There’s nothing in the world like having one of those elusive “ah-ha!” moments, when that great idea lightbulb appears right above your head. It’s like you struck gold but the fleeting nature of any idea means you now have to quickly capture this thing before it gets lost or forgotten. When I have those moments, my sketchbook is my goto resource for getting those ideas out in a fast and oftentimes crude way.
1) You don’t need to be an artist!
I’ve spent most of my life learning to draw in various art schools starting in middle school all the way up to undergrad. While one might be able to say that I possess the ability to draw, sketching out conceptual ideas is a much different exercise. Whether it’s figure drawing, architectural drawing or even cartooning, you’re essentially taking a thing you already understand and capturing an instance of it that shows how you see it. Sketching out an idea is effectively the opposite of this task. When sketching you’re using your drawing to inform or influence your understanding of a concept—not the other way around. Sketches can take on all kinds of forms and they become indicators of how you might understand a concept, or work through a solution. It isn’t necessarily a visualization of the concept itself. Because of this, there’s no requirement of beauty, or even legibility, for that matter in your sketches. Sometimes a sketch will only make sense to you and that’s perfectly fine! Here’s a few crude sketches that I used for various Automattic projects.
2) Sketching can happen anywhere and on (almost) anything!
While occasionally I do my sketching digitally, I find that the feel of hands-on pencil & paper does something for me that just isn’t there when I try to use digital sketching tools like tablets or Wacom devices. That’s my preference but it doesn’t have to be yours. Good ideas can come from just about anywhere and likewise, ideas can be captured in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it might be a doodle on top of a photo, a layout in an iOS Notes App, or a mock-up on a post-it note, or even a UX flow on a napkin. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what you use to jot down your ideas. As long as it’s something that’s comfortable for you to use and carry with you.
3) K-I-S-S (Keep It Simple & Stupid)
Just like brainstorming with teammates, exploring ideas can sometimes lead you down one direction over another because it appears to be obvious. This leads to what we like to call “getting too far into the weeds” which means you’ve explored one idea with too much detail for the current context. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but in the idea exploration stage it can stifle other ideas that may not have been thought of yet. When it comes to sketching out your ideas, you’ll run into this same tendency. Remember that the goal of sketching out ideas isn’t to build out a complete and finalized solution to a problem. Instead you should keep your drawings or diagrams as basic as you can so that they convey the idea. You can always explore the idea deeper later on in the process.
4) Start Sketching!
Another important thing to note is that your sketches are for you and your own understanding primarily. Don’t worry too much about the quality of the sketches as that will just get in the way of your ideas. I think I’m pretty good at drawing, but I also have a huge collection of really bad drawings that no one will ever see (hopefully). You can see some of my sketches in the gallery above (sans the bad ones), and be sure to check the captions to see how the final product came out for some of these ideas.
Now go pick up a sketch book and start sketching!