Unruled's Take on Visual Note-taking...

By Brianna Bilter

Blank paper can be daunting — the lack of clear structure may leave some aspiring visual note-takers unsure of where to begin. But never fear! We have some structural inspiration to get you started on your journey.


Paragraph Structure

Perhaps the most conventional of visual note-taking styles, paragraph structure is just what it sounds like: the breaking down of notes and concepts into easily digestible paragraphs. These can be sentences or bullets or clusters of words, but the key is in the differentiationbetween sections. We recommend color-coding, different styles of bullets, or “containers” (enclosing text with boxes, circles, etc.)

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Sequential Structure

This style allows you to scatter your notes in a way that maintains a cohesive narrative. The key component: arrows. Beyond the chronological format, you can also be creative with your content. Make sure to include text, doodles or icons (simple drawings), and mix up the style of arrows.

The Mindmap

The mindmap is the visual alternative to a hierarchical outline; the further from the center a concept is, the more specific it is. We recommend color-coding to keep it organized, but you can also experiment with different font size or boldness to differentiate concepts from one another. You can utilize this style for many types of notes, but Jacob from the Unruled team prefers to use it to visualize his (extensive) to-do lists.



A picture says a thousand words, right? This can apply to your note-taking, too. You can connect your notes to one large image, say a map or diagram, or a series of images. You don’t have to be an incredible artist. We here at Unruled are major advocates for casual creativity — just give it your best shot!


Bennett HenseyComment
Draw a Better Face

By Brianna Bilter

Start out by sketching circles and lines! Lift your elbow and draw in one fluid motion. These will become a front and profile view.


The lines place the eyes, nose, and mouth. Go over the outline and make the chin slightly angular. Place facial features with their basic shapes. Start to add detail and shape. Note how the profile indents under the brow and above and below the mouth.



The ears should fall between the upper eye and the nose, and along the midline in the profile. Also trace in the hairline.


 Add a little detail! And maybe some shapely brows... 


And there you go! With some practice you'll be drawing better heads in no time.

Bennett HenseyComment
The Unruled Lifestyle: An Outside Perspective

By Elisabeth Wright, Marketing Specialist at The Garage

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The Garage’s tagline is short. We are Northwestern’s hub for student entrepreneurship and innovation. It’s easy to remember and I say it to every visitor that walks into The Garage. But, being here every day working alongside students in one of the most unique and modern spaces on Northwestern’s campus, it’s so much more than those words.

The core of what The Garage does lies with the Resident teams—groups of students incubating their startups while students at Northwestern. The students are what brings the space to life. On any given day, student founders are meeting one on one with their mentors, workshops or classes are being held in our Workspace, or Family Dinner is going down in the cafe, and if you’re lucky, you might see the occasional drone whizzing around.

I joined The Garage in October 2016 to lead their marketing efforts. Because The Garage has a lean staff, we each have a large hand in making The Garage what is it and sometimes we have to wear a range of hats. I manage The Garage’s social media accounts, handle event promotion, oversee print and digital marketing pieces, help to keep our website up to date, and I am often the ghost writer behind much of our written content on The Garage’s online publication, The Magazine. But that’s not why I come to work every day. My favorite part of being in The Garage is the students. Just being around others who are passionate, hardworking, and willing to take risks inspires me to do the same in my own work, to constantly iterate. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from students is the understanding that failure isn’t the end of the world. It’s a stepping stone to improvement and growth, something I used to think I didn’t really need to do anymore.

Co-founders Bennett Hensey and Jacob Morgan working in The Garage

Co-founders Bennett Hensey and Jacob Morgan working in The Garage

I met the Unruled team when they became Residents in Winter 2017. They immediately got to work, and quickly became familiar faces. Like many students, they sometimes turn to staff for guidance. I remember sitting with Unruled co-founder Jacob at The Garage’s bank of computers to help proof the text for their Kickstarter campaign. That campaign went on to be fully funded. I tracked it every week, and was a backer myself. Since then, Unruled has taken their idea from a handmade prototype to a full fledged brand, promoting environmental sustainability and visual thinking.

One of the biggest trends and most effective methods of marketing is storytelling. Brands need to do more than sell. Consumers want to be advocates for the brands they love, share it with their friends, and have an urge to make a personal connection. It’s more important than ever that brands do more—they need to share their “why,” and it needs to be authentic. Unruled lives their brand and embodies the tenets of sustainability and creativity every day. They aren’t just selling a notebook—they’re selling a lifestyle and a mindset.

"It’s more important than ever that brands do more—they need to share their “why,” and it needs to be authentic. Unruled lives their brand and embodies the tenets of sustainability and creativity every day."

Like all teams at The Garage, they’ve hit roadblocks. But their entrepreneurial hustle and bootstrapping game is strong. They’ve been on campus all summer working on Unruled full time as part of The Garage’s Wildfire pre-accelerator program. Just the other day, they were spotted pushing two huge carts of their newest shipment of 1,000 notebooks across campus in the August heat, and didn’t miss a beat before immediately making in person sales of their new product. As core members of Northwestern’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and Residents at The Garage, Unruled is working to forge a new path and we are super excited to support them on their journey, and can’t wait to see what’s next.

Lexy PraegerComment
Get Your Creative Juices Flowing with This Visual Thinking Exercise

By Lexy Praeger

When it comes to visual notetaking, sometimes the hardest part is putting pen to paper. Our brains are so used to working overtime to fit complex concepts between thin blue lines, that a blank page scares us. We have ideas in our head, but we don’t know how to represent them visually on paper. We’re not all artists, and we’re terrified to stain the space with our own personal touch. But instead of thinking between the lines, it’s time to think beyond them.

On a YouTube video binge yesterday, I stumbled upon a hidden gem by Dave Gray called “Squiggle Birds.” Inspired by his friend Chris Glynn, “a fine teacher who teaches fine things,” Gray demonstrated a fun way for us to break through these fears and find comfort in the blank space. Squiggle Birds is the first step to letting your ideas fly.

If you’re feeling adventurous and have five minutes to spare, I recommend giving it a try by following these three simple steps:

1. Grab your Unruled notebook (or a blank sheet of paper) and your favorite pen.

2. Start off by drawing a bunch of quick, random squiggles all over the page. Don’t think too hard. Just let your pen go.

3. Finally, transform each squiggle into a bird by adding a beak, an eye, two feet, and a tail. Once again, don’t think too hard. Throw in a few features, and let your mind fill in the rest.

Look at those birds! I won’t quit my day job just yet, but keep an eye out for them in the abstract exhibit at your local art museum.

I was so excited about Squiggle Birds that I had to share it with some of the other Garage residents. I rallied up a group of random student-entrepreneurs from diverse academic backgrounds, ranging from engineering to business-related fields. At first, they hesitated to squiggle freely, glancing at each other for direction. But once they took that initial leap, the creativity rushed in, and their ideas came to life. They let their instincts take them and embraced the blank space, giggling to each other about their silly creations.


Sometimes all you need is a blank canvas to let your mind do its magic. And who knows, maybe your best ideas could come from an arbitrary squiggle and a little trust.


Link to Dave Gray’s YouTube video:



The Search for the Perfect Notebook

By Bennett Hensey

School never did it for me. Maybe it was the teachers, maybe it was a discipline problem, but I always struggled to stay tuned-in during class. I remember taking tests on visual, auditory, and tactile learning, but teaching styles never changed and I always went back to doodling in class. I spent high school teaching myself out of textbooks and cramming for exams, so the fact that I graduated and made it to Northwestern University is nothing short of a miracle. I arrived at college as a fiercely independent learner, and one of the first things I bought was a sketchbook. Not for drawing of course, but for taking notes in class.


My handwriting is terrible and, by extension, so are most of the things I draw. But I took college as a chance to experiment with the way I learn, so I tried a number of different tools before my sketchbook: a binder, laptop, and tablet; before settling on blank printer paper. Something about the white pages felt refreshing after so many years of taking notes on lined paper, but I wanted my spiral binding back.

I don’t know how many hours I spent searching for a notebook without lines, but I do know that it was hours. Between looking at journals, expensive sketchbooks, and forums full of frustrated users, I couldn’t even find a pad of unlined paper! I spent $15 on a heavy 9 x 12” sketchbook and swore that someday I would make my own blank notebook. Now, after nearly 2 years, I’m finally on a team of students crazy enough to join me.

"I spent $15 on a heavy 9 x 12” sketchbook and swore that someday I would make my own blank notebook."

The Unruled notebook is a response to the frustrations I’ve had in my own learning experience. I wish I had accepted my own independent learning in high school, rather than shying away from learning altogether. I was never meant to think in lines, and it took me until college to realize that. My dream is that Unruled can inspire more students to think confidently the way they were meant to think, ruled or Unruled.