Designers who don't sketch—web, graphic, UX, UI, or otherwise—weird me out. It speaks to a lack of both confidence and experience and I can usually smell 'em from a mile away. I know I'm not alone.

I was really excited when BitMethod's Amanda Morrow tapped me to present at the recent SketchCamp Des Moines. I've used sketching here and there throughout many of my life's projects, but really fell in love with it while literally surrounded with whiteboards at the BitMethod offices in my old gig there. I have a huge whiteboard now in my home office and an even larger one ready to hang up in the garage.

People are sometimes surprised by my affection for sketching if they primarily think of me as a writer or a "content guy". However, I'm frequently the first person in meetings to grab a whiteboard marker and start throwing words, boxes, and arrows up on the wall. Anyone involved in the planning of a new thing or overhaul of an existing thing is some kind of designer (though not necessarily in the capital-D sense), and all designers should be sketching. It saves a lot of time, cuts down on a lot of confusion, and lets get you put more work into designs that have an actual chance of success.

Many people who learned "graphic design" with all-digital tools tend to be very hesitant about sketching, much more so than people who don't do any visual design at all. It's unfortunate, but I can understand why. As a writer, I don't have any reputation to maintain as a visual or "artistic" person, and people seem impressed that I'm drawing anything at all. People who can make beautiful things with Photoshop or Illustrator but have rusty chops as a draftsman are can be understandably hesitant to use sketching in a team environment. Their loss.

Me? I pretty much have to start sketching just to offload enough mental baggage to be able to solve problems and do creative work. Even just writing the names of a few big concepts out in front of me on a whiteboard, sketchpad, or series of index cards can be enough. A lot of my sketching is just words laid out spatially, sometimes with arrows and lines between them, and every so often getting as formal as a concept map or affinity diagram.

Veronica Erb's presentation at the 2012 IA Summit got me to take up the fine art of sketchnoting during presentations and meetings. I also sometimes use the sketchnoting style during solo brainstorming when I need a better idea of how I feel about a product before feeling prepared to work on messaging or branding. Being visual and doodling a bit can get across ideas I don't yet have the words to express with copy.

Sketching during meetings helps me focus and makes my time more productive. If there's a project manager or other designated notetaker, I have even more freedom to explore ideas with my sketches, making every minute in those conference calls/rooms a little more productive. When I leave meetings without personal notes or sketches, I'm usually kicking myself later and feel several hours behind where I'd like to be when I sit back down to work on whatever was discussed. Ramping my thinking back up to where it was during the meeting is easier when I have my own visual notes to refer to, even if they're just a mess of words and circles (and skulls and robots, during slower meetings).

As an interface writer in a team of UX professionals, sketching is helpful for troubleshooting mismatches between content needs and interface designs. It's more efficient to bounce a ideas back and forth with whiteboard markers or an IPEVO Point 2 View Camera than it is to talk abstractly about changes and wait for another round of wireframes.

There's a role for sketching in just about any kind of knowledge work. If you don't do it much now, I encourage you to give it a try. One great way to get started: take a look around your workspace — if you don't have something you could pick up and start sketching with in under 5 seconds, well, you've got a little shopping to do.

Posted
AuthorScott Kubie
CategoriesUX and Design