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Pencils before pixels

For a while I’ve been developing an understanding of the principles behind user experience design (UXD), and as a designer I’ve always considered the user when solving particular design problems but for whatever reason, opportunities never presented themselves for me to run my own UX workshop, until recently.

This article explains why sketching is a necessary stage of the design process and how I’ve now been successfully running a sketching workshop.

Sketching isn’t new to me. I had always sketched in sorts, be it a quick scribble to a detailed full page spread – whatever was needed for me to have a clear vision to move forwards with prototypes and visual concepts. But they were hidden away in my sketch book and nobody ever saw them, there was no client input or sign-off and they weren’t very client facing – I needed to find a way to overcome that.

So why sketch?

It’s easy for us to get tunnel vision and let the processes that we have in place which are designed to be tools actually steer the design process too much, and you are not free enough to truly create, truly solve problems other than the problem that is often the first assumption or that is most articulated. Figuring out the articulated problem and thinking creatively about it is really a necessary step in the design process and it’s super valuable.

I’ve heard it called ideation, it’s not illustration, it’s not art, it’s just getting what is in your (clients) head out so it’s easier to communicate to people.

The beauty of sketching is the freedom to make mistakes, the ease to throw away and start again. Sketching can be done at speed to explore lots of ideas quickly and when clients talk through those ideas together, that client involvement and stakeholder buy-in is invaluable. Last but not least, sketching is fun.

A sketching workshop

There are plenty of methods to run a successful workshop and you’ll need to find one that works for you, that you can adapt for the different types of client you’ll be running them with.

Running a sketching workshop.

What you need: Pens, paper & some sticky dots, plus the brief to hand.

First round of sketches – explain to the group the idea behind sketching, if they don’t already know, decide which page you’ll start on and limit to 5 minutes.

Individuals present their idea to the group. You’ll find clients talking amongst themselves and its a good time to capture those thoughts.

Each participant is given 3 dots which they can now stick on their 3 favourite elements from the sketches that you’ve been sticking on the wall.

Second round of sketching, 5 – 10 minutes. Sketches will hopefully combine favourite elements from the first round of sketching and you can repeat this as many times as you see fit, eventually each sketch might look exactly the same!? And you can repeat this for other pages of the site too if time allows.

And that’s it, a really simple workshop that has helped me to introduce client involvement to explore ideas before any software has been opened – “Pencils before pixels”.

Do you already run similar workshops? I’d like to hear what has worked for you, and good luck if you are just starting out.