Why paper sketching is always a good idea

Art and design always bring something new to the world through objects or images. Design thinking influences such creations, which start as a mental activity to create results that deals with real world sensory elements, that you can see, touch, feel, and operate. Design thinking leads to the composition of ideas, thoughts, goals, requirements, etc. and as a result, it creates a meaningful and an effective solution.

Composing ideas, thoughts, goals, requirements are achieved by visualization which is never achieved in the first shot or iteration. This the first thing that I have learned while working at Aubergine.

During discover and define phase of the product design, visualization is based on incremental steps. It helps in defining the product by getting clarity of the ideas, thoughts, and requirements to be precise. The design phase involves execution of the ideas that were sketched in the define phase. This is when we use a digital tool like Sketch or Illustrator.

Sketching the ideas or thoughts while understanding the goals and requirements of the client is often supported by some form of dynamic representations that keep co-evolving as the thinking explores newer directions. These initial sketches are the natural partners of the thinking process and are unique to design profession.

Now what we have learned at Aubergine is that sketching is the cheapest, fastest and an efficient way of generating and defining ideas, which further helps in defining the product. Sketching helps us in putting the images that we have in our mind while interacting with client or users or stakeholders. Many time the clients do involve themselves in the sketching.

Before I explain how exactly sketching has benefited us, we will have to take a short detour and understand how our brain processes information, and the role of Short Term Memories.

Short Term Memory (STM)

For example, learning to drive a car. You don’t really enjoy the drive while you’re learning, or you give any attention to things that you encounter on the road (like shops, gardens, etc.). Similarly, while you learn to eat Chinese food with Chopsticks you don’t enjoy the food for the first time. When you’re learning there are so many micro tasks and sequences of actions to be attended to. With practice, you chunk them together as units. Then you have to process them as micro-steps but attend to them as a chunk. The primary activity (like driving or eating with chopsticks for the first time) takes so much of your cognitive resource that you find it difficult to converse with others around.

We will do a test to understand the complexity that STM:

Step 1:

Step 1: Do remember these words before you jump to the next step.

Step 2: You can do this on a piece of paper. But make sure you don’t refer to the image shown in the step 1

Were you able to write all the words that you referred? I must say it was a tough task to remember all the words and their spellings, and the sequence too.

The difficulties that you faced in the above test are the limitation on the capabilities of STM.

How do we overcome the limitations on the capabilities of STM in the act of design?
By sketching.
To conserve resources, one of the most important strategies that humans use is to quickly represent ideas externally. In design, it includes diagrams, sketches and quick and dirty mockups.

We use sketching as intermediate representations of the ideas evolving in our mind. These sketches are often messy, incomplete and ambiguous. The value of these sketches as end products is often not important, at least till you become famous and research worthy! For us, early sketching is a means of supporting the evolving thoughts and they have a key role in product design. Sketches act like fodder for the reaction, new visualisations and fresh ideas.

Learn how to sketch is what we try to master, which directly proportional to accurately sketching the ideas or thoughts on the paper, which will help us in developing those ideas and make digital mock-ups out of those messy sketches. Thus mastering how to sketch is important as a designer. Sketches are permanent and long term storage of ideas, so they act as extensions of STM.

Photo by: Braden Kowitz. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kowitz/7173388694

How do we master the sketching?
We talk to our sketches! To begin with, we as a creator tries to sketch what we have currently visualised. We quickly sketch the new idea and moment later reflects on it as a neutral observer. The cycle repeats and we keep switching roles continuously.

The STM is occupied with reacting, conversing and even rejecting the ideas. In the encounter with these sketches, the designer often challenges we pose questions like “What if I do X?’ and Why not I try Y?’ In exploring answers to these challenges, we either discover new solution directions or understanding the design problem in greater depth. Often this is accompanied by intimate conversation, mostly in sub-vocal speech. It is somewhat like talking to yourself. The vocal cord moves, but the sound is not produced. Why is this a conversation and not a monologue? Because we play a double role; of a creator and a critic.

New ideas are also triggered by some words that the team members utter. Imagine the complexity of such simultaneous acts and what STM is required to handle!

The way the quality of your driving skills improve over a period of time after practicing or rather overcoming the STM (micro-tasks and sequence of actions). And the way you enjoy the driving or eating Chinese food with chopsticks. Similarly, we enjoy representing the ideas on the sketches because they help in improvising the design process. Helping us to work efficiently and be more productive.

What do you think?

Do share your thoughts if sketching has helped you in getting better at problem-solving!