Ux-sketching-1 UX Sketching At IBM Design

5 Lessons from 30 Days of UX sketching

UX sketching should come easy for a designer. While I grew up a chronic doodler, the habit only persisted until I started working as a teacher after college. The professional life left little opening for sketching during the work hours. Before I knew it, I stopped drawing completely.

Fast forward to my new career as a designer where UX sketching is encouraged, I am surrounded by my colleagues’ constant scribbling. In contrast to my earlier work environments, we share our ideas quickly and often. It should be an easy task, but I am out of practice. So, I took this month to reignite my sketching abilities.

I set two ground rules to guide me for this challenge.

  1. Go analog – stay on paper or whiteboard
  2. Sketch anything for at least 5 – 6 minutes a day

The second rule nudged me to keep going. I found that with challenges aimed at changing behavior, I have to battle the little voice in my head that questions my actions. Sketching anything for a short time for 30 days leads to a lot of sketches and plenty for reflection. Here are the five lessons I learned.

1. Be cheap and messy

It was intimidating to draw while surrounded by so many talented illustrators at work. I had to remind myself that my goal was not to create a ‘work of art’ but to just merely practice. It was ok to draw without the proper instruments or even an idea of the subject. A pen and a piece of scrap paper were all I needed to start putting lines down.

ux-sketching-1 UX Sketching at IBM Design

Amazing talented illustrators at IBM Design. I’m not one of them.

2. Stop, observe and reflect

With my allotted 5 –6 minutes of daily sketching, I started to draw simple objects such as lamps and onions. After a few weeks, I was able to pick up on less tangible experiences. Forcing myself to stop and observe people, allowed me to become more sensitive to daily interactions that I would normally have overlooked.

ux-sketching-2 UX Sketching Practicing drawing

Practicing drawing on a regular basis

3. Share ideas often with UX sketching

Naturally, my new sketching habit bled into work. I spent less time on the computer typing solitary notes, and I invested more time whiteboarding ideas with the rest of my team. Regardless of how developed my ideas were, I made sure to draw them in front of my team for feedback. This let me know which direction I should take.

The more time I spent sketching with my team, the more I knew exactly what to design.

Finding great ideas requires input from others. It takes a balance of humility and courage to put out a raw concept. Your team is there to help. The more collaboration you solicit, the easier it is to design solutions everyone can support.

4. Balance collaboration time and alone time

The more time I spent sketching with my team, the more I knew exactly what to design. As a new designer, I was guilty of jumping too quickly into Illustrator or Sketch to make a ‘quick’ wireframe or mockup. The reality was that the time I saved leap frogging team collaboration was later burned on pivoting and revisions.

ux-sketching-3 UX Sketching Bringing the habit of drawing to team collaboration

Drawing more during team collaboration to visualize ideas

5. Bring more fun to work

There was a sense of freedom that came from sketching together. Not only in planned collaboration sessions but we also doodled together in meetings. Individual personalities came out more in simple drawings. This was not possible when we just focused on creating UI.

ux-sketching-4 UX Sketching Bringing fun to the everyday

Group sketching can lead to bringing more fun and team bonding to work

There was a long period where I barely picked up a pencil or pen to sketch. I found that this absence of drawing got me out of the habit of observing outside experiences. Devoting 30 days to short periods of drawing helped me realize that I needed time to pause, capture, communicate and reflect.

Interested in seeing more art and design challenges? Check out these posts on finding inspiration from tea doodling and failing at screen printing.



Matt Eng

Product Designer at IBM Design. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as IBM, Alcatel-Lucent, Polycom, Symantec and Pebble. Volunteers with AIGA Austin and teaches at Austin Community College.

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