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Sketching – The Power Behind the Lines

I love sketching and there were so many times when as a baby I would sit in front of the TV and try to doodle whatever I saw playing out in front of me, and as my Grandma told me many years later in her own way - I was a natural.

Sketching in UX (User Experience)

In order to solve problems we have to get the facts or the ‘story’ right; sketching gives us the opportunity to come up with an accurate narrative helping us to stay on point from the very beginning.

The beauty of sketching in UX is:

“Ideas, conversations and collaboration are developed during sketching. When we do this as a team we get on the same level and come up with great solutions by crafting a great story”

This is an example of a quick story of a fun night I had with friends and I drew it for the Sketching Machine 30 day challenge:

#SketchingMachine – Day 11, A Night with Friends

Sketching also helps us save time and effort because sketching is quick, we only need a pencil/pen, paper and an eraser; if you have a whiteboard is even better, but no ‘hangman’ please…..

Below is another example of a simple sketch I did. My aim was to make a rough comparison between designing for PC and Smartphone, my main point of contention was the 'minimalist' approach to designing for 'mobile' compared to PC.

I love designing for mobile devices, there is an element of simplicity which makes it very appealing to me.

#SketchingMachine – Day 15, Understanding Mobile (Designing)

Laying the foundation from the start

When you sketch your ideas, you promote discussion, feedback, participation and leave the ‘door open’ to add or take out some of the things you no longer need as the story unfolds.

Also what is great about sketching: It lightens the mood and helps bring stakeholders (if involved) on board because it has a ‘play-like’ quality.

Just about everyone watched cartoons at some point in their childhood and there is a little child in everyone.
But the quality in the sketching process has to be there, otherwise we are likely to antagonize them instead.

It promotes the use of imagination, laughter and curiosity, often the anticipation of how it will go gets all parties excited.

Some of the main benefits for sketching are:

  • It is quick
  • It is inexpensive
  • Can be done anywhere
  • It can be changed quickly
  • It can generate discussion
  • Can be further developed
  • You only need pen and paper
  • I can provide quite a few laughs
  • If done in a group is a good bonding exercise
  • Helps your brain come up with quick concepts
  • By drawing, you basically open your ‘third eye’ (quieting the mind)

As a UXer, Sketching helps me in the following areas

It helps me think on the go – By practicing constantly I come up with new and more creative ideas, the dexterity in my fingers increases and because is a ‘manual’ process it relaxed me.

I have found my hand writing improves and using my wacom tablet becomes a breeze.

It helps me think outside the box – In one of my lectures during my 'Interaction Design' course, Prof. Elizabeth Gilbert from UC San Diego said she always encouraged ‘crazy ideas’, not only to have a good laugh but they promote solutions that we would not even consider, the crazier the better.

It speeds up the Design process – Now that I have re-discovered sketching, my logos, wireframes, personas, storyboards have improved tenfold and the speed I can produce them with a fair amount of detail in lightning fast.

It helps keep the left and right brain balanced – Wow, hang on a minute you say, what do you mean by left and right brain balance?

It is simple, the left side is the technical, information-fact based side of our brain, it deals with figures, dates, logic, etc.

The right on the other hand is the creative, where abstract concepts, beauty, arts, music, poetry are generated.

By sketching (especially in Design) you keep both hemispheres in ‘balance’ because you are using both parts of your brain simultaneously, using technical knowledge to achieve artistic beauty.

“You promote the peaceful ‘co-existence’ of two vital and yet different aspects of intellectual ‘self’ and by being able to tap into both of them on a regular basis you literally expand your mind as both sides get nurturing and attention, and because you get deeply engrossed in sketching you become meditative and solutions to other problems come flooding in”

#SketchingMachine – Day 17, Checking e-mail on Smartphone (Frames/Layouts)

Future generations - Planting the seeds

Now as a father I encourage my young sons to draw, colour and paint as much as they can, I find their dexterity improves (they play better Guitar Hero), their imagination is in full swing, their concentration levels increase and their mood is calmer.

In a way I am ‘mentoring’ them by sitting down and drawing with them. The skills they are getting now can be applied in many professional fields in the future, such as: Engineering, Science, Maths and of course Design.

Examples of my son's work

Five Nights at Freddy’s (Kid Horror)

I would like to show examples of my son’s drawings.

The first one is ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ which is a kid's horror show/game my son loves, (not sure why). Here are some of the skills they are developing while sketching:

  • Shadowing,
  • Perspective,
  • Using different line thicknesses and
  • To a lesser degree composition

I have also taught them how to use pencils, fine liners, and permanent pens.

Note how pencil is always the first to be applied in order to create the ‘outlines’ or ‘construction’ lines.

When they are finished with the pencil (construction lines), the fine liners come in and then the thicker pens are used for outlines or infills.

Five Nights at Freddy's (Kid's Horror)

‘Good vs Evil’

The second drawing example is ‘Good vs. Evil’ and it includes random characters such as Link (Legend of Zelda), Sonic, Mario Bros. Deadpool, Steve (Minecraft) and Pikachu from Pokemon.

‘Good vs. Evil’ – Our own personal struggle using cartoon characters.

In his own child-like way he is telling a story about something most of us fight against on a daily basis: We fight with our thoughts and emotions.

What I find interesting is: even though his style is different, he follows the same order as his brother: Pencil, fine liner and then thicker pens.

He also relies on ‘memory’ to draw his characters and that is an added bonus about sketching: We increase our memory.

Sketching as a way of communication

Sketching is a wonderful way to communicate, think of the ‘cavemen art’ found in caves in Europe, Australia, etc. they certainly tell us a story.

Also if you think about it, Egyptian hieroglyphs are a way of ‘sketching’ telling a story of so many events.

“Imagine if you went to a foreign land and wanted to find a telephone and you could not speak the language, if you could sketch people would recognize it and lead you to or let you use theirs.

Some of you will argue about using sign language but humour me, and pretend you could not for some reason.”

Below is a quick sketch of last Saturday afternoon at our house after the boys finished their drawings, it was their computer time of course and I was trying to understand my assignment (to no avail) and the level of 'happiness' in our household was very high.

#SketchingMachine – Day 19, Typical Saturday at home. The Frustration Scale

Engineering Drawing – Again, it is like speaking another Language

When I taught Engineering Drawing at HMAS Cerberus (Australian Navy), the sailor’s used to ask me: ‘Sir, why do we have to learn this?’

My answer was simple:

“Not only can you communicate visually; say you have a ship break down, you are conducting a retrofit or if you need to order special components from a contractor because you can't make them. By sketching the part with sizes, dimensions, material specifications, etc. it will be manufactured to those specs.”

They still have a puzzled look on their faces so I would elaborate further:

“Ships’ engines have large components, the tools and equipment on board can only do so much. There have been cases in the past where the ship was docked and could not go anywhere due to a breakdown.

The ‘Stokers’ (word for mechanical engineers) had to draw a detailed plan/sketch of the part they needed to be manufactured offshore by a contractor in order to get the ship back to sea."

This is a true story.

Also, if you work in the engineering world, having a sketch of a component with dimensions (sizes) will speed up the manufacturing process because you have something ‘visual’ with real references/sizes to look at.
The act of drawing in the world of art is no different.

The standard for engineering drawings (IS1100) is International, and anyone who is trained in engineering or manufacturing, such as engineering people from Indonesia, Germany, Canada, etc. will understand clearly what the rules and symbols mean.

Free sketch of a ‘Ball Valve’ see bellow for the finished item – There are no dimensions or other references because I don’t want to confuse.

Here is a sample of how a freehand sketch of a ‘Ball Valve’ became a Marine Engineering Drawing IS1100.

Sketching Machine 30 day challenge by Rizwan Javaid

The #SketchingMachine 30 day challenge is designed to help you improve your sketching skills and challenges you to push yourself. Believe me, after day 10 ideas and concepts start to run dry UX-wise or not.

Rizwan provides a list of sketching topics and encourages people to draw anything no matter how crazy it may seem, as long as you keep sketching.

Below is one example of my idea of ‘crazy’ sketching to get the creative juices flowing as I did not know what else to draw.

#SketchingMachine – Day 14, Heavy Metal. Sometimes loud music from the 80’s soothes the soul and helps stimulate/enhance the creative process, a sheer personal choice in music.

If you want to become a Sketching Machine, click on the (full) link below:


Sketching is a vital part of communication in UX (user experience) especially if you are a visual UXer like me. Even though this is part of the ‘job’ it pays to explore other ways to improve the way you communicate and you will be able to do so at a faster rate.

Please, do not EVER compromise effective communication with speedy delivery, you will find some things will be missing at the end of the product.

More importantly is about enjoying yourself; joy, beauty and care has a way to shine through in any task we undertake, happy sketching.

By Louis Salguero

#SkecthingMachine - Day 30, I've Made It.

PS - If you find any 'typos' or 'bad grammar' I apologize in advance, Mea Culpa.

The UX Journey - The path of the ‘Empath’

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© Website designed and developed by Louis Salguero - (UX, graphic, web) - 2017
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