Back to the Basics: Use A Sketchbook

In an age full of quick prototyping tools, it’s quite easy to find yourself using your laptop, tablet, or even phone to show a client a potential idea or interaction. Screens can be whipped up in seconds using any one of the many tools out there — Illustrator, InVision, Marvel, and Balsamiq to name a few — but is this the best method?

Recently we’ve begun to use a sketchbook to get these quick ideas across when meeting face to face. There’s something truly effective about watching someone draw an idea rather than seeing just the final product/screen. That Point A to Point B mentality has intrinsic clarity to it. It mimics how we think. Sketching how a user would work through the app works in parallel to someone trying to map it out in their brain. The physical sketchbook grounds the experience, and it becomes the sole focus. On a screen, there’s plenty more to look at and distract you. One flick of the wrist and you can be staring at a completely different screen. With a sketchbook, every line drawn has a purpose, melding together with the rest of the sketch to formulate an idea. It doesn’t just “appear” — it’s created. Talking through a sketch while it is being created also feels like a lesson to be learned. We were all taught using this method. Hands-on helps dissolve confusion, because you process the act as it happens. It’s a linear experience for both the sketcher and the observer.

This doesn’t come without shortcomings. Amongst other popular brainstorming methods like whiteboards and post-it notes, sketching is a different collaborative engagement. It may be more passive than the much more popular whiteboard party. But it serves a different purpose than a traditional white-walled brainstorming session. We use it to clarify an idea previously shown (i.e. a client did not understand the interaction), or quickly solve an issue we see arising within the user flow. The informal nature of it allows for quick feedback as well. Building upon it is just so easy. Clients and team members alike can work off of the sketch, erase things they don’t like, and add things that they want implemented. Use the sketch as a baseline for discussion, and iterate on it right then and there. What other method has this benefit?

Obviously we still rely on more formal means for selling work and collaborating on features. But the sketchbook shouldn’t be avoided or neglected. In fact, we’ve used it in business development meetings to quickly show top level thinking, which ultimately led to winning the project. We offered a high level solution that got the client excited about working with us. This is where we saw the true power of it. Thinking quickly on your feet. Get the idea down and visualized. So put the laptop away, and grab some paper and a pencil. We think you’ll love the results.