just digital notes, typing it out, right?

You need to take that analysis, do the processing and then capture it down. I think a lot of notetakers are verbatim notetakers. They take exactly what the other person is saying. And what you're saying is you know, do the same approach that you do for Sketchnoting. You can do it for everything else that you do.

Mike Rohde: [00:12:09] Right. And there's a study, a recent study from a couple of years ago from, you want to look it up, it's Miller and Oppenheimer. It's these two academics and they did research where they competed, they compared long-hand note taking versus typists and they brought them in rooms. I mean, it wasn't even sketching. He was just long-hand notetaking and they played like a Ted Talk . And they broke, the control group which was typists, and then one that did long-hand. And what they found was after they each took their notes, they tested them and they, when they tested them immediately, both were pretty equal. So you couldn't really tell the difference, but a week I think it was a week later, they brought them back. But what they found is the long-hand note takers are much more effective at testing and remembering.

So the retention was better. Because what they realized was a long-hand notetaker will get to a point where like, I can't keep up and write everything that this person is saying, I have to do analysis. That's the only way I can do this so that, you know, at some point they switched to that where a typist can almost type fast enough, if you really good typist, you can almost type fast enough to do verbatim. And, and so the other interesting thing about this study is they realized that this was happening, that the typists were switching into verbatim mode and they weren't really processing information or analyzing in any way. They were just, it was going in one ear and into their fingers and out, and it wasn't sticking anywhere.

So they actually, in the second test, they told the typists not to do that. And the typists still switched into verbatim mode because it's such a, such a natural way to go. So, I mean, that can be the danger of typing, right? Is you just switch into verbatim mode and you sort of lose your analysis? I think I had done, I think the benefit for me is that I had switched to the analysis approach for so long that it became my new default and that even when I type, I tend to think, it's almost like I'm doing Sketchnoting without the sketching or something, or I'm describing things or, you know, just boiling things down and making analysis. So that, it's pretty interesting

Daniel Hoang: [00:13:55] So hold onto that thought there, because I think this is where I think this is what's unique for this theme of the season. The season with Nineteen80 Podcast is really about transitions, change management, helping the world change from one point another point. Nineteen80, the Genesis came from just, I was born in 1980.

I'm a Xennial. So I was born in an analog world, but I came of age in a digital world. And so what I'm uniquely positioned is, similar to you is just helping the world transition from one point to another point, going from top-down leadership to distributed leadership, power concentrated to few to power concentrated to the many. You know, racial equity, you can go on and on all these things are we're in growing pains, the world in a process, growing pains. And so the intent behind the season is to equip people with different techniques, different tools. I interviewed some change management folks. I'm going to be interviewing storytellers and someone that's a technologist.

In your case, I think this whole concept of Sketchnoting, and I like just, maybe it's not necessarily Sketchnoting, is just that analysis is, as we make this transition is not about processing raw data. It's not about turning everything off, but being in the moment and analyzing and processing information. And so I love that concept of, as we're trying to move as to, we're trying to change the mindsets and change entire organizations, change our country, changed the world. I think we need more people that are doing what you're doing and simply, not just people that are simply verbatim repeating things back. How can people use this concept of Sketchnoting and similar to what you said earlier, how do we help an organization change or help up or an entity change?

Mike Rohde: [00:15:28] Well, I kind of have the belief that it starts with a few. It starts at the grassroots. So it's, I mean, it can be mandated, but I think the problem with mandates is someone will always resist. Right? So, and now you've got sort of clash. So it seems to me like it's more effective when it comes up from the bottom. So I've worked, most recently, I work for a large organization now and in the last few years of my career, I've worked inside large organizations and I have found, at least in my case that just doing it, like I'll pick really boring places to use visualization or doing Sketchnoting and my managers and the other people that work with me realize that I do this thing and they see it because they're, they were in the same meeting, right? And they see what I deliver and they're like, wow, that's really cool. So it gave me a, you know, in the right organization, they were open to it. So as an example, I worked for a financial services company for three years when I first came in. I mean, nobody knew who I was, I was just a contractor. Right? But I would use this visualization wherever I could.

In one specific instance, I was one designer with 50 product managers, product designer, or product developers and business analysts. So I was like the Lone Wolf. One of the challenges we had in that, in that situation was, me being the only user experience designer, is that it would be really easy to, for me to become the bottleneck.

Like if you had to wait for me to do a sketch mock-up or a Photoshop mock-up to do your thing, like we've got a problem because there's 25 developers all waiting to build stuff. Right you can't, that doesn't work that way. So just like with Sketchnoting, my mindset has become in the last, I guess part, last part of my career has been, how do I teach people the concepts of design so they hold it in their own mind? Like, 'cause I cannot be everywhere. It made sense to me to share that. So what I would do is I would do these sessions. It sort of became, we just did experiments, like I'm really big into experiments too. So we just try and experiment. If it works, we keep going. If it doesn't we shift.

So we did this experiment. We said, what would happen if we just got into a room with developers and the BA and the product manager? And get on a whiteboard and I'll stand at the whiteboard cause I feel most comfortable, but I will listen and use these same skills and I will listen to what is the feature that we're designing? What are the requirements around it? Does the old tool that we're replacing have something that works that we can steal? Are there some things about the old tool that are bad that we don't want to do? And then let's just draw out the different concepts. So I would just basically do Sketchnoting live on a whiteboard, listening to the discussions and drawing what people were saying.

And it became sort of a routine that's in a sort of the high point of the process. We basically reserved all of Monday on a giant whiteboard in our space and developer group after developer group with their product managers would come and sit down at the desk with me, me and my sidekick BA who was into this.

And we would basically Sketchnote feature requests on the whiteboard and what, the way I would do it is I would draw sort of the features in black and then have a secondary color to do that annotation so they could be separated. And as much as I could, I would drive people towards, okay, which one do we like? Are there, you know, are there, and we would have a list of like, what are the things we want to cover? And I have checklists, we would check them off right on the whiteboard. So at the end of the session, we would take a photo of this image of the whiteboard. And it would go into a repository that every developer had access to.

And the thinking was because I'm only one and there's, you know, 50 other people. I will do my best to focus on the most important thing. And, but if I didn't get to it, worst case scenario, you would have a whiteboard of our discussion that you were in. We all annotated this, the one circle that we want to develop, that a developer could pick it up and start to build it. And then they would approach me when they got to a point of review and say, "Hey Mike, I built this thing based on the whiteboard. You didn't notice this thing. This was, and I think this might be a better way to do it. What do you think?" And we would work together. So, because so often I would feel like, you know, as a UX designer, there's can often feel like this pressure to like, know everything and solve every problem.

But a lot of times the developers had really creative solutions that I never would have come up with because they saw it from a different perspective. So it sort of freed everyone up to really contribute to the solution. And that was really fun because everybody felt like they were part of it, on more than one occasion there was, developers who'd say, "how did you know what I was thinking in my head?" Because I was drawing it as they were talking about it. So they look up and suddenly their idea was drawn and it kind of freaked them out a little, a bit in a good way. So a lot of it had to do with not, like I had sort of spent my time with that team and proved myself and sort of was with them and I would support them, right? So they trust me. I mean, every team is going to work if you trust each other, that's going to be the hardest thing. So once they, once we got that settled, then they knew they could trust me and that I would listen to them and approach them with ideas.

It was just that we would just get into a groove pretty quickly. We produce lots and lots of features that way. Many developers came up with really unique, really creative solutions. Because I think the environment was right. It was a safe space. It was encouraged to be creative and think outside the box. And we actually did those things. So I think that's the way it works, right? It's once you instill that in people and they experience that they want more of it. If it works well, and then it just sort of keeps on moving its way through. Unfortunately, I was a contractor and I left my contract. it wasn't renewed eventually and so I moved to another organization, but now I'm doing similar stuff inside this organization too. Not exactly, but using visualizations to communicate ideas. Like as an example, we have a big project that I was working on which, we produced a service design map, which is really detailed and almost too much to absorb, unless you were part of the project. Like if you looked at it, your brain would just explode because of so much information.

So I said, you know, executives are not going to look at this service design map. It's too much like, it's really good, but it's too much. It's really, it's more of a guide for us. So how do we communicate this to an executive person who needs to understand how the service that we're designing is working? I said, "well, what about a cartoon?"

So I sort of set a constraint of no more than 12 slides. I have to tell the whole story of the whole service in 12 slides. So I went back and I actually did a script. And then from the script I developed the scenes and drew out the characters and built out this basically a, I think it was 11 panel, a pencil-sketchy comic strip, and I intentionally did pencil so no one would feel like it was finished or completed.

And it sort of opened up their ability to give feedback so that, we delivered and was really well received. And I know marketing made comments like, wow, you did all the work for us. So of course it's ideal state and you know, everything always goes right in this comic, but still, if you're trying to communicate a complex service, which is hard to put your fingers on, and you can tell it in a story of 11 panels, I feel like that's a really good way to boil it down to an executive, being able to consume and understand it.

Daniel Hoang: [00:22:05] And out of curiosity, that final product that was delivered. Did you just scan it and put in a deck or how was it delivered?

Mike Rohde: [00:22:11] Yeah. So um, I actually used the iPad Pro. I sketched with the pencil feature and then I exported those images. I kind of built it all in PowerPoint. So the script ran along the left. I sort of reduced the script down to like people at points on the left side and the right side was the image. And it was delivered. I think we delivered it as a PDF. So no one could mess with the text. It did exist as a PowerPoint, but we shared the PDF so it was really well recieved.

Daniel Hoang: [00:22:34] There's something really powerful when you sketch out a presentation right? And just, you know, I think people see, whoa, way too over-designed images or things that look like it's more polished than really is.

And when people see it in that way, it's like, "Oh, I, I get a chance to input into this as well". And it gets more well received in that way.

Mike Rohde: [00:22:50] Even now, like I'm working on some stuff where my colleagues are sketching with a pencil on a legal pad or something and they'll say, Oh, my drawing is so terrible." Like this is amazing.

This is exactly what I need. Like, you've explained it really well. Like, you know, I think people are just concerned because maybe they stopped drawing when they're in junior high school or something. And it's as much of a concern is public speaking in some cases. Right? So, but it's really super effective for communicating ideas.

This week. I saw twice in two different colleagues who sketched out processes, which I'm going to do a more finalized version for, but it's, basically, they had solved everything in the sketch. Like I'm just, you know, asking questions and tuning it. So I think back to your original question, I think when you do it that way, when it's, you find ways to bring it in, like, then it's sort of like almost like a special dessert or something.

And then eventually it starts to become part of the culture, right? Like, hey, we really need, we need some visualization done. Maybe then there's sort of hiring up to find people that do that work or hiring out to do it.

Daniel Hoang: [00:23:49] The lesson to learn here is I think there's a lot of software designed for kind of, for these types of interactions, right?

You can use a different scrum, agile software that's designed so you can send your requirements to your dev team and your dev team communicating electronically. It's it's all really cool. It's all a hundred percent virtual on the internet, but what's missing sometimes is what you're doing is you're bringing people into a room. Right? And people are connecting one-on-one, they're looking at the same thing, not looking at different screens at different times and you're doing it in large format. I interviewed a graphic recorder who's, you know, we're talking about doing 4 by 8 sheets or we're doing entire walls and what's happening is you can now see the big picture.

And you're interacting in, in an, in a larger format. Right? And you're not constrained to just the 15-inch screen on your laptop. I think that's the lesson learned. And I'll have a question on, you know, with this pandemic and we're working virtually like, what's the alternative, like what's the alternative to this kind of like getting in a room and working together?

I don't think, I can't think of one.

Mike Rohde: [00:24:48] I've had pretty good luck with, so there's two tools that are really popular. One is called Mural, M-U-R-A-L, and the other one's called Miro, M-I-R-O. I like both of them. Our company happens to have a license from Miro, M-I-R-O. Um, and I've actually been really pleased. Like I went into it like, ah, this is not going to be quite the same.

But we've used it enough now that you can actually do a fair amount of collaborative work, like co-design work using the tools once everyone kind of gets used to it. They're of course limited in some ways. I think in those cases, probably true in physical space, the more you can plan a,head and have structure in place so that all you're focusing on is ideating and generating is going to be better.

Like if you're sort of figuring out the, the patterns while you're doing the session, that's probably not a great way, but that's true of anything. I think it's really hard. It is hard to sort of replicate the in-person experience and I think eventually that will come back as we figure this Corona thing out, get vaccines, or however we're going to be able to deal with it.

I mean, eventually we'll, I'm optimistic that we'll solve it somehow and figure out how to do this again. But in the meantime, I think those tools aren't too bad. A lot of it, I think, has to do with sort of, how do you get your mindset around it? Probably the big limitation I find with those tools, as good as they are for what they  do is, uh, the ability to draw. So if I was teaching someone how to do basic drawing for a session in-person, I can do that and we can draw on post-it notes. And it's easy. It's pretty immediate. But with Miro, there's not really, or even Mural, like there's no real easy way to draw. There is a drawing tool, but it's rudimentary.

Like if you're on a computer, like. It's just bad. Like if you have an iPad Pro it's acceptable, but most people don't. So it kills your ability to draw, but I guess it replaces that with other tools like icons and shapes and, but for a collaborative tool where you're actually doing things together, it's actually pretty decent. I've been pretty pleased with it. Considering what it is.

Daniel Hoang: [00:26:38] We can start transitioning topics very soon. What I would recommend is people go out and buy The Idea Sketchbook, sending it to their virtual team members. One option is cause I do use Mural for a lot of my client work, but sometimes. I want people to sketch. I want people to participate and not just me being the only scribe. A good way is to just force people to write on paper on their end of those things. And I think because we're on zoom all day long or on team or whatever system that we're using, we're on the computer screen all day long. And so forcing people to say, Hey, step back from the computer screen, pull out a sheet of paper, do your sketch over here when you're ready, take a shot of it, post it up on the board.

Right? And so what you're doing is you're forcing that analog and digital interaction. And getting people away from that screen, because I think sometimes when you are on that screen, you, you're not just lost, right  just, you know, you're not doing that anymore.

I want to switch to, I'm holding right now in my hand your Sketchnote Idea book.

Mike Rohde: [00:27:31] Uh,huh  (affirmative)

Daniel Hoang: [00:27:31] I hope I got that correct. But one, it's kind of like a moleskin book, it's got right in the perfect thick paper and you engineered, designed this specifically for Sketchnoting. How did you get into just product design and building an actual, physical product?

Mike Rohde: [00:27:46] Yeah, well, for a long time, I thought it would be fun to design a notebook, and just the right situation never came up. A lot of times I would approach notebook makers and they were interested in doing it, but it was early on in the process before Sketchnoting really had some legs. So really I was the one who would be coming up with thousands of dollars to basically do custom books. And then I would be burdened with selling and distribution. It just, I, and for many years I avoided any kind of Kickstarters, cause I just didn't want to get into the distribution business. And in, and early on the first, within the first 10 years, a lot of, I know some friends who did that and did their own fulfillment and it was, I could see from a distance, that's not what I wanted to do.

Um, but later, you know, a couple of years ago, I ran into this guy, Mike Schiano, who ran Airship Notebooks. And he was, he's like almost like the mirror image of me in some ways. So he really loves noodly details. He loves like wrangling fulfillment and lining things up and like that's his sweet spot.

And he was really fascinated in working with me on a creative project together because he had done Airship Notebooks and was happy with the result. He sent me one of his and I used it and I said, "Here's the things I like about it, but there's things I would do differently." And he's like, "Well, tell me about it. Let's, why don't we partner up?" So we decided to partner up and it took about two years of like working through the product design. Like what do I, it was really up to me to say, what do I want? And then I would share those ideas with Mike who was in the notebook business and he could say, well, yeah, we could definitely do this. That's a little bit harder, you know? What about this? Like you sort of bounce back and forth until we sort of came up with the collection of what the features were. I really liked the coat, the rubberized polymer cover on the book. We sort of picked out the color and the feeling of it. And that was really key. We wanted to make sure was lay flat because we have, we know so many lefties that helps, and it's just nice to have a book that lays flat when you prepare it.

And then of course, the paper had to be really good. It had to be really thick and be able to handle most inks. Like, I mean, it's uncoated paper. So if you hit it with Sharpie really heavily, it's going to bleed through, I think any uncoated paper will, but the only way you can avoid that is with marker paper, but you know, most sketch noters are using gel inks or flare, or other felt tip pens and even some color. Right? So, really it was all of the things that I wished I wanted in a notebook, and I just dreamed about it and Mike helped make that happen. And we did quite a few prototypes to kind of really get it dialed in, picking the colors and getting all the positioning of the logos right and what did the inside front and back covers look like? And so we did quite a few of those until we really felt, okay, we got it. And like the final prototype was really great. And then when we got the printed samples is like, wow, it got even better. I was so impressed. Like the, because the inside front covers on the prototypes were like a color photocopy.

So they had a little shine to it cause it's toner on there. And so when the printed stuff came in with a really nice flat black, it just really like everything just fell together in a way that made me really happy. And all the feedback we've been hearing about the book is  Sketchnoters is really like it, they, it feels luxurious. And probably the challenge that we have is we, we made it such a nice notebook that some people are afraid to start in it. So one of the things we did in our webinar that we ran was how do you break it in one of these books, right? So that you can, like get over the fact that, okay, it's now it's drawn in okay, now I can... sorta like when you get your car and you know, the first dent, the first dent's the hardest, and after that you're like, okay.

Daniel Hoang: [00:31:21] The first thing I did when I got my notebook was I opened it up and I painfully just drew randomly right in the middle of just a big Mark down the middle and saying, okay, it's screwed up now. Right? It's not going to be perfect. It's not supposed to be perfect.

And you're right. Like what the hell to say? I was like, "Oh my gosh, I should frame it and hang up on the wall. It's just so beautiful." That is the message for everyone. Like anytime I do this kind of analog stuff, it's like, one, just crumple up the paper a little bit, like stop worrying about making it perfect because-

Mike Rohde: [00:31:45] Uh-huh  (affirmative) .

Daniel Hoang: [00:31:45] - it won't be perfect. This business of sketching is not about making it perfect. You can't do it perfectly. Um, and you will, you'll get there eventually. Yeah. When you get into a final pro- prototype and production, but the part is just get started. And so that's what I did with my notebook. It's a little messed up right now.

And I think for my listeners now -

Mike Rohde: [00:32:01] Good, it's loved.

Daniel Hoang: [00:32:01] Anyone that is wanting to get into an analog practice, and I think what we're talking about in a lot of what I preach is - go analog, right? Especially as you're thinking, you're trying to get more analysis, go buy this Idea Sketchbook, because Mike has done all the research, the R&D. I have a stack of like Moleskin, and all kinds of different brands. And none of them have worked in the past. They've been too thin or too thick or too, none of them laid flat. You did all the engineering, you did all the legwork, the hard work. And so I think that the beneficiaries of all of us now, as we can just go get a book and it's engineered for this exact purpose, which didn't exist in the marketplace before. So props to that.

Mike Rohde: [00:32:40] Well, that's good. 'Cause I know there's lots and lots of notebooks that are popping up in the market, more in the, you know, very structured planning, notebooks or bullet journal notebooks. So there wasn't a whole lot in the sketch space. I mean, there's multipurpose ones, but having something dedicated to Sketchnoting, I felt like it was a missing space and now we have it. So, so we would love to have you pick one up.

Daniel Hoang: [00:33:01] As this, as my company grows, I definitely have realized that one, you're going to be the first board of directors chairman and joining me in my new board because you represent the kind of entire intent and purpose of Nineteen80, which is transitioning from analog to digital.

And you are the epitome and the embodiment of kind of this concept. And, and I think definitely all my listeners will appreciate that. And I appreciate the time that you spent in this podcast here. I just also finished -

Mike Rohde: [00:33:29] No problem.

Daniel Hoang: [00:33:29] - a podcast with Leela Fever, from uh Common Craft and to just anothe OG, old school paper cutouts.

Mike Rohde: [00:33:37] Very cool guy.

Daniel Hoang: [00:33:38] And I put you in the same spot. If, the two of you are just two really cool guys, right? Like, and you've been doing this for a long time and a little old school, right? If I were to look at the stuff that's coming out now, there's just a lot of young, hot, really cool stuff. And then it just producing a lot of cool stuff, but there's something to really learn from just this analog world, right?

This analog lifestyle that you and, and Lee and a number of others have created. And the movement I want to create with season two of this podcast is to bring some of it back because I think it's time.

It is time to re- open the Sketchnote Handbook. And you must be in how many, how long has it been? Like six, eight years?

Mike Rohde: [00:34:20] Yeah, that was uh, handbook was released in 2012. So it's coming up on eight years,

Daniel Hoang: [00:34:25] And I have a copy of it actually, lent it out to a friend. I think it's time to bring the notebook back. Right? So like everyone go get the Sketchnote Handbook. Everyone's asking me, "Hey, how do I get into this practice that you do Daniel?" Um, I said, just go by Mike's book that, because that is the, the Bible in the handbook on how to get into this space. And although it's eight years old, I think it has stood its time, which is incredible because most books today, they don't stand more than a couple months. There's nothing in it I wouldn't recommend to anyone to do any differently because those same principles are true.

Whether you're doing on a paper notebook or you're doing on Mural or Miro. I think if you want to be successful, especially during his pandemic, working virtually, go old school. Go back to that paper and pen and get that book out because I think like you said earlier at the beginning of this interview, We just need more analysis.

We need people to be doing analysis and not just regurgitate anything stuff.

Mike Rohde: [00:35:16] Yeah. Yeah. I think there's lots of benefits to like, as much as our technology is mobile. Like you can take a laptop someplace. It's kind of nice, like to take a notebook and a pen and go sit on your patio or go to wherever.

Right? Get away from the screen for awhile and work and think, right? In a slow way that it's really, you can do it with mobile technology, but there's something nice about the scribbling of the pencil or the pen on the page and feeling it and sort of it's, I feel like it puts your mind in different space.

It makes you slow down a little bit. And I think that's where a lot of times insights will come from. And I can recommend there's a book that I think listeners who are into this would really love. It's a book, it's actually a couple of years old now called, uh, The Revenge of Analog. I don't know if you've heard of this book by David Sax.

He's a Canadian. He went on a, basically a tour of the world looking at a variety of analog things like gaming, like tabletop gaming. He looked at notebooks. So he talked to me. I mentioned on a, in a sentence in the book around Sketchnoting, talks about LP records. He talks about a variety of different analog things and why they're, suddenly they're coming back and what the benefits are. So he talks a little bit about that. So there's more arguments for why, you know, analog can be a benefit to you. And I have, you know, I'm also very technical, so I've always had sort of this blend. It sounds like we're the same, right? There's an analog part of me and there's a digital part of me.

And I see them as integrated. I think of it is like, by doing analog and digital, I'm actually spreading out my options farther than if I limit myself to one or the other. Right? And then I can just look at, what is the thing I'm trying to achieve? What's the best tool for it? Is it something digital, maybe Miro is the best tool for it, or maybe I need to get away from all this noise and beeping and tweeting and whatever, and go in the patio and think for a while with a piece of paper, like then the best solution is a notebook and a pen, right?

It gives you a wide variety. It's like any great person who does work on, you know, physical work, having, having good tools, benefits you, my dad always believed in if he was going to do work, he would just purchase the tool, even if it was a little bit expensive, because then he had it. If he ever had to do that again or go to a friend's house, then he was ready for it.

And he understood how to use that tool. So I think it's, it's great to have this wide spectrum of options and it, it lets you be more, it gives you some latitude. The last story I'll tell that I remember from when I was in design and the design agency, I was still really into sketching and we worked within an agency and our client was Miller Beer.

And they would, they were doing billboards and a variety of stuff. And my colleagues, some of my colleagues were working on a too, but they were really limited to only using the computer. And at that time, the region where we were was kind of this cool, like a loft area called the Third Ward in Milwaukee.

And it was, there were a lot of growing pains because all these people were moving in the area, all of these agencies and design firms and people living there. And there was a huge electricity demand, but there was not a substation to handle it. So we always had these power outages. In the summertime, this one summer.

And so power would go out and everybody just be sitting there twiddling their thumbs, waiting for their Macs to come back on. I'd say, forget that I would just get my paper out. And I would say sketching solutions, right? Like you just shift, right? You find solutions. And I think that can really benefit you to have your back pocket or in your front pocket to be able to shift and use all the tools that are available to you in some ways maybe that actually provides a better solution than if you had stuck with software, which I, a lot of times, I think if you start with software, you sort of... software was designed for a certain purpose. You, when you use software, you accept the philosophy of the software developer and the way they want to approach the problem. You accept that whether you realize it or not. And so you suddenly are building on top of someone else's ideas, which is most of the time is fine.

But I think like designers who start using you know, digital tools right away, they limit themselves to what's imaginable in the tool. And if I can't do it Photoshop or Sketch or XD or whatever the tool is, you know, it's off the table. But if I'm sketching, I'm trying to solve the problem. Now, the challenge is how do I force the technology to adapt to my idea? Maybe, ultimately it can't, but you're sort of pushing farther beyond the boundaries of the software. And then pushing the software to come and meet it.


Daniel Hoang: [00:39:44] in the show notes, I'm going to leave a link to all of Mike's content. And also I'm going to go find that Seinfeld episode two opposite day, and I'm going to do the, that episode as well.

Cause I think that's going to be an incredible lesson learned for everyone as well. Hey Mike, thank you for joining. I really appreciate your time. I saw your kid back there, so, and she was excellent. Was she the filmmaker that did the Instagram live because you did one show and I think what are your kids supposed to do besides filming?

Mike Rohde: [00:40:06] She's done some, yeah, I've had a variety of kids who've helped in different ways. So it's fun to bring them in, they love to draw.

Daniel Hoang: [00:40:12] I love that. I love that you're bringing them to the game.  So that's really awesome, well, Mike, I definitely appreciate your time. So thank you for joining and I hope one day I can make it to Milwaukee and hang out with you.

Mike Rohde: [00:40:23] Thanks, Dan. We'd love to have you. There's all kinds of fun places and we could do some sketching over a coffee and and enjoy it, enjoy the day. Thank you for having me on the show. It's been a lot of fun.

Daniel Hoang: [00:40:32] Alright, we'll see you soon.

Hey, this is probably a long episode. So if you listen to the very end, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Please subscribe, review, leave me a comment, respond back by email, message anywhere you want. And hey, if you Sketchnote this episode, send it to me. The first three people that do so, I'm going to mail you a copy or it's not a copy, but it's the empty Sketchnote idea book.

I bought a bunch of them when Mike did the Kickstarter. So do a Sketchnote of this episode, share it on the social, tag me, let me know. And the first three to do so I'm going to send you a copy of the Sketchnote Idea book. It's an awesome notebook. Go check it out, I'll also leave a link in the show notes as well.

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