164 Ideas in 5 Hours of Remote Sketch Sessions


The beginning of a new project is the best and also the worst. You know how it is; a blank page/artboard is staring you in the face but how do you jumpstart things?

Recently, we were at the beginning of designing a new iOS app. After some initial user interviews and market research we realized there were a lot of decisions to make, and a lot of routes we could take. So to get kicked off, we decided to sketch as a team for 30 minutes everyday for 2 weeks.

Here are some tips from our exercise.

1. Start With Everyone, and Start With a Problem

Start with this truth: You probably don’t have all of the best solutions.

That’s a hard one to grasp sometimes, especially in the ego-driven design culture that we live in. Think of your job as a designer as curating the best solutions rather than trying to ideate all of them.

I know what you’re thinking and the answer is “no”, this is not “design-by-committee”. At the end of the day, it is still my job to design, test, and iterate on interfaces… group sketching just allows me to pick from a wider pool of ideas.

Our entire squad(myself, a product manager, developer, and QA) all hopped on a video call to get our ideas on paper.

The squad goes ‘heads down’

I would typically setup the session by defining a specific user problem(or opportunity).

  • How can we onboard athletes to record their vertical jump?
  • How would an athlete compare his jump to a previous jump?
  • How would an athlete know the scores of his teammates?

Staying rooted in a user problem helped keep us focused on solving something tangible without drifting into the land of feature-creep.

2. Fixed Time, Fixed Number of Sketches

Nothing gets you out of neutral like a timer.

For our sketch sessions, everyone had to produce 3 separate sketches in 5 minutes. We utilized the 3x3 Method because it helped us all think within a narrative.

The amount of time and number of sketches is completely arbitrary. The point is that you should feel like you needed a few more minutes. I’ve found that given too much time, people tend to produce fewer(or even lower quality) sketches.

3. Present & Critique

We wrapped up each session by having everyone take a couple of minutes and present their sketches.

As we went around the group, we all could see patterns starting to form. For some of the sessions, we would also do mini-critiques.

Our developer(Greg) getting his presentation skills on.

I concluded each session by having everyone Slack me a photo of their sketch, then I added them to a Basecamp ‘megapost’ to document each day of sketching while highlighting the ideas and concerns from each session.

A sample Basecamp summary of the day.

At the end of 2 weeks, we ended up with 164 different ideas, that I could draw on. This well of ideas proved invaluable to me at the onset of the project. Even a few months later, I still go back to this well. Sure, some ideas are no longer relevant and some are still months out from getting on a roadmap, but this exercise was great at getting us all out of neutral and solving problems as a team.

Tools:

First, I had tried my trusty Moleskine and used an iPevo cam with a stand to broadcast it. This wasn’t a horrible option, but it proved a little cumbersome (switching between my MacBook’s cam and the iPevo).

I ended up settling on using the Paper app in conjunction with Reflector 2. This allows me to stream my iPad screen straight to my MacBook, then all I need to do is share my screen. It’s a completely wireless solution, which I love.

Paper(by FiftyThree) + Reflector 2 + Screensharing via Google Hangout.

I’m curious: have you tried remote sketch sessions and if so, how did you do it?