Digital Sketchnotes at The Design Conference

on Design, Lettering  

When I saw the lineup for The Design Conference in Brisbane, I knew I had to go. Attending an interstate conference from Perth (and paying for it yourself) is no small thing when you’re in Perth, but this looked too fun to pass up, and a good opportunity to do some more sketchnotes!

Whilst I was mainly wooed by one of my favourite lettering artists, Lauren Hom, who would be speaking and running a workshop, I really liked the multidisciplinary nature of the conference. Design is so broad, so it was nice to hear from street artists, motion artists, creative directors, a type designer, and even a creative lawyer. It was a bit manic attending talks and then trying to get to as many breakouts as possible during the breaks, but completely worth it.

Conference organiser Mat
Conference organiser Matt (with a bat?)
Type designer Wayne Thompson
Type designer Wayne Thompson
Screen printing t-shirts
Screen printing t-shirts!
Creativity workshop
Creativity breakout workshop
Learning lettering with Lauren Hom
Learning lettering with Lauren Hom

I like to take notes in my notebook during conference talks, using my lettering skills with simple illustrations for sketchnoting – a visual form of taking notes. This time the darkened room made it impossible to do with my usual brush pens on paper, but with my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil I found a workaround!

Sketchnotes from Camille Walala's talkSketchnotes from Wayne Thompson's talk Sketchnotes from Dean Poole's talk Sketchnotes from Yasmin Nagavi's talk Sketchnotes from Mike Tosetto's talk Sketchnotes from Kelly Thompson's talk Sketchnotes from Mike Rigby's talk Sketchnotes from UsTwo's talk Sketchnotes from Lauren Hom's talk on being a lettering artistSketchnotes from Nadia Hernandez's talk Sketchnotes from Prue Jones's talkSketchnotes from Cyrcle's talk

I haven’t really looked extensively into the ‘correct’ way to sketchnote – this is mainly based on what I find useful for remembering speakers’ helpful tidbits. But here’s a few tips if you want to try doing sketchnotes digitally:

Choose a couple of lettering styles that you know really well

Sticking to a small number of styles will help all your notes look more consistent, whilst having some variety will allow you to emphasise certain words or points over others.

Know your sketchnoting tools

In the middle of taking notes is the wrong time to be exploring your collection of brushes. Get to know your tools before going in, so you’re not trying to do too many things at once. My tools of choice are an iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, the Procreate drawing app and two of my favourite custom brushes, which I put into a special folder just for sketchnoting so they’re within easy reach. It also helps to make sure everything is charged before going in as well!

Draw stuff

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. I think that most sketchnoters focus more on illustration than I do, but I still like to include sketches of diagrams and other fun things where it makes sense.

Invert colours & dim backlighting

You might have noticed that I inverted the colours after the first few talks – this was after some feedback from someone who found the bright light of my iPad distracting. I felt so awful afterwards that for the rest of the conference I worked in grey on a black canvas, with the screen brightness turned right down, and sat at the back of the room. All feedback after that point was very positive! It’s important to respect those around you, so try this if the room is very dark and your tablet is the brightest thing in there.

Don’t get too caught up in the details

When working digitally it’s too easy to try and be a perfectionist, going back and fixing things or resizing them. If it gets to a point where you’re not listening properly or keeping up, you’re missing the point of sketchnoting (for me at least), which is to actively listen and absorb through the manual process of note taking. Getting too fiddly with details distracts from this.

Get social!

People will get curious and will ask you about your tools and how you can write so many ‘fonts’ – it’s a good way to start a conversation! After adjusting my settings I received only good feedback, which was really nice. Don’t forget to also share on social media, and tag the speakers where you can.

One of the best things about digital sketchnotes is being able to record the process – here’s all the talks from the two days Design Conf, in under 30 seconds each:

A post shared by Teresa Watts (@teresa_watts) on

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If you’ve done any sketchnotes, or want to try, I’d love to see it! Comment below or get in touch.

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