Debugging my brain: typos (write-os?) in my sketchnotes

Embarrassing mistakes are excellent ways to find and deal with bugs in your life. A couple of months ago, I wrote about phone problems, and I’m happy to report that the extended battery is working out well for me. On to the next bug!

I occasionally make small errors while sketchnoting. I get some URLs wrong, swap pictures around, or drop or switch letters. In about 200 sketchnotes, I’ve had embarrassing errors turn up in three of them – one I caught myself, and two that clients caught. Those numbers tell me that it’s not actually as bad a problem as I thought it was. Plenty of other people’s sketchnotes have spelling or grammar mistakes. Still, it would still be nice to figure out how I can reduce the risk further.

Here are some likely causes of error and what I can do about them:

  • Brain hiccup: A momentary distraction causes me to misspell a word. I usually catch these through visual inspection or by mentally sounding out the words as I draw them, and they’re easy to catch a few seconds after I make them because I’m focused on that area of the screen. However, I rarely do a full review of the sketchnote before I publish it or send it, so I may miss errors that I didn’t detect right away. Possible fix: Slow down and do a full review, possibly guided by a finger so that I make sure I cover the entire sketch instead of missing something because my gaze skips around. I can also review my past sketches to see if I can calibrate myself to a higher level of abstraction (less detail), which will give me more time to focus.
  • Forgotten layers: The lack of full review also means I sometimes forget to hide layers I’m no longer using. Same fix as the previous item – slow down and look at everything to see if it makes sense, and view the sketch as a whole as well.
  • Spots left over after erasing: These are hard to see when zoomed out, so there might not be a workaround other than reviewing everything zoomed in.
  • Working memory failure when rewriting stuff: When I redraw parts of my sketch, I need to make sure that I re-copy information correctly. Possible fix: I can avoid context-switching and reduce working memory load by using my phone or tablet as a second screen. That way, I can refer to e-mail or the previous image while drawing. I can also work with layers, drawing the new thing on top and then erasing it from the previous layer when done.
  • Order when copying or writing: This can be tricky in panels and multi-speaker talks. I need to slow down and make sure that I have the speakers in the right order so that I can attribute ideas correctly. Some panels don’t have people sit in the same order as the program, so keeping the panel information on a single layer would make it easier to rearrange. I should also double-check speaker information and make sure I get the complete set before drawing, to reduce the number of edits.

I like having another person doublecheck my sketchnotes before they go out, although it does add a bit more time. Alternatively, I could figure out how to improve my editing workflow so that making changes to published sketchnotes is easy. So far, the ones I’ve needed to tweak were in Dropbox and therefore easy to update, but I might need to update blog posts too someday.

Continuous improvement!

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  • Pat Thomasson

    I listened to a Career Tools podcast recently that was all about spell checking and how to make sure you catch all typos and not become overly reliant on spell checking algorithms. I don’t know how to sketchnote yet, but there are probably a lot of techniques that would crossover to quality control for sketchnotes. One suggestion that might help: read it backwards. It disconnects you cognitively from what you expect to see next.

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