One of the most popular forms of visual thinking today is to maintain a visual diary in a sketchbook. This is a process of capturing ideas as small drawings on a daily basis, described in the book Graphical Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming by Ellen Lupton. Over time, you can create a library of small and simple ideas that can blossom into ambitious projects later.
Sketchbooks are relatively small unlined notebooks that can be used to capture the seeds of ideas, designs, thoughts and inspirations in visual form. Unlined notebooks are preferred, because lines may interfere with your creative process. A blank sheet of paper is a fresh canvas upon which you can capture those “great ideas” before they get away.
You can create any kind of visual diagram, mind map or doodle that you want – whatever is most comfortable for you. According to my research for this blog, many readers produce mind maps by hand, in addition to using mind mapping software. Rather than create hand-drawn mind maps on loose pieces of paper that may get lost, a visual diary or sketch journal enables you to keep your inspirations in an easier-to-find location.
If you’re thinking about creating a visual diary, I recommend an unruled large (about 5 x 8 in.) Moleskine Sketchbook, which is very durable and portable. Moleskine notebooks are made with top quality, acid-free paper, perfect for on-the-go drawings and sketches. They are thread bound and have a cardboard bound cover with rounded corners, a bookmark and an elastic cord that wraps around the front cover to keep it closed when not in use – to protect your sketches from harm.
An even better choice, in my opinion, is the the Behance Dot Grid Journal. Its pages are printed with a very light geometric grid of dots. Most notebooks come with lined pages, which are designed for writing, or blank or quadrille-lined pages, which are designed to support the creation of sketches and simple drawings. The beauty of the Dot Grid Journal is that its dot matrix is very well-suited for both! The dot pattern on the pages is light enough that you can write normally but you can also use it as a guide for creating simple drawings and charts.
I have used both types of sketchbooks and highly recommend them. I’d give a slight edge to the Dot Grid Journal because of its geometric patterned pages, but it’s also more expensive than the Moleskine. I recommend picking up one of each and sticking with the one that works best with your style and personal preferences.
What kinds of ideas can you capture in your visual diary? You name it: Doodles, drawings, diagrams of any kind, mind maps and even ideas expressed in words. It’s your visual diary; use it as you see fit. Just be sure that you carry it around with you as often as possible, so you can capture ideas whenever they pop into your head.
A web designer I know from Milwaukee, Mike Rohde, uses his visual diary to do “sketchnoting” – a hybrid of writing and drawing that is best understood by looking at one of his latest blog posts, in which he describes how he used this technique to take notes at a blogging conference (see image above right for an example of a sketchnote).
I believe that maintaining a sketch diary – in addition to your mind mapping – will help you to become a more fluent thinker, better able to translate your ideas from fleeting mental impulses into visual form.