Blog Post

Low-tech Love: The Sketchbook

SketchbookPlain-256Because of its recent return to my working methodology, I want to take a moment to single out a very low-tech web working tool for praise. I’m talking about the sketchbook, that handy little tome in which we can capture and generate some of our best ideas. Not to be confused with the writer’s notebook, mind you, which is a great tool, too, but a different kind of beast.

The sketchbook is a free space for your ideas to play, unbound by lines and ruled margins. It’s a laboratory, a playground, a testing facility and a sounding board. And perhaps best of all, it requires no batteries and can go pretty much anywhere you do. Here’s why I love mine so much, and why any web worker would do well to have their own on hand.

Idea Log

You know the feeling of getting hit with innovation lightning? The one you get when you come up with something great, something you’re terrified will fly out of your head before you get to a computer. That kind of idea, to my mind, is best captured by the sketchbook, in as close an approximation to the unprocessed original as absolutely possible.

The nature of our brains is such that as we think about an idea, we tend to process and refine it while we keep it in our heads. I much prefer to capture the really good ideas raw, before I’ve had a chance to rationalize and massage them into something more manageable, but possibly much less potent, too.

With a sketchbook, I find that I can capture the idea in its essence, unhindered by editing and page constraints. I’m a very visual person, so it helps that I can use words and images easily thanks to the clean, blank unlined pages. It also makes it easier to add to or scan later on. Plus, even ideas that turn out to be not-so-great could transform into something really useful just through the absent-minded doodling I do on a regular basis on top of existing sketches and concepts.

Collaborative Tool

Describing what you want to do or want to have done can be very hard. Project disappointments, in fact, are often due to confusion regarding expectations, rather than any real failure on the part of anyone involved in the process.

Having a sketchbook on-hand, depending on your comfort level and relationship with the individual you’re working with, can be a great way to spitball ideas using non-traditional means. Even if design has nothing to do with your project, you can use the space to rough out workflows and processes, draw mind maps and illuminate key project concepts in a way that verbal communication simply doesn’t allow for.

Passing a sketchbook back and forth, and taking turns writing, sketching and thinking out loud has produced some of the best collaborative work I’ve ever produced.

Stress Relief

Doodling has always been one of my favorite pastimes. Ever since my early school days, when I used to idly doodle in the margins of my primary workbooks, I’ve enjoyed sketching and drawing as a means to relax. With all that practice, you’d think I’d be better sketcher than I am.

Skill aside, a sketchbook to which I can turn at any moment to work off a little stress through therapeutic doodling is a must-have for my professional health. It’s always close to hand, it doesn’t cost anything, and it isn’t bad for my health. There are few other stress relievers for which all of the above is also true. Best of all, it’s a leisure activity that I can actually do while I’m working, which is invaluable.

Even if you’ve never tried sketching or doodling before, give it a shot and see how it makes you feel. The key is to master being able to draw with a complete absence of self-conscious thought, so that you truly get lost in the activity.

So do yourself a favor and get a sketchbook. It will become a constant companion, and possibly one of your most trusted advisors.

Do you tote a sketchbook?

15 Responses to “Low-tech Love: The Sketchbook”

  1. I keep a 3 1/4″ x 4 1/2″ composition book with me at all times with a pen that is 3″ long. These drop in my pocket for quick notes when inspiration hits. I get these at Staples in a two-pack. Something like a dollar or so. The pens are actually Staples brand as well, gel kind.

  2. Yes! I always tote a sketchbook! Actually what I carry is Note Taker Delight, which has “an Innovative System of compartments and spaces.” Yes, there are lines and this works fine for me.

    Hooray for the sketchbook!

  3. Seems we have a trend with moleskin notebooks/sketchbook etc. I too cary a moleskin notebook and I also carry a task book for the To Do today and a place for my activities library. Following the Pomodoro process adapted to my workflow. Paper is tough to replace as it doesn’t have to be plugged in, charged and can work in the best and worst lighting. Good to know I am not alone in my use of sketchbooks.

  4. ABSOLUTELY! People think I’m so old school with my paper and pencil, but I write better there, scribble on all different sides and get out my best innovation. I even organize my tasks on it using a quadrant method with each part of the quadrant representing a part of my life. When I am working too much in any one quadrant, my life is out of balance and it is time to work on something else. It makes me sad watching everything go digital, not that I don’t LOVE all my technology, but I also love the papercut I get from a book and always having a note pad with me to write down an inspiration.

    Thanks for starting the untech dialogue…

    • Moleskine is a brand name; the covers are not made from actual moleskin. Perhaps they might have been made that way many decades ago when artists and writers first made them popular.

      The moleskines I buy are available in multiple types of covers, too. Some are flexible cardboard-like material, some are hardcover, and others, like the ones I prefer, are actually in between the two. They aren’t as thick or heavy as the hardcovers, but they are more sturdy than the softcovers. And they’re now available in multiple colors as well.

  5. I’ve gone completely paperless except for toiler paper, business cards and, you guessed it, my Moleskine sketchbook.

    Couldn’t go without it. There’s something about my sketchbook that just screams ‘hey buddy, come draw something! Be creative! You know you want to!’ So I do.

    A nice salute to our low-tech brethren!

    • My problem is that I have too many moleskines in my bag now. Thinking I need to get in the habit of doing all of my writing on screen and saving the paper for sketching and mapping.

      I have to constantly remind myself that the state of my baggage is continuously evolving, so I don’t have to get it right all at once.

  6. I always have a small 5.5×8.5 Strathmore sketchbook with me, wherever I go. I like the tactile nature of writing on sketch paper, and I’m always surprised when I look through things I’ve jotted down previously. When I have a brilliant moment, it’s priceless to have with me. Also useful for meetings, things to look up later, and potential dates’ phone numbers when your cellphone inevitably dies at the worst time possible.