I recall a day at work when I went to the whiteboard to propose some idea. I quickly drew about three sketches. All of a sudden, someone laughed out loud while pointing at my sketches. I thought it was funny so I laughed too. They thought my sketch was too funny that they didn’t take what I was saying seriously. Someone said;
Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing well.
Since then, I’ve been very conscious of what Design sketches meant to me. I’ve tried to always make them with extremely straight lines and nice pencils. Until lately, I read the book Sketching User Experience by Bill Buxton and it changed how I see sketching.
So Here’s What I Know Sketching to be now
Sketching is an aid to thought. It’s a process by which an individual expresses his thoughts inexpensively and gets to judge his rationale and if possible, fine-tune it iteratively.
You: I know what sketching is…
Me: I understand. Everybody does. But here’s what this post is about.
The iterative expression and judging process (Sketching) is more important than what is created (Sketch).
Having this understanding helps us see sketching as a process rather than the production of a physical entity. A Vehicle and not a destination.
While sketching has been known to externally represent ideas that have been consolidated in the designer’s minds, the full potential of sketching is achieved when we see it as a process to try out new ideas. Usually vague and uncertain ones. This activity promotes new ideas and refines current ones. It’s an Iterative process.
So Should sketches be beautiful?
Beautiful means something is done. Just the way my colleagues suggested I sketch.
But when sketching, we don’t want to say we’re done, we don’t sketch because we merely want show we’re done in our heads. There’re other ways to do that (Prototyping etc). We’re after the part of sketching that invite suggestions, criticism and changes. And does it in a way that’s cheap, fast, minimalist and plentiful enough to tell stories about the process.
The Ambiguity of sketches is a good thing. It lets everyone suggest enhancements without being biased by the shown version or the final product. It lets everyone on the team have a picture of the final product in their head and bring its possibility to the table.
Here’s what Hugh Dubberly says about sketching.
A sketch is incomplete, somewhat vague, a low-fi presentation. The degree of fidelity needs to match it’s purpose. A sketch should have just enough fidelity for the current stage in argument building. Too little fidelity and the argument is clear. Too much ambiguity and the argument appears done.
So the next time you make sketches, ask if your efforts to make them appealing hinder the kind of feedback you get.
The reason I told the story at the beginning was to make a clear point.
If sketching is an iterative process, then just the outcome shouldn’t be communicated.
Not everyone can see sketches and quickly converse in them. Doing this with your designer friends is easier. But not other people who aren’t really conversant with the sketching culture. I’m sure you get to see this all the time.
Designers have to be aware that what is “natural” to them in terms of how they read sketches and what they see in them, is not obvious to others, and what representation they use to communicate ideas.
When you sketch, don’t throw them away immediately. Keep them and always refer to them because they explain each other and tell the larger design story.
Here’s how Canadian print-maker and teacher Richard Sewell says it
I can’t critique only one thing.
Doing this unifies the process in every individual’s head. It gives us reasons why some ideas can’t work. Because we’ve tried them before.
It also puts the team in a position to quickly and easily suggest alternatives. If the sketching culture is encouraged, when someone thinks an idea is a bad one, he gets paper and pencil to improve on it.
The best idea is to have lots of ideas- Linus pauling.
That’s exactly what sketching gives us, the ability and mental advancement to converse in sketches. Not just generating lots of ideas, but trying them out immediately.
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