UX Crash Course: Stupid Question 11 of 30

In my mind, the answer to this question is so clear, I am not even sure how to introduce it, so let’s just cut to the chase:

“Is sketching useful?”


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When you get a new project, or a new problem to solve, what is the first thing you do?

If you hop onto your favorite piece of software, or start looking for inspiration from other beautiful interfaces, you’re doing it wrong.


Stupid (but true) Answer:

Sketching is only as useful as the sketcher.


Real Answer: 

Yes, sketching is very useful. I might almost say necessary. 

Purely by coincidence, this year-old article was posted on Twitter the day before this lesson: UX Sketching: Why is it necessary?

Read it.


Why this isn’t a stupid question:
Young and inexperienced designers think in terms of tools. 

I believe that sketching — quick, rough, drawings — make you a better thinker and a better designer.

We’re not talking about beautiful, hand-drawn interfaces here. I am talking about ugly, outlined, boxes-and-arrows on the back of a napkin, or on a notepad in a meeting, or — my personal favourite —on a whiteboard.

The moment you open your favourite software, your mental tools have been reduced compared to a pencil or a whiteboard.

I don’t know about you, but my imagination is much more powerful than Photoshop or Balsamiq. And faster. And easier.

Design doesn’t happen in Photoshop. That is merely the execution.


Better wireframing apps don’t make you a better wireframer.

If you’re exploring your idea in a piece of software, you will be making what the tools allow you to make easily, rather than what you should be making.

If there is no tool or standard component for a unique solution, you won’t make a unique solution.

If you’re exploring your solution by looking for “inspiration” then you’re also selecting from a list of things that other people have done. That’s dangerous.

The less you know about your final solution, the simpler your tool should be.

A pencil is the simplest drawing tool I can think of, other than slicing open your finger and painting in blood.

That doesn’t go over well in meetings.

No offense to the UX vampire community, of course.


Looking at something lets you think about something else.

When you sketch something, even something rough and ugly, you don’t have to remember it anymore. You can see it.

When you can see it, you can imagine it moving, or you can think about how it interacts with other rough, ugly boxes you have drawn.

As you sketch more things, you can start looking for stuff you have forgotten, or compare to ideas side by side, and you can’t really do that in your head.

And not filling in details allows you to imagine all of the ways you might design a solution. Not a specific way to design it.

No layers. No styles. No files. No saving and deleting. No keyboard shortcuts. 

Sketching extends your mind onto the paper in real time, and extends your ideas into the unknown.

That makes you a better designer, right here, right now.

And software can’t do that.

Sketching is about ideation. Software is about precision. 

Those don’t mix well.


Seriously, read this: UX Sketching: Why is it necessary?

Then say 10 Hail Mary’s for even thinking about a design process that doesn’t include sketching.


Tomorrow we will answer: “Does gamification always work?”