by Yan Schober on August 7, 2009
In his book, Sketching User Experience, Bill Buxton advocates for sketching as a technique and process that can put experience front and center in design. I am a big fan of sketching and use the techniques I first learned in architecture school for interaction design. In this post, I’m going to give you a quick peek at the types of sketches I typically create in my design process with the hope that it will inspire you to try sketching for you next project.
After the initial user research, the first sketch gets me thinking about the big ideas.
Blank pages are intimidating, so I start each project by doodling a few things that are known entities, really anything to get me going. I prefer to do this on loose sheets of paper rather than in my sketchbook. This way, I stay loose and uninhibited. I can indulge in doing lots of fast, ugly sketches without worrying that they’ll clutter up my sketchbook. I keep a stack of papers next to my desk which I burn through quickly. It’s like warming up before a long workout.
A trick that usually works for me is to start this when I don’t have much time, which could be on the train or at the end of a long day. It sounds counterintuitive, but knowing that I only have a short amount of time actually releases my creativity. I have no expectation that anything will get done so I don’t censor my ideas. Most important, it seeds my thinking about the project and a brilliant idea may come to me on the drive home or in the shower the next day.
Here is an example of a first sketch:
A bit ugly, perhaps, but it served its purpose: it got me thinking!
A test sketch helps me explore my initial ideas.
Once a few promising ideas have surfaced, I redraw the original idea, but larger and with a finer pen. This sketch is all about taking my initial ideas on a test drive. It entails adding more detail and running the ideas through various primary workflows to see if they hold up. Also, an important part of this stage is sharing the ideas with other designers. I incorporate feedback into the next round of sketches, enriching the design with different points of views and accelerating its evolution. Here is an example:
Design Development Sketch
Once an idea has passed the initial stress test, it is ready for further design development.
I use design development sketches to flush out ideas that continue to show promise after the initial phases of sketching. I start working on a more detailed level to see if all the pieces are coming together. At this point, I often jump into Illustrator or Photoshop to test out some basic proportional relationships or to create simple wireframes. Here is an example of a hand-drawn design development sketch:
At this point, it’s starting to look like a real application.
The presentation sketch quickly communicates ideas to non-designers.
If an idea makes it past the design development phase, I often draw up some quick, more polished sketches that I can show to the rest of the team to get more in-depth feedback. The main goal here is to communicate my ideas to a wider audience such as product management and software development to get feedback on feasibility and cost. Most important, I can get buy-in for the project’s general design direction. Sketches look unfinished so people are not afraid to speak their mind, encouraging a productive dialog. Here is an example:
Note the high level of detail, and how much closer this is to a specification.
As is often the case in design, sketching is rarely a linear process. I often jump from test sketch to presentation sketch just to get some feedback and then start over because I realize that the idea was not good. I always try to come up with at least 2 or 3 early concepts so I can see which one develops best. Sketching is quick so it allows you to spend less time creating functioning prototypes and more time developing ideas.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that none of these sketches have to be pretty. I often hear people say, ‘I wish I could sketch’. In my mind, this misses the point of sketching. Design sketching is not about the physical artifact, but primarily about the mental exercise that it forces you to go through and the communication it facilitates with others. A quote from my RISD professor sums it up nicely, ”Beautiful drawings can get in the way of good design because people fall in love with the drawing, not the idea it represents.“ I encourage everyone who has never sketched before to give it a try.