Step away from your feckin’ computer!

…and pick up your ProMarkers, Sharpies or any pen of choice.  Sketching is an essential part of the design process.  Fact. Technology plays a significant role in our daily activities but you need to pick up a pen and draw before diving in to the pixels. A great experience draws from a rich & diverse set of disciplines, and sketching is the best way to achieve great designs in a rapid, multi-discipline and collaborative way. Nothing frustrates me more than UX Practitioners that don’t sketch and UX Practitioners that say they can’t sketch.


As Ella Fitzgerald (and later Terry Hall) sang, It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It). It’s the process of sketching wherein lies the power.  The proliferation of tools for UX folk has drawn some people away from the more effective hands-on approaches.  These new tools will enable you to craft your experience, but the journey that you take to get there is the difference between delivering a good and a great experience.

As for those who hide behind the excuse that they can’t sketch.  That’s baloney! Providing you can draw a few lines, boxes and even circles then you can visualize your idea as well as the next person. You don’t need to have advanced sketching skills.

Everyone can and must sketch.  If not, then you’re in the wrong profession. No other tools IMHO achieves all of the following:-

It’s inclusive. A sketch is democratic, in its creation and in its understanding. Anyone can do it. Sketching breaks down barriers by making everyone equal. A diagramming tool requires expertise.

It’s collaborative. Sketching is a good way of bringing people together and getting a faster feedback loop.

It’s disposable. If it doesn’t feel disposable then people will be reluctant to provide feedback and accept change.

Encourages feedback.  A straight line implies order and therefore, something considered or perhaps final where the wobbly hand drawn line is open, flexible, to be aesthetically ignored.  Because it looks rough, people are less afraid to criticize or offer suggestions. Low fidelity is more appropriate when higher level of feedback is required. Polished concepts cam put up barriers to feedback.

It’s Rapid. Sketching is a quick way to develop ideas and to explore different ones.  Even the fastest Omnigraffler can’t beat pen & paper!

It’s an effective communication tool. A doodle is worth a thousand words.

Shows the Design evolution.  It’s good to be able to look back at the original sketches that the final designs evolved from.

Engages the project team & client. A sketch frames an experience without getting caught in the detail.  It engages the client in the broader meaning of a solution and not the detail/minutiae. The project team and client needs to be engaged right from the offset as this helps forge a close respect and relationship which in turn produces better results.

Puts you in to a creative mindset.  Simply picking up your sharpie can put you in to the creative mindset.

It’s transparent. It’s all about nudity. Showing a sketch is naked idea presentation, which can show confidence in your process and concept; there’s nowhere to hide. The feeling of unfinishedness puts the focus more on the idea and the essence rather than inaccuracies or omissions.

Sketching is an essential tool in every UX Practitioners toolkit, and should be used at early concepting stages, when feedback and collaboration is most critical.  Formal deliverables can come later once the design options have been explored with pen & paper.

Note: Some of the above has been reproduced from one of my posts several years back.  I’m currently having a spring clean and closing down all my previous blogs, and therefore ‘borrowing’ a few bits here and there before they get lost forever.

What does it take to design experiences

As I scrawled the estimates for a routine design phase on a whiteboard, a colleague was intrigued by the way I broke down my estimates. It’s a frustrating aspect of agency life that many people think of designing experiences in terms of wireframing. I adopted a simple technique to help break through this production mentality and buy the team ‘time to think’ – a rare commodity at the best of times!

It’s simple…I estimate each component, screen or section against three attributes; Talk, Explore & Communicate. This additional granularity enables me to provide more accurate estimates. It also helps the wider team to better understand what the design process actually entails. I loosely define these attributes as follows:-

This is how much time I need to gather all the necessary information before I have the majority of information required to explore the design options. Depending on the complexity of what I’m designing, a water cooler moment might be enough, or I may need one or more workshops to make sense of the requirements.

Design is not a straight path and not every design challenge has a single solution. I need time to explore the different design options. This is the heart of the design process, where I think through the design problem, applying lo-fi methods to explore and refine ideas in a fast and iterative manner until one is reached and agreed on. Computers are not invited.

And finally, this is where I communicate the information architecture and interaction models in sufficient fidelity to be implemented. It’s important to pick the right comms tool for the job, be it final designs annotated with post-it notes, omnigraffle wireframes or interactive Axure prototypes.

This isn’t rocket science, but I find this simple technique results in more accurate estimates. A single number against a screen often gets squeezed as the wider team fail to understand some of the complexities and the design thinking involved to craft something that meets the business goals and make the customers happy. I got in to this game to craft customer experiences that make a difference and this technique is a small step in shifting the focus to where it needs to be.

Just Say NO to Wireframing

I’m not against the process of Wirefaming. Wireframes are a valuable communication tool in every Experience Designer’s toolkit. It’s the term itself, Wireframing, that we need to push back on! This word is commonly misused and the cause of considerable frustration for those of us that design experiences. Yup, we Design Experiences. The problem is that in many organizations Wireframing has become synonymous with Design.

The misuse of this word highlights a fundamental lack of understanding of what us so-called User Experience Designers do and distorts the perception of how we do what we do to people less familiar with our craft. Worst of all, it instills a production mentality, of a conveyer belt that churns out wireframe after wireframe after wireframe…

If you are asked to wireframe something, correct them and ask whether they want it Designed instead.  This is not semantics, but a critical re-education of what Experience Design entails. By calling it what it is, Design, we invite a conversation beyond a diagramming and communication tool, a conversation which focuses upstream where the ideas and thinking live.

Design is not a straight path. Exploration allows us to think through the design problem to get the right design out of the many possibilities.  And you cannot design an experience in a vacuum – it relies on cross-discipline collaboration. This doesn’t happen in a diagramming tool. This is why we use Design Techniques such as lo-fi sketching to explore design options, invite commentary and gain design consensus. This is the heart of the design process, and it’s where the magic happens.

Once we’ve explored the design options, the final step in the design process is to communicate the experience; the interactions, behaviours, layout and much more. Many factors influence our choice of communication tool, and it’s important to agree the most efficient way to communicate the designs so that more time can be spent truly designing the experience. Wireframes are one of many tools available to communicate the experience. Wireframing Is NOT Design but it may be part of your design process

It’s still early days for our industry and it’s important we take every opportunity to help people understand what we do.  If we fail to explain our craft today, then tomorrow could be a dark n’ miserable world for User Experience practitioners.

[Image of the Grange Hill 'Just Say No' Campaign borrowed from Pink Label Marketing]

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