Draw together

You’ll build better products and form stronger partnerships across teams when you learn to draw together. Here’s how:

Draw the story

When I worked at DreamWorks, every conference room had a pile of blank storyboard pads in the middle of the table. Each conversation or critique started with a drawing and ended with a new drawing—sometimes dozens of drawings—one right on top of the next, drawn and re-drawn by everyone in the room.

Many times I had the pencil pulled out of my hand mid-drawing as my conversation/solution partner had an idea that could not wait another second to jump out. I’ve drawn accidentally on other people’s fingers as I’ve rushed to add an additional twist to a joke or to redraw a leg or arm or face. Delighted, we worked together in a visual language of articulated human emotion to chart the transformations from an initial to a changed state. And you can too.

This practice worked for us. Now of course, we made cartoons, so it makes sense that drawing would help us write better stories. However, the longer I’ve been away from cartoons, the more I’ve realized that every business builds stories and that drawing together will get you there faster.

Draw to discover

When you first start a new project, get in a room with your partners and start to draw: Draw together and draw at the same time. Trade lines. Finish each other’s circles and squares. Don’t worry about perfection; fluidity, improvisation and coöperation matter more.

If you can draw a circle…

…or a line and a square then you can draw. Don’t believe for a second that only artists can draw: everyone can make a mark and tell you what that mark means. Talk while you draw and it will work.

Here’s why: the goal isn’t to generate an exquisite rendering, the goal is organize placeholders for ideas and talk about how those ideas relate.

Draw the problem

When you first sit with someone and draw, try to resist the urge to immediately concoct solutions or UI, instead, draw the human need your product solves.

You might already have a good solution in mind, but treat yourself to the pleasure of a fully articulated problem. Draw the problem. Draw the people affected and demonstrate their predicament. Identify details: who else participates? How does the problem spread or get worse and when does it lessen?

Look at your drawings: what can you learn? Does the problem happen at night? In the morning? At home or at work? Alone or together in small groups or big crowds?

Next draw the transformed state.

Draw the transformed lives of people whose needs have been met—fulfilled, delighted, courageous people—and articulate the differences. Illustrate everything new about their transformed state.

Only after you’ve drawn the problem and the transformation should you then start to draw solutions. Start with emotion and human needs and then end with UI, not the other way around.

Replace adequate solutions with ingenious ones.

If you jump too quickly to UI or wireframes or layouts, your own intelligence and experience will find adequate solutions, which might prevent you from a much better solution borne from emotional transformation. Allow yourself the chance to discover.

Draw with everyone

Draw with your teammates and co-conspirators. Draw with people on your own team and draw with people from completely separate teams. Draw with your CEO. Draw with your intern. Draw at lunch with co-workers you’ve never met: Pack pencils and offer them up like cigarettes in Casablanca to start a conversation.

Why do it? Ideas get better when they collide.

Let’s have a meeting

Next time you run a meeting, skip the donuts* and bring a pack of pencils. Try this workflow:

  1. Remove all the chairs from the room and put a pile of paper and pencils and pens on the table. Put on some music.
  2. Start the meeting with an impassioned call to figure out the fundamental human needs your project will solve.
  3. Gather around on the same side of the table and start with any mark, a circle or line or triangle and say something like: “This circle is our potential-user riding home from work on the bus. What does she need?”
  4. Then give your pencil to the person next to you.
Special thanks for Josh Brewer for coming up with the draw-together concept and for helping me see that the story work I used to do directly applies to the story work I currently do.

*OK, you might want to also bring the donuts.

Read more #designstory posts.