Category Archives: sketchnotes

Visual Kata – Deliberate Practice

Over the past year I have seen a number of people on Twitter sharing these great pictures and visual sketches of talks they had been too, or processes that had been described to them and I always thought to myself, I wish I could do that. The visual nature really appealed to me even though I have never considered myself an artist.

It’s only been the last couple of months or so where I have learned that these pictures are referred to as sketch notes or graphic recordings and what caught my attention was Lynne Cazaly notes at Agile India 2014 and Nhan Ngos sketch on Continuous Delivery shared by Jez Humble


But I Can’t Draw?

No, neither can I, but following up on my interest I purchased several books on “sketch notes” to find out more and they all started with the same premise.

“You don’t have to know how to draw”

Great! that’s me then. I have never considered myself being able to draw and if anyone would ever put me on the spot and ask me to draw something I would have frozen pen in hand. In private and within the confines of my notebooks all I ever was was a doodler and that’s still not changed. I just have a different reason to doodle now and that’s to communicate my thoughts to others.


Your Visual Library

Mike Rohde author of The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking and Dave Gray refer to a visual library. In the same way we have a series of primitive symbols that make up our alphabet, which we can use to assemble a whole language of words to describe almost anything,  the visual library consists of a series of known icons or glyphs that can be used in the same way to describe ideas and concepts. This isn’t the same as drawing. The skills in being able to draw allow you to apply your art to any object or scene and draw whatever you see in front of you or in your imagination. The visual library is a finite set of things that can be used on their own or in conjunction with each other to emphasize a concept or illustrate part of a story.



Building up this library requires practice, repetition and imitation. By deliberately practicing these icons you can develop your own style, developing how you draw them based on their basic form of primitive shapes. While you complete this practice,  you remove the thought process when you come to do it live, sat watching a speaker or in a meeting. Drawing these symbols becomes a muscle memory and your focus moves to listening, tuning into the structure, flow and key points from the orator.


Coding Kata’s

In software development this process is often known as a Kata. Taken from martial arts the Kata is a choreographed set of movements practiced solo or in pairs. In software development this process is used to rehearse all the other skills you need outside of solving the algorithmic or domain problem. This can be practices such as TDD, BDD or the use of particular design patterns. By making these practices a natural reflex, when you come to real life situations you can focus all your energy on the unique problem at hand and let the surrounding practices come naturally without thinking.

I’ll be continuing with this deliberate practice over the next few weeks. Its proven popular enough for me to share this with my peers where I’ll be talking to them about the Visual Kata and how they can expand their visual library.

Below is one of my first attempts from a presentation course I attended by Andrew Ivey at TimeToMarket.