I love pens and paper and putting them together to make marks and lines and scribbles and that. Lots of people tend to avoid them nowadays, favouring the tippy-tap of a keyboard and the clicky-drag of a mouse. A few years ago I moved jobs and was surprised to see some of my new colleagues taking notes by typing stuff into Word. Maybe I’m showing my age but that really can’t be a good way of taking notes. The office had a healthy supply of pens and all manner of notebooks to choose from. Still she punched away at her laptop. She certainly wasn’t the quickest typist in the world, how did she get everything noted down? How would she go back and make new notes around her original notes? How would she doodle the cup of tea she was drinking, or the sandwich she was looking forward to at lunch? What was wrong with her?
It’s all about the pens and the paper, people. The pens and the paper…
The vast majority of us can sketch a line, with little to no training. Those who can sketch a line, can join the lines together too. Once the lines have been joined together, loads of options then become available. We can now sketch anything in whole world, simply by joining lots of lines together in different ways. Woah there, anything? Sure, remember sketching isn’t drawing. The marks on the page don’t have to be a photographic representation of what’s in your head or what you see in front of you. The purpose is to get the ideas out of your head and to communicate your thoughts to other people. Sketches are ideas. The sketch needs to be legible but in no way does it super polished. And it just so happens that if like me, you’re responsible for communicating ideas for stuff like processes, websites, apps, flows and journeys, the basis of our sketches are boxes. We just need to sketch the boxes. Who can go wrong with a box? And if you’re feeling a little sketchy at first – don’t worry, the more you do, the more comfortable you’ll become.
Once you start putting pen to paper a wonderful thing happens. You start to show people, you pick the paper up and turn it over, slide it across a desk, touch it and pin it to a wall. Now your sketches are visible and out in the wild for all to see and get involved with. Now other people are interacting with it and collaboration begins, the idea isn’t hidden away behind a computer screen – it’s ownership has been removed and it belongs to the team. Even jargon becomes watered down and a common language develops. You’re now not trying to remember the names of modules or functionality, you’re pointing things out and bringing them into the group.
As easy as they are to create, sketches are also easy (and fun!) to get rid of. Screw them up and throw them (literally) away, make paper aeroplanes from them, or even an origami swan. The interaction continues even when they’re on their last legs.
Pros and pros
Sketching is quick. You really can make a fair few marks on some paper while your colleagues’ computer is firing up and their favourite software is loading. It requires minimal setup and very little investment in time, training and materials. Also, you don’t need to match software across teams or make sure you have the right amount of licenses. The tools are available from loads of easily accessible places and sometimes for free (shops, lying around, Argos*).
*I don’t advise you use Argos as a supplier of free sketching material.
Something old and something new
Wikipedia says paper was invented by our Chinese friends during the Han dynasty (206BC – 220AD). It was the equivalent of modern day wrapping paper and bubble wrap – used to protect anything from mirrors to medicine. More recently Architects and Design Engineers developed this ancient packaging material by making it more translucent so drawings could be precisely copied. This process of tracing is one of the fundamental processes in Product Design. Iteration is key to getting closer to solving a problem, refining and developing an idea. With sketching you can grab a new piece of paper, trace the old version, and iterate a new one, again and again and again.
Hmmm, but …
Hold on there smokey Joe, we don’t want any of that “well …”, “erm …”, “I dunno …”. It’s quick, fun and produces lots and lots of ideas. And it all started thousands of years ago in ancient China.
Here at Red Badger we open sketching up to everybody from UXers, Designers, Engineers and Developers to the users of the products we’re producing. And from a tinchy 20 minute session we can get a whole heap of ideas and potential solutions to the problem we’re working on. All with no training and no budget. And we all get a break from our computer screens t’boot.
So, go on. Tool up, get your pens and paper out and pull up a pew with your team.