Zettelkasten Forum


Zettelkasten for Architecture or Visual Output in general?

Hi, long time lurker of the forum and first time posting. First of all, I want to express my appreciation to all of you. I honestly read the posts here and in reddit (till 3 am sometimes).

I post now because I can't find definite answers.
So I have had my Zettelkasten for around 2 years now and have read a lot of literature about it (including Sonke's How to Take Smart Notes, among other things) so I can kind of navigate the ins and outs of the system.

For the longest time I have been adamant in trying to make my Zettelkasten work in my profession and so far I've been using it to:
1. store some ideas that I could implement in the future and link them to one another
2. store ideas / standards that I have used in previous projects so I can use them in the future
3. store things that I have learned (wins or mistakes) in projects to make sure I don't forget them.
I also do have a separate app that acts as a reference manager for pegs and pictures I've downloaded for inspiration that I can tag and link together named Eagle App.

But I just feel like I haven't truly gotten the potential output I can get from the system.

I know that Zettelkasten is geared towards writing and not necessarily visual output but I just want to ask advice on how to implement the system to maximize output for non-writing purposes. Am I doing something wrong or am I applying Zettelkasten to something it wasn't meant to do?

Looking forward to interacting with all you more (hopefully, my introversion won't get the better of me.)

Comments

  • If you haven't seen it, you may want to read this thread from March of this year: Anybody using Visual Note Taking and Zettelkasten? Would love to hear your experience. The thread goes off topic toward the end but starts with a video by an architect and designer who started experimenting with illustrated cards. Eagle app, which you mentioned, is also mentioned in that other thread.

    It sounds like the problem you are looking to solve is not about storing ideas but about creative productivity. Some classic books on that problem that I have found helpful are:

    • Twyla Tharp & Mark Reiter (2003). The Creative Habit: Learn It And Use It For Life: A Practical Guide. New York: Simon & Schuster.
    • Shel Perkins (2006/2015). Talent Is Not Enough: Business Secrets For Designers (3rd edition). San Francisco: New Riders.
    • David Allen (2008). Making It All Work: Winning At The Game Of Work And The Business Of Life. New York: Viking.
    • Scott Belsky (2010). Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming The Obstacles Between Vision And Reality. New York: Portfolio/Penguin.
    • Todd Henry (2011). The Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant At A Moment's Notice. New York: Portfolio/Penguin.
    • Todd Henry (2013). Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day. New York: Portfolio/Penguin.
    • R. Keith Sawyer (2013). Zig Zag: The Surprising Path To Greater Creativity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    • Todd Henry (2015). Louder Than Words: Harness The Power Of Your Authentic Voice. New York: Portfolio/Penguin.
    • Doron Mayer (2018). Workflow: A Practical Guide To The Creative Process. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

    I am probably forgetting some good books, but you get the idea.

    One quick productivity tip that I can give from personal experience is this: When you are filing visual ideas (or other ideas), think about the kinds of projects they can be used for and tag them or otherwise file them so it is clear that they are actionable ideas for future projects and not just for general reference or inspiration. This is like the distinction in Getting Things Done between Projects, Someday/maybe, and general Reference files.

  • @Andy
    Thank you for the thorough reply! Yes, I have read the thread before. I did not know that the original video was actually of an architect. I thought she was just a very visual learner or doing it for aesthetic purposes. I can't fully implement what's in the video though since I use a digital zettelkasten. The advantages of going all digital is really compelling.

    If I recall correctly, this is also the post that made me use the eagle app. Although now that I think about it, I use the eagle app for all my images in zettelkasten. This may have introduced a gap between my zettelkasten and the images, both platforms I use as inspiration. Maybe I should have just embedded the pictures inside my zettelkasten as opposed to creating a separate place for them.

    But you are right, my problem is not the capturing of information, but the implementation of a creative productivity system / design process (that hopefully complements the zettelkasten system).

    Thank you for the exhaustive list of references. I will definitely look these up.

    Yup, I also adhere to the GTD system, I separate my files into the projects first and once the projects are finished, I salvage anything that I can reuse for the next project.

  • I never stop learning about "the implementation of a creative productivity system / design process"! :) If you're in an early stage of your career there is especially a lot to learn. When I was in school I didn't learn nearly enough about it (hence all the books above, all of which were published after I graduated).

    The books I mentioned above are ones that came to mind as accessible and practical. But there is a lot of more academic and less immediately applicable work too. An interesting academic study that I once came across, although I don't think I learned anything practical from it, is: Gabriela Goldschmidt (2014), Linkography: Unfolding the Design Process, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. She was an architect who turned to research, and she analyzed the design process as patterns of links in networks of design moves. It's not a how-to book by any measure, but a different way of thinking about "linking" than is usually found in this discussion forum.

    There are some interesting design-process resources on the Dubberly Design Office website that come to mind, for example:

    @Hailtothekym said:

    This may have introduced a gap between my zettelkasten and the images, both platforms I use as inspiration. Maybe I should have just embedded the pictures inside my zettelkasten as opposed to creating a separate place for them.

    It sounds like you may be unintentionally creating different "information silos" where different kinds of information live in different apps? My own philosophy (somewhat like Douglas Barone's classic blog post on the "File System Infobase Manager") is to use my computer's basic file system itself as the place where information is stored, and not inside the software architecture of a particular app. The apps are just tools to access the information that is in the file system: text, images, etc. (This is probably easier to do on a Mac, which I use, compared to some other operating systems due to the presence of tagging at the file-system level rather than in particular apps.) So text files and image files are largely stored together, but the relevant images are also linked in the text files, while at the same time I can use an image browser and filter by file type and tags to just see the images.

  • Definitely still have a lot (and eager) to learn from my career and these books :smile:

    @Andy said:
    It sounds like you may be unintentionally creating different "information silos" where different kinds of information live in different apps?

    Yes, unfortunately, it seems like that is what happened. Having 2 different tools for each medium created a divide and been unable to link freely between them. The reason I had a different app for my pictures was so my zettelkasten would not be cluttered with too much images. I have a fear that it would get bloated and have the text-based zettels get lost in all the media in it. But I guess in the end, if I really want a fully functioning zettelkasten, I have to get rid of the fear and consolidate them in one app.

    @Andy said:

    My own philosophy (somewhat like Douglas Barone's classic blog post on the "File System Infobase Manager") is to use my computer's basic file system itself as the place where information is stored, and not inside the software architecture of a particular app. The apps are just tools to access the information that is in the file system: text, images, etc. (This is probably easier to do on a Mac, which I use, compared to some other operating systems due to the presence of tagging at the file-system level rather than in particular apps.) So text files and image files are largely stored together, but the relevant images are also linked in the text files, while at the same time I can use an image browser and filter by file type and tags to just see the images.

    Thanks for the tip. I use windows for work though so no native tagging for files unfortunately. I have to do it in my zettelkasten software.

  • @Hailtothekym said:

    The reason I had a different app for my pictures was so my zettelkasten would not be cluttered with too much images. I have a fear that it would get bloated and have the text-based zettels get lost in all the media in it. But I guess in the end, if I really want a fully functioning zettelkasten, I have to get rid of the fear and consolidate them in one app.

    You may want to analyze that fear a little more, because it seems to me that there may be good reasons for it. To me, it seems rational to want to avoid being stuck in only one app that may not be optimal for all of your needs. I too would be afraid of that. You may want to explore more software options that can dissolve the dilemma that causes you to think that either images have to be in the zettelkasten app or they have to be in an image management app. I don't know enough about Windows software to offer any specific advice, but there must be some way to overcome what seems to be a false dilemma.

    One thing that I do (which I can't recommend in general, because it is specific to my skill set and software) is that when I need notes with a complex layout I will often make them in Adobe Illustrator (with elements that may have been produced by other programs) and save them as Illustrator-editable PDFs. I can link to those PDFs from text-only notes, and I can link to text-only notes from the PDFs since PDFs support live hyperlinks. That's just an example of "thinking outside the box" of the text-file-versus-image-file dilemma.

  • @Hailtothekym I said I didn't know enough about Windows software to offer any specific advice, but then I remembered that I do have one tip that may be of use: Have you ever used Adobe Bridge? It's free, and it could be a much better solution for you than Eagle, because unlike Eagle (if I'm correct about Eagle, which I don't use) Adobe Bridge does not require you to store assets in an app-specific library; Bridge can manage assets anywhere on your computer. I'd recommend giving Adobe Bridge a try instead of Eagle so that you can still use an image management app while storing non-text assets somewhere that is more integrated with your zettelkasten files.

  • @Andy
    Oooohh! This looks promising. Yeah, eagle has its own source folder where it stores the picture and the metadata. Will definitely try using this along with my zettelkasten software. I'm thinking of having a folder for all my digital assets within my zettelkasten folder so that's accessible by it, try opening it with adobe bridge so I can have both the metadata for pictures and linking from my zettelkasten. It seems a little bit convoluted but definitely something to try. Thank you for this!

  • Here's a Bridge-related tip on Reddit that may be helpful: "View All" in Adobe Bridge?

  • Aby Warburg may give people some inspiration. Try this collection and related research: https://warburg.sas.ac.uk/archive/archive-collections/verkn%C3%BCpfungszwang-exhibition/mnemosyne-materials

    🗃️ website | Hypothes.is notes

    No piece of information is superior to any other. Power lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections. There are always connections; you have only to want to find them. —Umberto Eco

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