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Sketch Early, Sketch Often, Sketch Quickly, Sketch the Experience

by Sandy Greene, Intuitive Company / April 22, 2015

Note: This blog entry is available in English only.

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Bill Moggridge, cofounder of IDEO, once said: “The only way to experience an experience is to experience it.”

Cavemen who lived 40,000 years ago were able to figure out that one of the best ways to communicate their experience was through drawings. Early civilizations recorded history and shared stories via pictograms, hieroglyphics and calligraphy. And long after modern-day alphabets were established, people of all cultures still turn to art, cartoons and other non-text formats to get their points across quickly and easily. Perhaps user experience professionals need to finally admit the truth of Bert Lance’s time-tested popular phrase: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

After many years of helping companies build more user-friendly web sites, apps and product experiences, we’ve learned that the traditional way of doing design projects—from interviewing users to assessing technology requirements to creating moodboards—takes months to complete. Most clients were usually itching to see something along the way, not just at the end. After all of those weeks of work, there still wasn’t something concrete that would give anyone a clear idea of what the end user’s experience would be like.

So despite all of the high-tech and cutting-edge design tools, apps and processes we have at our disposal these days, we realized that the most efficient way to communicate to a client—or to colleagues—is simply to sketch it out. Don’t try to recreate the wheel when it comes to figuring out how to develop new user experiences. Just put pen to paper and draw.

Now we’ve changed our approach. We get going in a primitive way: drawing visual concepts and starting to sketch out ideas the minute we start working. The output is something tangible that quickly gets the client engaged and encourages collaboration. This exchange of ideas continues as we keep iterating our sketches throughout the rest of the project. We don’t throw traditional deliverables (e.g. content inventories or business rules) out of the window if they’re necessary. However, the reality is we accomplish an incredible amount just through diagrams and sketches.

Here are a few examples from an engagement with DriveScribe, a startup app vying for funds from BMW i Venture.

Our initial sketches from our first meeting envisioned screens for the app:

whiteboard

Schematics

Our final deliverable four weeks later solidified those early ideas:

Aesthetics

Proto

A key advantage to this method is that it helps get all stakeholders involved—from C-level executives (who get excited by seeing even the roughest sketches of what their future app might look like) to end users (who would frankly be confused if you didn’t have mockups to get their opinions on).

With sketches, everyone sees the same thing and can immediately dive into a discussion about the concept. It’s hard to get that same level of engagement with written descriptions (presentations or research documents), as language might conjure up vastly different visions for each person at the table. Sketches level the playing field and provide an immediate common denominator.

We’ve obviously come a long way from the days of cave drawings. But there’s probably a reason that things like emojis (and their new ethnically diversified sets), as well as image and video-centric apps like Instagram, Meerkat and Periscope are experiencing such huge growth and popularity. Sketching is the equivalent of those apps for the user experience field, so it’s time to reconsider more complex processes and deliverables and keep in mind yet another popular saying—this one from the U.S. Navy in 1960: “Keep it simple, stupid.”

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