In a recent survey by Khoi Vinh of subtraction.com about their favourite tools that designers use in the design process, “Pencil and Paper” came up as the overwhelming winner (64% of all answers) for the “Brainstorming and Ideation” phase. In a time where new tools and techniques for designers and developers emerge all the time, it might surprising that the good old analogue technique of sketching by hand is that popular. But is it really?
Sketching is a simple but powerful tool, that we all have at our disposal. Pens, paper and whiteboards are readily available in every office, there is no need for expensive hard- or software It’s quick, it’s cheap and we don’t have to be artists to scribble down a simple diagram explaining our ideas. There seems to be a potential barrier for a lot of people though to take the first steps at picking up a pen –especially coming from a non-design background like programming, research or product management. The sentence “I can’t draw” can be anchored deeply in our heads, convincing us that if we never had a knack for arts, sketching can’t be for us.
In the Sketching Interfaces workshop that I teach regularly at conferences and for design teams, we are working to dispel the ‘I can’t draw’ myth and dive right into practicing the simple techniques you need to sketch ideas for your web pages, mobile apps, user flows or site maps. We usually start with a simple warm-up and slowly work our way through a set of exercises that focus on different aspects of sketching, both technically and conceptually.
Each exercise is designed to tackle a specific area like page layouts, navigation structures, user flows, interactions and animations. And as a bonus we go beyond just boxes and arrows with a little excursion into sketching simple storyboards that bring our products to life in the context of actual people using what we want to build. After each exercise a group review allows us to see each others’ solutions, talk about difficulties and how we can overcome them and learn from everybody in the room in a friendly and supportive environment.
We discuss questions like “How do I communicate structure clearly?”, “How do I make it easier for others to grasp the high level concept?”, “How do I emphasise important parts of my idea?”, “Which level of fidelity is the right one?“ or “How can I use colour effectively?” both through our reviews as well as some theoretical support and examples from real world projects.
After an intense morning of practicing single skills in smaller exercises, we bring everything together by exploring how we can use sketching activities in a workshop setting with our team. By the end of the day everybody is equipped with the skills and confidence to express their ideas visually and with a structure for when and how to use sketching on their own or in a workshop with their team.
The workshop is ideal for anyone involved with building digital products and who wants to add sketching into their toolkit. No previous sketching experience is needed, but if there are folks who already sketch, they can enjoy a day of focussed practice and get useful tips and tricks of how to improve their technique. It's a fun, fast-paced day, taking a break from the screen to let the ideas flow straight from the tip of our pen.
Want to learn sketching hands-on?
See my upcoming speaking and workshop schedule.
If you would like to run a workshop with your team or company, please get in touch.
I have two tried and tested 1-day practical workshops to offer:Sketching Interfaces and Sketching for Visual Thinking and Sketchnoting, but I can also create a customised workshop matching the needs of you team.
Photos by Christian Perstl from a previous workshop in Munich and from Smashing Magazine from a previous workshop in Freiburg.