UX designers do a lot of sketching throughout the design process. What do we mean when we talk about a sketch? A sketch is a cheap, rapidly constructed representation of an idea. It can take many different forms as you can see here. The qualities of a sketch that are important for the design process is that they're quick to create, they're timely, they can be inserted into the design process in multiple different ways, they're inexpensive, they're disposable. You don't make a commitment to them, you can get rid of them if they don't work. They're plentiful, you can create lots of them and often that is what you want to do. They involve minimal detail, so you don't spend a lot of time working on details that are not important to what you're trying to think through or what you're trying to communicate at a particular stage. They allow for ambiguity, so they facilitate conversation about other design possibilities without locking people into thinking about particular solutions. Bill Buxton has talked a lot about sketching and its role in the UX design process. He says, "Sketching in the broad sense is an activity not just a byproduct of design. It is central to design thinking and learning. Sketches are a byproduct of sketching. They are part of what both enables and results from the sketching process but there's more to the activity of sketching than making sketches." I think what's really critical here, is thinking about the process and the goals of sketching as being different from the output, which are the sketches. So, why sketch, why engage in this activity of sketching? Well, one reason is it allows us to reflect by putting our ideas out there in a quick and inexpensive ways, we can reflect on how they work and whether they actually make sense. They allow us to explore rapidly a whole set of different ideas that might be very different or might be similar and we can very quickly explore an entire design space. Sketches allow us to communicate quickly and in a way that's appropriate to the stage of the design process especially, when we're exploring ideas trying to get feedback on what the right way is to go. How should you go about sketching? Well first, you want to use pencil and paper or maybe a whiteboard. Computer-based tools are going to force you to deal with all of these details like colors, and fonts, and precise layout, that are really appropriate for the sketching activity. You want to be able to go fast and you want to not focus on perfecting the individual sketches rather, you want to focus on making lots of sketches sketching lots of different ideas. It's also important to realize that you don't have to be good at drawing to produce sketches that are effective for reflection and communication. When we sketch in UX design, there are several different things that we might think about sketching. One is, sketching the problem. Trying to better understand the problem that you're trying to solve. So, how would someone experience this problem? You might do this through showing storyboards that depict somebody experiencing the problem. You might also sketch the solution, what would it look like for the problem to be solved? You often are going to be sketching the system that would be needed to help solve that problem. All three of these, will help you understand the design space, understand what the solution ought to be able to accomplish, and what a system would have to look like in order to solve that problem. A closely related idea in the UX design process is the notion of a prototype. This can be confusing sometimes because a sketch can be a prototype. Prototype is often defined as a representation of a design before the final design is produced and sketches often accomplish that. Also, a prototype can be a sketch, meaning that it can be produced on pen and paper in a very rapid fashion. Low-fidelity prototypes are, in fact, just that. But the thinking that goes into sketching and prototyping is a bit different and you can think of it as a spectrum. Bill Buxton has talked about sketches as being evocative where prototypes are didactic and try to explain. Sketches suggest possibilities and opportunities, while prototypes describe a particular idea that you're trying to get across. Sketches explore while prototypes refine those initial explorations. Sketches might help raise questions whereas prototypes try to answer those questions. Sketches propose ideas while prototypes can be used to test those ideas and assessments. Sketches might provoke whereas prototypes resolve. Sketches are tentative, prototypes are specific. Sketches are noncommittal where prototypes are about committing to a particular idea and seeing if it works. So, you can see sketches and prototypes as playing different roles in the design process and each of them being connected to different processes that unfold within the broader design process. So, we have on the one hand, the process of generation, creating alternatives and elaboration of ideas. On the other, we have convergence, which is the reduction of alternatives and selection of contenders that are worth investing further in. We go through these stages of convergence and generation, multiple times during the design process. Typically, sketching is going to be associated with those generation phases, where we're trying to expand the design space. Proto-typing is going to be associated with those phases of convergence, where we're trying to narrow down the design space and make decisions about which direction to go. So, in the generation phase, you're going to be focused on sketching. You're going to be focused on quantity over quality, producing lots of different ideas. You're going to be focusing on building the set of design ideas and not necessarily critiquing them or selecting which ones are viable, which ones make the most sense. You're just going to be trying to create a lot of different ideas so you have a lot to choose from. You're going to apply lateral thinking techniques, which we'll talk a little bit more about in a minute, to help get you to think more broadly and to get out of your own way to generate lots of different ideas especially when you get stuck in particular ways of thinking. In the phases of convergence, you're going to be focused differently. You're going to be thinking about how to synthesize those different ideas into something that's coherent. You're going to be thinking about applying criteria that you've established through your understanding of user needs and your requirements to decide which of those design ideas that you've sketched are going to be the ones that actually satisfy the design goals going forward. You're going to be focused more on critiquing, finding out what are the flaws and what are the strengths of each idea, so that you can pick the ones that are going to work the best going forward. You're going to be focused on eliminating certain ideas and promoting other ideas to take forward in the design process. One thing to keep in mind when you're sketching is that you will get stuck, everybody does. You get to a point where you've run out of ideas, you've put all your best ideas down there and you think you've got nothing left. Well, it's important to push through that point and there are techniques that you can use to help you get through that. So, techniques that you can apply include things like brainstorming, which is typically a collaborative process with multiple people. There are specific techniques that can be used to generate the best ideas from a group and capture them. There are other techniques that you can apply on your own, for example, Matrix techniques, where you lay out different design ideas and different criteria for how to develop them and force yourself to fill in that whole table with different design ideas and make yourself explore a whole space. One particular form of this is called Morphological Analysis, which I'm not going to talk about in anymore detail right now. Another idea that I really like is a technique called the Worst Idea. So, when you're stuck and you're trying to think of good ideas that will solve your design problem, switch to think about the worst idea you possibly can for solving the problem. So, here's an example of really bad ideas for improving the photo-sharing website Flickr. So, maybe you could take people's photos and just smear them all together. Maybe you could take inspiration from failed products like New Coke and the Edsel. Maybe you could make the navigation really really bad so that people could not figure out how to get anywhere or maybe you could just make it look totally random. Sometimes by doing this you can use them for inspiration. You can think about what it is that makes those ideas so bad and focus on how you can fix them. Every once in a while, something comes out of this that will actually point you in a direction that you wouldn't have gone otherwise. So, go and sketch. The most important thing to get out of this is that sketching is an important part of the process. When you're sketching, you need to think about doing quick sketches that are imperfect rather than trying to perfect each idea. You're trying to generate quantity over quality because what you're focusing on is generating ideas rather than selecting ideas and converging to the one great idea. You can use lateral thinking techniques when you get stuck as a way to break through sketchers block and come up with more ideas than you might if you just follow your initial instinct in the first place.