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Q&A with Mike Rohde

Designer, illustrator and author from Milwaukee

I'm Mike Rohde, and I'm a designer, illustrator and author. My first book, The Sketchnote Handbook, was released November 2012, and has done very well. I'm now working on a sequel, The Sketchnote Workbook for summer 2014, to teach more uses and activities for sketchnotes.

I'm a UI/UX designer at Gomoll Research + Design in Milwaukee 50-70% of my time, where we focus on user-centered design and research, which means we spend lots of time learning how users actually work with software to help inform and improve our design solutions.

I also have my own firm, Rohdesign Studios, where for the remaining 30-50% of the time, I focus on writing books and creating illustrations (for REWORK, REMOTE and The $100 Startup, creating typefaces and providing sketchnoting services to event organizers. I'm also starting to offer sketchnote workshops, with one in Atlanta this February, and another in the works for Milwaukee.

It's great to have a varied work schedule, and projects to work on. I'm busy and never bored!

Follow me on Twitter at @rohdesign or visit my personal site,, my Sketchnote Workshop site or my community sketchnote showcase


Primary machine is a 2012 13" MacBook Air, with a 23" Samsung monitor at the office, and at my home office, an ancient 20" CinemaDisplay from 2005 that just won't die.

I've just switched from a 13" MacBook Pro, which has served me well since 2010. I'm really liking the lightness and speed of the Air, since I carry to to the office and work in cafes.

In both locations I use an Apple Magic Mouse and Apple extended keyboard. On the road I don't typically bring a mouse unless I'm doing design or illustration work.

For phone, my iPhone 4S was just upgraded to an iPhone 5S, which is a great device. I do lots of photography with the iPhone, manage my Twitter feeds and reading RSS feeds. I'm also a fan of podcasts and audiobooks for driving to and from the office and during more mundane design production tasks.

My ancient iPad 2 and smart cover is also a great workhorse that I use for reading, RSS, watching movies and TV shows, writing with a an Apple Bluetooth keyboard and Origami Workstation, some drawing and other tasks. It will get upgraded to a new iPad Air or Retina Mini this year so I can start using bluetooth styli, gain speed and save some weight.

Styli for the iPad include Stylus Sock Pro which feels like a pencil on screen, and the Pencil from 53 and Adonit Jot Script Stylus neither of which I've fully tested yet, but will this year.

I have an old Wacom 12" Cintiq which comes in handy for illustration work, though it's not the most portable of drawing tablets. For light work, my smaller Wacom Bamboo tablet is portable and works well in a pinch.

Headphones are Koss Porta Pros which have amazing bass response for a foldable, portable headphone. They even have a cool 80s vibe. For closed headphones, the Koss PRODJ100s. I've also enjoyed my Plantronics M165 Marque 2 bluetooth headset for listening to podcasts on the go and for Siri access.

For sketch and illustration work, Moleskine large squared notebook for concept sketches, Moleskine large sketchbook for book and other illustrations, Moleskine pocket sketchbook for sketchnoting events and just this year, a Moleskine large daily diary for a daily work logbook, in bright yellow.

Favorite pencils are the Retro 1951 Tornado Stealth HB 1.15mm mechanical pencil and/or Faber-Castell eMotion HB 1.4mm mechanical pencil, and for pens, Pentel EnerGel 0.7mm pen in my pocket and Retro 1951 Tornado Stealth Rollerball 0.7mm for sketchnoting and illustration.


Mac OS:

  • Email: Postbox
  • Calendaring: BusyCal, Fantastical & Google Calendar
  • Task management: OmniFocus
  • Project management: Basecamp
  • Rich notes w/ imagery, PDFs: Evernote
  • Plain text notes: NVAlt and JustNotes
  • Audio + Text notes: Pear Note
  • Writing: Byword and iA Writer, testing out iA Writer Pro
  • Code: BBEdit
  • UI and Graphic Design: Illustrator CC and Photoshop CC
  • Layout: InDesign CC (book design, print design)
  • Blog management: Mars Edit w/ SquareSpace 5
  • Vectoring Art: Vector Magic
  • PDF Editing: PDFPenPro & Acrobat Pro
  • Passwords: 1Password 4
  • Utilities: LaunchBar, TextExpander, Dropbox
  • Music: Spotify, Pandora & iTunes


  • Twitter: TweetBot
  • Calendar: Fantastical
  • RSS: Reeder
  • Articles: Instapaper
  • Books: Kindle, iBooks, GoodReader
  • Diary; Day One
  • Text Notes: Byword
  • Rich Notes: Evernote
  • Writing: Byword and iA Writer
  • Quotes: Quotebook
  • Podcasts: Instacast
  • Audiobooks: Audible
  • Sleep: Sleep Cycle
  • Tasks: OmniFocus & Listary (shared shopping lists)
  • Projects: Basecamp app
  • Passwords: 1Password
  • Image Editing: Camera+
  • Music: Pandora & iTunes

Dream setup

I think this MacBook Air is pretty close to it. Light, great screen, long battery life and solidly made. A new 27" display at the home office would be great, along with a lighter, less cumbersome Wacom Cintiq.

For me right now it's more about the space at home I'm working in, which needs to be remodeled. When we do that this coming year, I'll move to an adjustable sitting/standing desk.

And I mentioned moving to an iPad Air or Retina Mini this year as well. That should be a real upgrade from the iPad 2.


A combination of looking inside of myself, being inspired by work of other creators from now and the past. I'm also fired up when my kids create things.