Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Mike Rohde. I’m a designer, author, and illustrator. I live with my wife and 3 kids in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Mike Rohde

As a designer, I provide user interface and user experience design to companies who create products, all the way from testing, sketches, and wireframes to final production artwork.

As an author, I’ve written two books: The Sketchnote Handbook and The Sketchnote Workbook. These books share the idea of sketchnotes — notes plus — text notes amplified with visual elements like drawings, lettering, icons and other visual elements.

In The Sketchnote Handbook, I focus on how I discovered sketchnotes, why you’d want to try them, ways to create them, and a wide variety of samples from other sketchnoters for inspiration. This books emphasizes sketchnotes in the context of meetings and conferences, because these are things people attend all the time and want to gain more value from.

With The Sketchnote Workbook I aimed to extend the idea of sketchnotes, exploring their use for idea generation, idea mapping, project planning, visual documentation, capturing experiences, and advanced techniques. I think visual thinking is a hugely valuable tool we all have and I’m excited to encourage people to use these skills in their own lives.

As an illustrator, I’ve created artwork to amplify ideas in a variety of books, including the bestselling books REWORK, REMOTE, and The $100 Startup. I also help other clients with illustration, like SXSW for their speaker info sheet and Golin-Harris on The Future of Water poster.

What’s the longest-standing item in your work arsenal?

My Koss Porta Pro headphones. They’ve been with me since the early 1990s when the design firm I worked for designed packaging for Koss Stereophones. The Porta Pros are full-on 80s New Wave design, which is one reason I love them.

But the best part of these headphones is their fantastic dynamic range and incredible bass response. These headphones sound fabulous for portable headphones. They carry a lifetime warranty, so when the audio jack or cable go on the fritz, I simply take them to Koss, located in Milwaukee, to get them repaired.

What’s new to your work gear?

My Moleskine Daily Logbook. I started logging my days in January of this year after being inspired by my friend Austin Kleon. I’ve never been great at maintaining a dear diary style of book, but as a logbook of tasks, thoughts, what happened that day, and other tidbits, the logbook really works!

This book has been the most impactful update to my kit for a while. I always carry it along and enjoy logging my activities in it. I miss some days, but often will explore sketchnotes on blank pages, if I feel the need. I’ve written an article for Patrick Rhone’s The Cramped with more details.

In 2015 I’m going to switch to the Hobonichi Techo Japanese daily logbook. However, it’s quite a bit smaller than the large Moleskine, just slightly larger than a pocket Moleskine. It will be interesting to see how I adapt to the smaller book, now that I’m accustomed to the larger one.

What’s your travel gear setup?


Mike Rohde’s everyday carry gear

I’ve worked for years to be mobile and portable with my work kit. This frees me to work at home, a cafe, a client’s office or on a train.

Here are some details about the key items in my kit:

  1. Mitchell Leather Booklet Cover for my Field Notes notebook

  2. TUL mechanical pencil (0.7mm) offers detailed control of my sketches when the Retro51 is too loose.

  3. Retro 51 Tornado Stealth mechanical pencil (1.15mm) is my go-to tool for sketching ideas when I design or illustrate. I love the weight of this pencil and the thick, soft lead, because it keeps me loose in my sketching.

  4. Field Notes is a small notebook that I use to capture ideas, sketches and sometimes sketchnotes. I chose a leather that matches my briefcase exactly.

  5. MacBook Air is the base of my work system. Almost all of my design, writing, and illustration work happen on my Air. I love that it’s light and yet has a 13” screen with decent battery life.

  6. iPhone 5S is my second key tool, providing access to email, websites, messaging and apps that let me stay mobile and assist me when I travel. I use it heavily for Twitter, RSS feeds and podcasts as well as email, messaging and other tools.

  7. Magic Mouse allows for finer control when I’m editing vectors or pixels on screen when I design. If I’m traveling light, I might leave this home in favor of the Air’s trackpad.

  8. Moleskine Daily Logbook is where I track what’s going on with my day. I’ve been loving this tool in 2014, and fid it really does help me recall and reference my day more effectively.

  9. Pentel EnerGel pen (0.7mm) is the pen I carry in my pocket every day, and prefer for my sketchnoting work. It has rich black ink, smooth flow and you can get them at any office supply store.

  10. Nock Pencil Case was something I supported on Kickstarter and love using every day. I keep a stable of pens, pencils, and styli in this case for easy access.

  11. Stylus Socks Pro Stylus is my favorite stylus. The conductive fabric is low-drag, so it feels like a pencil on the screen of my iPad. They’re also quite reasonable!

  12. FiftyThree Pencil Stylus has a great shape and feel. It works well as a stylus in any ipad app, but especially well with Paper from FiftyThree.

  13. Samson Meteor Microphone provides a great podcasting mic I can take anywhere. The legs fold up, and fit with the USB cable and mic in a little felt bag.

  14. Mitchell Leather Briefcase carries all my gear with me every day. It was custom built by Dave Mitchell of Milwaukee’s own Mitchell Leather. It works great for carrying my Air, pens, and even a pocket for an iPad. The more I use it the more beautiful it gets. I love this case.

  15. Koss PortaPro Headphones are lightweight and portable with a fantastic sound. Bonus that they vibrate a 1980s New Wave design vibe!

  16. iPad 2 is my third tool after my MacBook Air and iPhone, and it’s especially useful for travel. I’ll often leave my Air behind because traveling with an iPad is so easy. Even this ancient iPad 2 with cellular service works great for email, presentations, reading, and entertainment as I travel. (Though I am looking at an iPad mini as an upgrade.)





My main software tools are:

  • Postbox: for handling all of my email.

  • Photoshop: UI/UX design work as well as illustration production.

  • Illustrator: My go-to app for logo and icon design and some illustration too.

  • Ulysses: New writing app I’m using heavily for markdown notes and writing.

  • Things: My task management tool for the Mac and iOS devices.

  • Evernote: for rich note and photo capture of receipts, checks and more.

  • Writer Pro &Byword: for long-form writing, though Ulysses may take their spot.

  • Quickbooks: Helps me manage my company books for Rohdesign Studios.

  • BusyCal: A robust calendar to manage my appointments.

  • BBEdit & CSSEdit (now Espresso): For the bit of HTML/CSS code I do from time to time.

  • MarsEdit: A blogging tool that helps me manage Rohdesign.com and SketchnoteArmy.com

  • 1Password: Perfect management of my secret stuff on all of my devices.

  • Vector Magic: Detailed vectorization of scanned illustration work.

  • Marked: For markdown document previews, and to create PDF and Word files.

  • Basecamp: Indispensable for managing small and large projects with my clients.

What’s one piece of gear or other tool that you’d recommend to others?

I would suggest 1Password, because it’s calming knowing that my secret info is both accessible everywhere I am, and yet is secure from people I don’t want to have it. I use it daily and it makes my life easier.

What item causes the most friction in your day-to-day workflow?

Photoshop can be a bear at times. I love the app and know it well — I create tons of mockups with this tool. But sometimes the pixel editing skeleton feels like it’s creaking with the weight of modern features hanging off of it. I’m very curious to explore Sketch, being a long-time Illustrator user. We’ll see.

What’s an item on your wish list?

An iPad mini with a retina screen. I do my presentations on my iPad 2, and wish it could be smaller and lighter. I would also love to explore more sketchnoting with Bluetooth styli that I have (Pencil) but can’t because the iPad 2’s bluetooth support is too old.