At Involution, when we design software, we draw upon a process akin to industrial design, where—after we engage in an initial product architecture to understand the feature grouping, flow, and functionality—the next step is often sketching.
If you haven't done it before, sketching concepts for a software user experience may seem like a daunting task located in foreign territory: Aren't we creating for the digital realm? Am I a good enough artist to do this? Where do I begin? However, the benefits to sketching can be great and change your overall design process for the better. So, here are five reasons to give it a try.
Conceptualization is an absolutely critical part of the design process, serving to envision and explore possible solutions no matter how wild, seed the project properly, and inspire the product team.
When it comes to creative thinking, there's nothing that aids brainstorming more than putting a pencil to paper. It is here, at the moment of creative genesis, that we can see sketching really is the language of design—from architectural to industrial to graphic, and now user experience.
As designers it's vital that we not only be able to conceptualize great solutions, but also be able to communicate those ideas to our clients or project stakeholders. Stakeholders involved in the product design process often find it easier to understand the purpose of the initial sketch versus a wireframe. Why is this true? Nearly everyone has drawn an inspired thought on a bar napkin or bit of paper. So it's very clear that the sketch is just an initial idea, and not something set in stone. Knowing that you can change a design artifact and have input is empowering to people not normally involved in design day to day. In this manner, sketching can help bring people on board to the design process.
As the product team engages in discussion around initial concepts, with sketching it's easy to rapidly iterate over ideas and improve them. There's no going back to alter an electronic file, and based on team feedback, emerge hours later with the changed concept. The alterations to a sketch are immediate and satisfying.
Most importantly, sketches provide us the opportunity to visualize ideas without getting too attached to them. As a UX designer, once you make a substantial time investment pushing pixels, it becomes harder to let go of a concept, even if it's not the right design solution for the problem. Being able to change direction when necessary is important, and sketching has the advantage of seeming temporal, a step on the way, rather than a destination, for the design.
Lastly, we shouldn't forget the physical aspect of sketching that allows you, as a designer, to get in touch with your ideas. Sketching can be artful and physically engaging, even if you're not the best illustrator. You are making something with your hands, free from your computer, at least for a little while.
For more on the topic, check out the book "Sketching User Experiences" by design guru Bill Buxton.