In defence of my ugly notebook

I love doodling, but I’m not a hardcore doodler. Honestly, I can’t really draw, and my notebooks have always been filled with half-unreadable handwriting and awkward, kooky doodles.

I do doodle a lot, though, and I take a lot of notes, particularly in the beginning of my design process. There is something about the physicality of pencil and paper that triggers a natural creative response in me (and many other people too), and I’ve always used it to get the bad ideas out of my system as quickly as possible, and get to the good stuff, fast.

I love this process, even though I may loathe how ugly my notebook is — most of the time, anyway. So let me tell you why:

Lists rule

Sure, it’s nice to have pages filled with beautiful doodles. It makes me feel like the special snowflake of an artist I’ve always wanted to be. But my most valuable tools are my lists. Listing concepts, ideas, names, related words, helps me get in the problem-solving zone and better understand what I’m trying to accomplish. So I start by listing all the elements that a feature has, all the information a player needs to know, all the information that is available to me as a game developer, etc. It’s a great tool for my memory, and it serves as a warm up for my design process.

Self-editing is harmful

Designers and artists have a little devil whispering in their ears: “make that look lovely, clean up the lines, polish it…” am I right? But I also know that my best work usually happens after I’ve sketched many ideas, and discarded them. I need to get to that mental space as quickly as possible to come up with real solutions. Self-editing the previous versions would just mean wasting time on things that won’t really work.

Quick problem-solving rocks

With UX, we’re trying to solve problems, not make things look pretty. The uglier my notes, the faster my problem-solving. Lists and diagrams turn into a messy jumble, but by the end of this process, I usually understand the problem better and can come up with faster solutions. My wireframes are crooked, and I’m the only person that can understand my handwriting, but this means I don’t care about the looks, I care about the ideas. There’s always time to improve and clean the good ones up, and I don’t feel guilty throwing the bad ideas away.

Your future you will thank you

With a minimum amount of organisation, you can turn your ugly notebook into a useful tool for the future you. I mean that just by adding dates and titles on pages, you can later come back to it and refresh your memory. My ugly notebook helps me recall my thought process, even if it’s just a mess of words and lines, and it’s particularly helpful when I’m making my case for a Product Owner or the rest of the team.

So, don’t judge a notebook by its lack of cute doodles, perfect diagrams and lovely handwriting. Judge it by how useful it is to your design process and how much you can learn from it. And if you happen to be one of the lucky few with a quick wrist for cute doodles, well, I envy you! Shout out if you're also the proud owner of an ugly notebook, and share your early design process with us!

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Hi, I’m Lissa. I play games, push pixels and write sometimes. I’m also a crazy-happy UI Designer working for the excellent studio Space Ape Games. If you liked this article, please ❤ below and follow me! I promise I’m cool.