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The messy art of UX sketching

By AMI Blogger | September 12, 2022

There are undeniably multiple approaches you can take to solve a problem visually. However, the most efficient way to go is by starting off with sketching, especially when it comes to ideating website layouts and mobile applications. Putting pencil to paper and using your hands to do this ensures that you stay more fixed on the solution rather than obsessing over the technology and its workings. Sketching also enables you to be relatively more experimental with the whole process.

The merit of sketching and why that is a good approach to take is a well-known thing, but how is it really done? What are the methods involved in this process? It’s no secret that sketching is a fairly straightforward thing but there are certain ways to do it more effectively. This article will shed light on some tools and techniques UX designers use on a daily basis.

Sketching is not the same as drawing.

First things first, sketching is not the same as drawing.

Sketches are expressions of thought and problem-solving, they are a form of visual communication. That being said, it is also important to note that sketching is a skill, and like all skills, it is honed and you will only get better at it as time passes.

Effective sketching has no relation to perfect drawings, in fact, they’re far from it. Sketches are more akin to your thoughts and ideas, dynamic in nature and in a constant state of flux. There is consistent evolution until met with a solution.

While evaluating your sketches the question you should ask yourself at all times is “How can I communicate these thoughts more efficiently?”

It’s easy to judge them based on your drawing abilities but that’s exactly what one must avoid during the process. What helps is to look at the sketch as a poster. What is the first thing it communicates? Where is the detailed information? It helps to remember that the eye is more often than not drawn to the area with the most detail and contrast.

Again, your skill is directly proportional to the frequency you practice and implement it.

Pointers to keep in mind while getting started:
Work in layers:

More often than not sketches end up looking like collage pieces, and in order to keep that from happening it’s most effective to build your sketch with multiple layers.

Technique:

It’s best to start with a neutral colour marker (grey works great) and a light one at that, while you build layers of detail as you move forward.

Why?

Starting with a light grey marker is the perfect way to go, you are free to make mistakes along the way and evaluate the issue as you go. It’s no big deal even if you make a mistake or two or many because by the time you finish adding all the consequent layers and designs it will barely be visible.

As you progress go back in with a slightly darker marker and fill in some additional details wherever you think appropriate. This also ensures some parts of your sketch are more highlighted than others.

Another big, and possibly the most advantageous thing about sketching in layers is that it keeps you from getting caught up in the details right away. It enables you to settle on the content and more importantly the hierarchy of the view.

Loosen Up:
Technique:

While sketching, especially long lines, it is imperative your arm and pen are moved with your shoulder as opposed to your elbow or even your wrist.

Why?

This ensures your lines are straighter and longer, if you notice carefully you will notice when you draw straight lines employing your elbow, they almost have a little curve to them.

Play to your strengths:

Technique:

Consider rotating the page before drawing a line so you can draw multiple angles of lines more easily.

Why?

It is challenging to draw lines in all directions equally well, rotating the page enables you to draw a line in your preferred range as well as direction.  Instead of trying to draw a vertical line, consider rotating the page by 90 degrees and drawing a vertical one instead. It is an uncomplicated and effective approach to take while drawing lines.
Sketching interactions:
Technique:
It is advisable to begin with a basic sketch and then progress with the help of sticky notes in order to add tool pits, pop overs, modal windows, or any other interactive element of your choice
Why?
By using sticky notes to define interactive elements you are quickly defining actions and fleshing it out without having to actually redraw the entire framework of the application. Furthermore, they are super easy to relocate and can also be sketched over with the same markers.
Copy Pasting from the real world:
Most of the time it’s understandable to want to manually redraw certain elements, and sometimes even redraw them multiple times considering it lets you reconsider your options and ideas instantly. Keeping this in mind a photocopier could come in handy.
Technique:
A photocopier can be used to quickly create templates from existing sketches or in order to redraw a portion of the sketch.
Why?

A photocopy machine is the age-old version of the commands “Control + C” and “Control + V.” This ensures a spike in efficiency and time management while simultaneously boosting your confidence considering how easy it is to fix a mistake.

This also comes in handy when only one part of your interface needs to be redrawn multiple times. Getting a couple of copies and sketching directly on the multiple printouts will save a whole lot of time, and a whole lot of your sanity.

The only downside to this is that you are running the risk of getting some paper cuts, but apart from that implementing this technique will immediately translate to a surge in your efficiency.

It’s worth repeating that sketching is the quickest way to explore and share thinking with others. It focuses you on discovering the best possible solution, without getting caught up in the technology.

It bears repeating to state that sketching is one of the quickest ways to explore your thoughts and share them with others, while also keeping you rooted in your hunt for a solution without getting distracted by the technical aspects of issues.

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