Author Archives: Rachel

Role Mapping: Do you really know your teammates’ roles?

Do you know, I mean really know, what your teammates do? Do you understand their roles to the point where you could fill in for them for a day? Even if you don’t know their roles to that degree, do you know how they produce information they give to you, and what they do with information you give to them?

From left to right: Healer, DPS (with pet), Tank.

From left to right: Healer, DPS (with pet), Tank.

My family plays World of Warcraft, a popular MMO (massively multiplayer online game) created by Blizzard Entertainment. In this game, players sometimes form parties to tackle challenges that one player can’t handle alone. A five-person party usually includes three distinct roles: tank, healer, and damage-dealer (DPS, or damage-per-second). Any one player will have one of these roles at a given time, and his or her talents, abilities, equipment, and armor are tailored to support that one role. (For those unfamiliar with the lingo, the job of the tank is to stand there and get beat on by the big monster, keeping its attention; the healer’s job is to make sure the tank stays alive while this happens, and to heal the DPS players if they should need it; and the three DPS players are there to inflict as much damage on the monster as possible without taking a lot of damage themselves.)

Obviously, each player needs to understand his or her own role in order to be effective. But the really effective players — the ones you always want in your party — are the ones who also have a deep understanding of the roles they are not playing. Here’s why: A tank who deeply understands the healer’s role can time his or her own actions so that big-burst damage is mitigated by a tank ability, allowing the healer to more effectively keep the tank’s health stable by not spending precious resources on sudden massive heals. Healers who understand how the tank works know that if a monster does latch onto them, the best thing to do is run toward the tank, who has the ability to attract the monster’s attention so it forgets all about the healer — rather than running away, which is instinctive but not at all helpful. DPS who understand the other two roles can modify their own behavior to maximize their ability to do their primary role — dealing damage — while not draining the healer’s reserves, which are really needed for the tank, or pulling the monster away from the tank and causing it to run amok among the party. Even a basic level of understanding of other roles is helpful. When you run into tanks who also have a healer class character, or DPS who also have a tank character, the difference really shows. They do their jobs in a way that makes the other roles even more effective at theirs.

The same is true for a working team: the better you understand your teammates’ roles, the more effective your team can be overall. The points where your work overlaps theirs, or provides inputs to theirs, are where your team will feel the effects the most. Mapping out the intersections of your roles will give your team clearer insight into how to work together more effectively. Here’s one way to do that.

Sample role map
A sample map for three roles in a consultancy

Role Mapping

Choose a time when everyone can get together. If your team is distributed, consider supporting the meeting with graphic recording or graphic facilitation to create the maps of team interactions. Set aside at least an hour for the initial conversation.

  1. Identify the places where there are overlaps or shared inputs or outputs. What do you create that is then used by another team member? What do you use that other team members create? Make a list, and ask everyone on the team to make a list too. (This can be done as pre-work.)
  2. Get the team together. Compare your lists and rank the items to decide where to start. Look for items that appear on several lists, and start there for the biggest impact. Alternatively, select the most high-profile activities on the lists as a starting point.
  3. Take a few minutes to map out what happens around each item on the combined list. Give everyone who touches that item a chance to explain what they do and how they do it. What tools do they use? What information do they need to have handy when they start? What format do they prefer to work with? Allow everyone to describe their workflow and preferences without trying to problem-solve at this point. Just listen. It might help to draw a picture of the process as it is described, using a whiteboard or large sheet of paper. Make notes of questions or issues as they come up, but don’t try to solve them yet.
  4. Once everyone has spoken, have a conversation about the questions, issues, and other flags that came up. You might find that something as simple as changing the way information is conveyed or presented might make a big difference to the recipient. And once you understand why someone wants it this way or that way, it’s often easier to modify your own workflow slightly to accommodate them. Use a flip chart to clearly record new agreements or procedures your team wants to try.
  5. Repeat the process for each item on your combined list (this might take more than one meeting). At the end of the meeting, review the flipchart of agreements and make sure everyone understands what he or she has personally agreed to do. Agree on an evaluation period — two to four weeks, perhaps — after which you will all reconvene to talk about whether the changes are helping, identify new issues that have come up, or discuss new ideas.

This activity is particularly valuable for distributed teams where members do not have a way to physically see what their co-workers do. On teams like that, the way that inputs and outputs are created and delivered can make a huge difference in team effectiveness. For example, it’s common for someone to create a document and send it as a PDF, but if the recipient needs to extract information from the PDF to use elsewhere, it can be time consuming. Something as simple as switching to a shared document editor or keeping the shared information in another system might result in a much smoother workflow.

Once you understand more about the work your teammates do and how they do it, you can play your role in way that helps others be even more effective. Even if your goal isn’t to slay a giant monster, you’ll still make better use of everyone’s abilities!

For more on role clarification, you might like these resources:

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Working Visually with Think Tools in the Paper App by FiftyThree

FiftyThree, makers of the Paper app and the nifty Pencil, have released Think Tools, a new set of tools inside Paper that change what you can do with the app. If you have Paper, just update to get ThinkTools.

The new toolset lets you do rapid mockups, mindmaps, flow charts, and other visual prototypes quickly and (more or less) easily. While I am crazy about the new toolset, I have to admit that Paper and Pencil still frustrate me and there was some definite head-banging-on-chair-back while I was creating this test image. (Disclaimer: for reasons I won’t go into here, I am holding off updating my iPad to iOS 8, so although I am using the latest version of Paper some things might be different for me — and not in a good way.)

After playing with the tutorial and trying some random shapes for a bit, I decided to test it out by recreating a flow chart I made for my bedroom door when my young son had a sleepover with a few friends one winter holiday:

Thinking of waking me up? Check this handy flow chart first.

Thinking of waking me up? Check this handy flow chart first.

 

What I Love:
The quick and easy way you can draw shapes, move them around, and connect them with arrows. The promo video (which mentions visual facilitation, by the way, woo hoo!) shows some very cool examples of prototypes and early designs, and I see this as the key strength of the toolset. You can create and rearrange a diagram while you are in conversation with someone. Very handy, and I can definitely see using it a lot.

What I Like:
The variety of controls in the Think toolset: in addition to the smart pen that makes your shapes look nice and adds arrows automagically, there’s a scissors tool that lets you move things around, delete them, and copy/paste them (yay!). There’s a fill tool that lets you easily fill and clear fill from shapes as well as filling in the whole background. There’s also an eraser that I think is smart although it might just be that I was lucky when I used it, but it seemed to know about the edges of smart shapes at least a little bit.

What I Don’t Like But Can Live With:
The color mixer. It’s a cool idea and if I were painting I’d love it, but for what I do it just gets in my way and occasionally ends up with the wrong color selected so that I have to … Undo, which is another frustrating tool. The two-finger rewind is nice if you need to undo a LOT of stuff at once, but if you want to quickly get rid of the stroke you accidentally made because the app suddenly decided the Pencil was in fact your finger and you wanted to smear everything instead of writing, it’s a pain in the neck. Placing and moving two fingers correctly takes up way too much time and brain space for undo.

What Makes Me Bang My Head Against the Back of My Chair:
Writing. Oh, this is so painful. The zoom (loupe) has gotten a bit better, and now enlarges smartly when you get near the edges, but I consistently have problems with writing. If you write with the Pencil stylus, the app is supposed to understand that when you use Pencil you want to write and when you use your finger, you want to smudge. This would be super cool, again, if I were painting or drawing. But trying to create a flow chart or do notetaking, I find that sometimes the app stubbornly insists the Pencil is my finger and just smears in the middle of a letter (like when I’m writing the cross bar on the ‘T’ for instance). This slows me down so much that I lose the thread of what I’m trying to take notes on, which is a showstopper for me. So I switched Pencil off and just used my finger.

That got rid of the smearing problem, but the zoom is still problematic. There’s no way to re-center the canvas (that I’ve found), so if you want to write near the edges, it’s very difficult. On the top and bottom edge, I kept accidentally calling up the iPad’s pull tabs, which is irritating. I would love to be able to drag the canvas so that whatever I’m trying to write is in the most comfortable position — just down and to the right of center — so that my arm doesn’t get tired from holding my hand up off the screen. (I know, I know, Pencil is supposed to let me rest my hand on the screen. Not so much.)

So, a mixed review. I really love the new functionality of Think Tools. I still adore the little books that make up the interface, and the social-sharing capability is really cool. But I keep getting stuck on the difficulty of actually writing. If you have Paper, try it out yourself and let me know how you find it!

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Testing the new Work Visual app

Today everything aligned perfectly — time, equipment, and perseverance — and I was able to test the new Work Visual app by Holger Nils Pohl. I am SO excited! These are some initial notes about my experience.

I started by doing random doodles to get a feel for the interface, but of course the only way to really test it was to do some visual note-taking. I had been meaning to watch Tom Wujec’s TED talk on Solving Wicked Problems, so I fired it up and went to town. Disclaimer: I listened to it twice, and made liberal use of the pause button the second time, because the newness of the interface slowed me down a lot. (Know your tools!) Here’s the result, which doesn’t look substantially different from what I might have done with my old favorite, the original Brushes app. Click to see it larger:

Visual Notes of TED Talk

Visual notes of Tom Wujec’s TED talk, Wicked Problems, made during a trial of the beta version of the Work Visual app.

 

LOVE IT: What I already adore about the app!

  • I love the clean interface and the ease of switching layers and brushes.
  • I love that I can customize four brushes and they are right on the toolbar.
  • I love the zoom in (but not the zoom out, see below).
  • I love the line quality, which for me is one of the most critical components. Nailed it!

WISHES: What I would wish to see in future versions.

  • Double-tap to zoom out. If there is a quick way to zoom back to full screen, I never found it. This is what gave me the most trouble during my practice run.
  • I don’t know if it was the iPad I was using (I had to borrow one*), but the panning kept sticking while I was zoomed in. I’d start dragging with two fingers, and sometimes nothing would happen. This slowed me down a lot too.
  • There’s a strange thing that happens when one line crosses another, like when I’m lettering. At first I was disturbed by it, but then I realized that it wasn’t permanent and I was able to ignore it. What happens is that the color gets shifted around the crossed lines (on the left), but once you zoom or pan, it goes back to normal (on the right).
(Left) Color shifting when lines cross; (right) back to normal after zooming.

(Left) Color shifting when lines cross; (right) back to normal after zooming.

 

I wasn’t able to test the projection capabilities today, but I am super excited about them because it means you can FINALLY do graphic recording on the iPad while hooked up to a projector and not have to distribute airsickness bags to the audience beforehand. You can set it to only show the full screen, no matter how much you’re zooming and panning. Hurray! I also couldn’t test the video export but I hope to be able to once it’s ready.

I am so looking forward to the release of this app! Want to follow along while Holger develops it?

Work Visual on Facebook

Work Visual on Twitter

* Why I couldn’t use my own iPad: I’m still using the original Brushes app to create videos. Unfortunately, the export features of the original Brushes don’t work with the newest iOS. Also unfortunately (for me), TestFlight, which you need in order to test Work Visual, doesn’t work with older versions of iOS. So Brushes and the Work Visual beta cannot coexist on my iPad.

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Two new resources for better visual meetings

Cover of the book on gallery walks

The Gallery Walks book

My colleague and friend Lisa Arora of Get the Picture recently published two digital books about important topics in graphic recording — how to really make the most of the dance between a facilitator and a graphic recorder, and how to conduct gallery walks of completed charts — and they are outstanding.

How To Get the Most Out of Working with a Graphic Recorder is an excellent resource for facilitators and graphic recorders (GRs) about how to work together. The suggestions and explanations are clear and insightful, and if you implement them I guarantee they will make your very next tandem engagement better. I highly recommend it for anyone running a meeting or workshop who plans to work with a GR, even if you don’t think of yourself as a facilitator. If you’re wondering whether you want to hire a graphic recorder and have never engaged one before, read this book to understand how to work with one so that you reap the real value of working visually. If you tend to work solo (doing both the facilitation and recording yourself), you might pick up a few tips, but the book is really aimed at facilitator-graphic recorder partners, and for those who plan to engage one or the other.

The other book, The How To on Effective Gallery Walks for Visual Meetings, is comprehensive, creative, and brilliant. It really gets into gallery walks (where participants spend reflective time looking at the maps at different points in the meeting, and thinking deeply about them). It goes way beyond grouping people up and having them file past the charts. If you want to extend the life of the maps, maximize their usefulness to participants, and deepen the level of thinking in the group, get this book, read it, and build a real gallery walk into your next visual meeting. I’ll be pulling ideas out of this one starting immediately, I can tell you.

Go take a look at the two books. If you partner or hire facilitator/GR partners, get them both. If you are a graphic recorder, a facilitator, or a dual-role graphic facilitator, or if you plan, host, or sponsor visual meetings, get the one on gallery walks. You’ll be glad you did.

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Two resources for building your visual vocabulary

excerpt from visual notesWhen I’m doing graphic facilitation or recording, people often come up and ask me how I came up with those icons while they were talking. Naturally, I tell them that I didn’t! Like most graphic recorders, I don’t invent many new icons on the fly. I practice them in between sessions, pulling ideas from all kinds of sources, both digital and print. And I snag ideas from other graphic recorders whenever I can. That way, when I get up to the wall, I already have a visual vocabulary to use.

If you’re new to the whole visual vocabulary idea, you’re in luck: May was Visual Vocabulary Month on Verbal to Visual, Doug Neill’s blog. He covered why you do it, how to organize it, how to get started, and how to make it a regular practice. Take a look at the wrap-up post that describes it all.

If you’re new to the whole concept that we’re all able to draw, you’ll want to head over to Jeannel King’s series of Good Enough Drawing Tutorials. Jeannel creates these nifty little quick tutorials that show you how, with a few simple lines, to draw anything from birthday cakes to bats. Take a look at the Resources section of her site while you’re there.

Then get out there and add something new to your visual vocabulary this week!

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GR101 is going to Berlin!

Interested in learning how to be a graphic recorder? Planning to be in Berlin in July? Have I got some news for you!

The fabulous Lisa Arora (of Get The Picture) and I will once again be co-leading the IFVP’s signature training, Graphic Recording 101 (or GR101). It will be held on July 22, 2014, in the awesome Hotel nhow. The workshop is scheduled as a pre-conference session in conjunction with EuViz, a brand-new conference hosted by Kommunikationslotsen and Neuland and co-hosted by IFVP. Already, EuViz promises to be something very special. The conference itself is sold out, but the pre-conference isn’t, and you don’t need to attend EuViz to attend GR101.

You can learn more about GR101 and register for it on the EuViz pre-con page. Not sure yet? Here’s the promo video for the workshop:




 

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Sketchnoting Blogs

sticky note that says Sketchnote ResourcesI’ve finally gotten around to rebuilding my feed reader (my previous reader collapsed under its own weight from the astonishing number of unread posts). I’m being rather more selective this time around. Here are a handful of blogs that I’ve added on the topic of sketchnoting:

Rohdesign and The Sketchnote Handbook 
Mike Rohde

Mike Rohde’s book, The Sketchnote Handbook, has helped pave the way for new sketchnoters. (Plus, Mike invented the term ‘sketchnotes.’) He also has a blog, some cool t shirts, and a forthcoming workbook to go along with The Sketchnote Handbook. Highly recommended. Check the blog for a series of videos about producing the workbook.

Verbal to Visual
Doug Neill

Doug Neill’s mission is to teach sketchnoting skills broadly, so people can apply it to whatever they are working on. Find sketchnoting tips on the Verbal to Visual blog and listen to Doug’s podcast series featuring visual thinkers. Doug is also working on a book on building your sketchnoting skills.

Sketchnote Army
Binaebi Akah, Mauro Toselli, and Mike Rohde

Started by Mike Rohde, Sketchnote Army is a showcase of sketchnotes from around the world. You can submit your own notes to be featured on the site, or just browse for inspiration.

Sketchnotesbook
Eva-Lotta Lamm

Eva-Lotta travels to conferences, takes sketchnotes, and publishes them in yearly books. She also teaches and gives talks about sketchnoting.

Not an exhaustive list by any means, but I’m easing in gently. Which sketchnoting blogs would you add?

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Annotating Sketchnotes with Voicemap

I’ve been playing with Voicemap, an online tool for adding audio and zooming points of interest to an image (like sketchnotes or a graphic recording). It hasn’t been easy. The instructions on the site aren’t very clear, and a lot of mistakes can’t be fixed without starting over. But I have finally completed my proof-of-concept Voicemap: An annotated review of visual notes I took during Doug Thomas’ TEDxUFM talk, “A New Culture of Learning” (link goes to the actual TEDxUFM talk).

Voicemap of my visual summary of “A New Culture of Learning” by Doug Thomas

Reflections

I really like Voicemap for the way it pairs audio with visual notes. Seems like it would be a great way to create a summary after a meeting: Upload the notes, then walk through them with a narration of the meeting’s highlights. Unlike the RSAnimate-style sketch movies, you don’t see the drawings being created in a Voicemap video — it starts with the image already finished — so it’s great for graphic recordings created during an event.

There are a few drawbacks. It looks like you have to publish the piece on Voicemap’s website, which means I can’t use it for many of my clients (too public). The format is better suited for pre-planned visual notes, or notes that are created after hearing the audio, so that you can walk through the image in a logical way. You’ll notice that I skipped around the page, following the flow of the talk rather than the visual structure on the page. That’s because I skipped around the page while creating the notes. Voicemap works better if you have a cleaner visual path to follow.

The most annoying thing is that the aspect ratio of the video when you edit it is different from the one you see when you view it (the editing one is 4×3, but the published one is closer to letterbox). The default embed code is also weird: it gives you a 640 x 640 viewer, which means your careful centering is shifted and everything is cut off on the right, with too much space on the left. The viewer above is actually cut off on the right side. If you want to see it more or less as it was meant to be viewed, try it on the Voicemap site.

Update: Voicemap contacted me and pointed out that I can change the width measurement to 640, which I did. This fixed the embedded display issue. To be fair, I did try that. I just changed it in the wrong place. Doh.

How You Do It

First, you start a project by entering some information about it (title, abstract, script, and so on). You can upload an audio file at this point also, although I had a great deal of trouble with that step. I tried several different formats (WAV, AIFF, MP3) and two different lengths (2:56 and 3:41). Eventually, the audio did load, but it took days in one case, and four or five upload attempts in another.

Once you get past that step, you can add a sketchnote image and set zoom points (points of interest, POI) that are timed to the audio track. You do this by listening to the track, pausing when you want to set a POI, then setting it and continuing. It really helps to have uploaded the script before you do this so that you can scroll through the script while you listen. When I did it that way, I found I could time the POI swaps better.

When everything is to your liking, you click Publish. From what I saw, publishing happens instantly.

Other Uses of Voicemap

It looks like graphic recorders can sign up with Voicemap, take a test, and become certified to do sketchnotes for audio clips that Voicemap sends them. Voicemap clients, then, can send in a script or audio clip and request a corresponding sketchnote video. The graphic recorders don’t get paid very much, but if you have an iPad or tablet, it looks like you could pick up a couple extra bucks illustrating Voicemap clips. I’m not sure how busy the service is yet.

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Graphic recording of web meetings with the iPad – Yes, you can!

“So can I graphically record a web meeting on my iPad?”

That’s a question I get asked a lot, and historically, it has had a complicated answer. For a while, the answer was “Not if you want anyone in the web meeting to see your graphic recording while you’re doing it, no.” Then it was, “Yes, but only if they’re on the same wireless network you’re on, and even then it’s a lot of setup.” After that it was, “Technically, yes, but realistically, no,” because although it was technically possible to share your iPad’s screen to a desktop and then share the desktop’s screen in a web meeting, it wasn’t easy, smooth, fast, or reliable. As of last week, the answer has changed again.

That’s because last week, Squirrels released Slingshot, the first really workable solution that I’ve seen for real-time graphic recording in a web meeting using an iPad. Is it perfect? Nope. Is it good enough? Yes, for some situations. Is it for everybody? Nope.

Screenshot of iPad

My quick iPad drawing (screen shot from iPad).
I’m zoomed in a little, which is why it looks a bit fuzzy.

How Does It Work?

Slingshot lets you host a web conference in a snap from your desktop computer or mobile device. If you’re hosting from your desktop, you can use Airplay (built into your iOS mobile device) to mirror your device’s screen to your computer, where it is automagically screen-shared with everyone in the web meeting. Once I had downloaded and installed Slingshot on my computer, it took about five minutes to launch a meeting, connect my iPad, and share my iPad’s screen with someone in the web conference. I launched a drawing app on the iPad (Brushes in this case) and started drawing, just as I would if I were taking notes. My remote-viewing partner in crime (in this case my partner in many other things, Craig Smith) reported that the drawing was very smooth, no delay, no jumping around.

Squirrels also makes an app called Reflector, which mirrors your iPad screen to the desktop just like Slingshot. With Reflector, you have to join a web conference with something like Skype, WebEx, Connect, or Join.Me, and then share your screen. Slingshot skips all that by blending Reflector’s mirroring capability with an easy-to-use web conferencing tool, so you only have one thing to set up.

Photo of computer and iPad showing Slingshot

The iPad, where I was drawing, mirroring into Slingshot.
You’re seeing the Slingshot app floating over the Slingshot web page.
Don’t worry that the iPad is plugged in; it doesn’t need to be. I was just running out of juice.

Sounds Great! So Why Isn’t It Perfect?

First, because of how the mirroring works. Not only does your drawing get mirrored, but everything on your screen gets mirrored too — the palettes, title bar, whatever you can see. But we could live with that. The thing that really gets in the way is that the zooming gets mirrored as well.

To get good results and fit a lot of stuff on one screen, you need to zoom in when graphic recording on the iPad. Which is fine, except that when someone else is watching the screen and sees the zooming without any context, it’s very disorienting. I would be very careful about using this to record a web conference just because of the mirrored zoom. I wish there were a way to turn that off and just show the graphic recording unfolding without the zooming. That would be pretty darn close to perfect.

Second, you can’t do it just from the iPad, without the desktop computer. You still need to join the meeting on a desktop computer running Slingshot, and then you connect the iPad in order to mirror it. I really wanted to be able to join the meeting on the iPad and share the screen from there, but that’s not how it works.

The third reason isn’t particular to Slingshot. It’s just that live graphic recording on the iPad is not for everyone, regardless of how it’s shared in the web meeting. It’s slower than recording on paper and it requires more concentration, which means you can miss things. It’s much easier to get sucked into what you’re doing and forget to listen, especially if you’re not completely familiar with the drawing app.

Last but not least, both times I set up iPad sharing, Slingshot on my desktop crashed as I connected the iPad the first time. Once I relaunched and reconnected the iPad, all was well.

However, at long last, when someone asks if it’s possible to use their iPad to record a web meeting, I can say, “Yes! Yes it is.” Thanks, Squirrels!

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Creating sketchnote joy with Inkflow by @Qrayon

Qrayon does it again! You may remember Air Sketch (which is still super awesome, by the way), the app that lets you wirelessly broadcast your iPad drawing to other devices on the same network while you draw it. This week, I happened upon another tool by Qrayon: Inkflow.

I am in love. Inkflow is a wonderful tool to blend digital and paper sketchnoting. You can use the app itself to take notes and organize them into books. You can also add typed text, images, and photos of notes you have taken on paper — which then become objects on the Inkflow page that you can move and scale with no loss of quality. Look at me, I’m so excited I’m jumping all over the place! Let’s get organized here and look at how Inkflow is for sketchnoting, the vector/bitmap comparison, a few key features, a list of what’s missing from my point of view, and whether or not I’d recommend it as a visual notetaking tool.

Sketchnoting in Inkflow

Writing and drawing in Inkflow is a beautiful thing. The flow is smooth, there’s no lag, and the canvas is large. Since I’ve only just begun to play with it, I’m using it as though it were Brushes, which is causing me some angst. But I can see that with a little practice I’ll get used to the way it works and do much nicer work. To test it out, I did a little visual notetaking while listening to the TED talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action by Simon Sinek.

Sketchnotes of Simon Sinek's TalkMy visual notes of “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” by Simon Sinek.
Click for a larger view.

Don’t let the non-white background alarm you; you can choose different styles. I just used the default for this one. You can actually change it after the fact, which rocks, and there’s a plain blank white one. It has a palm blocker too, so if you prefer a stylus you can pull up the palm guard to cover the bottom part of the screen.

One thing to note: A lot of the features I’m describing are only available in the paid version, which at the time of this writing costs $7.99. Definitely worth it.

Vector vs Bitmap

Inkflow is a vector drawing tool, which means that what you draw is stored as resizable objects. However, it behaves a little like a bitmap drawing tool (like Sketchbook Pro), which means that it feels like you’re painting with a brush. The lines are smoother and more even than I’m used to, and I can’t quite get the same variable quality of line that I love in Brushes (which is also a vector tool with a brushlike feel). The trail-off at the end of a stroke is different, too, which makes my lettering look a bit sloppy to my (self-critical) eye.

However, one of the coolest features of the vector-based Inkflow is that you can select, move, and resize parts of your drawing (or the whole thing). You can enlarge small things and they won’t get fuzzy, or shrink big things and they won’t get muddy. Oh, and if you need to rearrange your notes as you go, you can! File the selection tool under A for Awesome.

Adding Text or Photos

If you don’t feel like writing, you can type instead, and then draw or write alongside the typed text. You can also drop in photos or illustrations alongside your work, or annotate them. The stationery feature lets you pull in images to use as custom backgrounds (did someone say templates?).

Adding Paper Notes

I love this part. I have a bunch of notes I took on copy paper (you know, analog) for different meetings for whatever reason. I’ve been carrying them around in a folder and trying to decide what to do with them — I’m in an awkward place between using a paper notebook or my iPad at work, so I have notes in both places. Yuck.

With Inkflow (the paid version), you can take a photo of your paper notes and they get pulled into your Inkflow notebook. They become a vector image, so you can resize them up or down, move them around, select part of them, erase the little smudges around the edges… it’s totally cool. Now I have a work notebook that includes my loose notes, plus I can add as many pages as I need to for notes during meetings. Whoa.

What’s Missing?

The things that are keeping Inkflow from being absolutely perfect for my needs (I know, like it’s all about me, right?) are, in order of importance:

  • A lack of layers. This is the biggie, because I want to be able to draw outlines and color them in later, with the color underneath the outline. I also want to be able to experiment with stuff and get rid of it easily if it doesn’t work out. Update: Qrayon says they are working on a ‘draw-under highlighter’ that might help with this. Yay!
  • No quick way to zoom out to 100%. This was pretty frustrating while I was recording the sample. I do a lot of quick zoom outs to check size and placement of elements, and it’s annoying to have to do the pinch thing several times to make sure I’m looking at the right view.
  • Limited sizes and shapes of the brushes. Three brush shapes plus an eraser is actually okay; I can live without the airbrush. But the settings for tip size aren’t fine-grained enough for me. For instance, on the paintbrush, you can pick 24, 32, 48, 64… you get the idea. Nothing in between. I also miss being able to easily draw a dotted line. I use that a lot.
  • A limited active color palette. This is annoying, but it isn’t a show stopper. You have access to lots of colors, you just can only pick eight of them to use without mixing at any one time. Update: Qrayon responded to let me know that you can swipe the palette sideways for more colors, which I hadn’t realized. Definitely helps with setting up colorsets.
  • Zoom only goes to 12%. This bothered me a lot at first and then less as I learned to work with the app. I wanted to zoom in further, but I found that if I just worked at a slightly larger scale it was actually okay. I still would like a little more zoom action for that extra precision I like in my lettering. I love that the screen stays at full resolution even when I’m zooming.

So, Overall?

Overall, I love Inkflow and I’m looking forward to using it to take notes in my next meeting. It effectively combines several of my favorite features from other sketchnoting apps, it’s easy to use, and I love that it’s vector-based so I can move stuff around. Easily 4 out of 5 stars, and adding layers would kick it up to a 5. If you’re looking for a notetaking tool that’s simple but versatile, I can recommend it.

Updated 5-3-2014 with some news about color palettes and an upcoming draw-under tool.

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