Whether you’re working internally or with clients, using words to describe a visual concept can only take you so far. Saying “picture this” without an actual picture may leave members of a team seeing and thinking different things. And when we’re not on the same page, we spend time creating the wrong thing (and then correcting it).
The easiest and most efficient way to stay in sync is to represent and share an idea with a sketch. Sketching adds a tangible element to the conversation that everyone in the group can see, point to, discuss, and build on.
If you’re the person on the team who always says, “Oh, I can’t do that, I’m terrible at drawing,” let me put you at ease. Nobody is judging you, especially not the people who have dedicated many hours to the craft and understand the effort it takes. So don’t stress about capturing perfect shapes. Be fast about it, remove thought, and just do! Remember, sketching is not meant to be perfect; it just needs to help tell the story you want to be told.
Seeing simple shapes
If you can replicate the lines shown here on the drawing alphabet, then you (yes, you!) can sketch. These are the foundational lines to everything you would ever want to draw. You just have to practice seeing objects as the collections of simple shapes they are. Draw them on a Post-it, a piece of paper, a whiteboard … the medium doesn’t matter.
“If I can see it, then I can draw it.” This simple statement is the key to drawing. Once you learn to take a second to really “see” and analyze the object in front of you, drawing it becomes easier. Instead of seeing the object as its complex whole, begin to train your eye to look for the simplest shapes and lines that form the complex object. The more details you pick up and include give more visual cues that tell that object’s story.
What’s in my pencil case
My current workhorse is a black Paper Mate Flair M. This tool is great for pretty much anything and was used in the sketches above. The medium weight is not too thick for finer details, and strokes can be doubled or tripled to thicken the line and call attention to an object. The line consistency is average. The ink will fade in quicker strokes, but you’ll get strong lines visible from a fair distance with the medium felt tip.
To work quicker, I stick to three basic sketching tools:
- Paper Mate Flair M
- Bright color Prismacolor marker to grab attention
- 40% Cool Gray Marker (Prismacolor or Copic) to give depth.
With just those three alone, I can pretty much make anything happen. But I like to have the following on hand to be ready for any situation:
- Pilot Hi-Tec-C Gel 0.4mm pen to capture small, finer detail
- Bic Crystal ballpoint in red (or any contrast color you’re not using in your sketches)
- Thicker Sharpie to get a strong outline to call out specific objects
Adding detail to your sketches
The two sketches below show the same idea, but use different tools. The first sketch was done using just the Paper Mate Flair and does a fine enough job of communicating the sequence. If I was walking someone through this in person, I don’t think they would have trouble understanding.
For the second sketch, I used tool items 1-3 to provide contextual details and visual cues to help reduce the cognitive load on the viewer. The gray maker adds more contextual detail of depth to the slider, finger, and tooltip while the splash of color leads the eye through the main points I want to convey in the sketch. This technique is helpful when sending sketches to clients where you might not be there to walk them through the idea.
I try to avoid working digitally (Sketch app, Adobe Illustrator) until I have a real purpose for using that medium. I sketch by hand because it’s quick, it forces me to stop worrying about details, and I enjoy it. Sketching provides a sense of freedom at a pace that is nimble enough to explore and think through several ideas. With enough practice, you don’t even have to think about your pen movements. You can stay in tune with your idea, instead of obsessing over details like the corner radius of a button.