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26 Jan 2018

Being Sketchy at Work

By Robyn Baker

“I can’t draw.”

Oh my god, if I never hear this again, I will be a very happy person. Listen, I get it: You are probably saying you can’t draw a realistic portrait of Ryan Gosling, but I guarantee you that you can put pen to paper and communicate something. I believe that sketching is a useful language and everyone can speak it. Everyone.

A sketch is a quick drawing that conveys a general idea. There are two components of sketching that are important to understand and embrace as a creative problem solver. The first is to be vague. Imagine you want to show your idea for a new digital interface. Draw a bunch of horizontal lines, and you’ve got blocks of copy. Make some small circles or squiggles, you’re showing where icons or illustrations go. Draw rectangles to show where you want to put images. These very basic elements establish a framework for content and help to define hierarchy. The key is simplicity. Avoid any tendency to represent details.

The second component of sketching is speed. Quickly test multiple approaches to solving a problem. By increasing your pace of sketching you are encouraging a fluid free flow of ideas, all of which have equal importance and consideration.


Save Time, Gain Quick Buy-In

It’s absolutely integral to my job as designer that I communicate through sketching. Sketches can create team buy-in, sell an idea, support a piece of feedback, or shift a client’s thinking. Starting a project on paper before you go to the computer can save a ton of time because you can loosely explore options without committing to anything. You can then have a conversation about a variety of approaches, hone in on one idea with your team, and only then take it to the computer for refinement.

I am always advocating sketching as a communication tool. I often find that a lot can be lost in translation when using words only to describe a visual idea. In meetings with coworkers, my creative director, or even clients, I find myself slowly inching a notebook in their direction and asking them to sketch it out for me. I encourage young designers to include sketching in their portfolio. Showing your clients or employers sketched out ideas alongside the final project helps to communicate your ability for design thinking. Sketches are a great window into your mental process for approaching a creative challenge and the amount of exploration that you do on the way to finding a solution. Sketching can also help to validate or back up design decisions and potentially allow you to speak with more confidence about your solution because you’ve explored your options.


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You Can Do It!

Surprisingly, there are a lot of designers who think they can’t sketch. I’m here to tell you that you CAN. Check out these tips to get started:


So, what makes a good sketch?

Well, that depends on what you are trying to communicate, but here are some examples of successfully crappy sketches. Notice the lack of detail and terribly uneven lines… you might even see some salsa spilled on the page. While these may not look beautiful by artistic standards, they were all valuable in communicating an idea for the project at hand.



Sketching is like eating a pint of ice cream on your birthday.

That is to say, anything goes and there is no judgment. I believe in you. If that doesn’t help, guess what? Google and our robot overlords believe in you. Don’t believe me? Go here and have fun.

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