I love to doodle. I have been doodling since I was a little kid. Flowers. Geometric shapes. Infinity 8's.
Doodling led to my sketching and drawing obsession, putting my thoughts and ideas on paper to make them more concrete, shareable, and lasting.
I never saw myself as an artist, although a few art teachers tried to nudge me into that direction. I saw myself as a designer - I was on a mission to sketch objects to be used. When I was 10, I was fascinated with fashion design. I spent hours sketching outfits, pushing my imagination to limits to create new looks for my Barbie doll. My dreams of being a fashion designer were dashed when I realized I couldn't sew well and wasn't sure how I could learn.
I switched to do math and engineering instead, and quickly realized that engineering required sketching and drawing as well.
I learned how the engineering pros sketch and draw from my Dad. My father was a draftsman in the Air Force, and growing up I always watched him sketching/drawing plans to fix the house. He would draw elaborate plans for home improvements, from the kitchen to the porch to the bathroom, and determine what's needed for lumber and supplies. He also kept a sketchbook/notebook to jot down ideas and refine them later. He was an early Sketchnoter and infographic creator.
What I learned: sketch often, draw with a pencil, measure twice and cut once.
Sketching makes it real
It wasn't until I started working on the Web that I realized the power of a sketch. In the early days, strategists did information architecture. I hung out with some of the strategists at ATG and learned how to create wireframes and site maps longhand. I think I annoyed them because I asked them a gazillion questions and hung out in their "war rooms", learning how they thought about the Web and why they made certain decisions. I was curious about how they mapped their thoughts about how a Web site should work.
I found it fascinating how a diagram could make a very abstract idea more real and give it life. Until then, I only experienced how words could express an abstract idea in a document. I mean, I was an English major and wrote a bunch of papers through grad school, so that was my only world reference for communication techniques. A diagram was far better - people could see what I was thinking (and research has confirmed that it is easier to process and understand. There is information about this on the SlideShare blog as well.).
I learned that I could sketch a vision and make it real.
Sketching vs. drawing (even electronically)
I like sketching to make my ideas tangible. To me, there is nothing better than feeling the stroke of a pen on paper. You can see it, you can feel it (ok, maybe not feel it so much, unless you can feel the subtle ink bumps on paper), and you can experience it. I like to turn a thought or idea into a physical experience.
We can sketch electronically with different apps, but it just isn't as tangible as a sketch on paper with a pen. Electronic files just aren't permanent; they are bytes and numbers. They can be deleted by accident if your hard drive dies and you don't have backup. If there is no electricity, your idea is locked away for super safe keeping on a device somewhere.
If anything, the electronic tools are more like the pencil with an eraser for drawing. You can easily make adjustments, move items around, and in the end, turn it into a final version by "inking" it, or just printing it.
Why I like pen and paper? Ideas written on paper won't go away unless you physically throw it away or burn it.
(We know our history through verbal and written tradition. Written tradition seems to carry more weight and can be a little more accurate - it records a perspective in time.)
Diagrams can transform into action
I sketch before creating a site map, a wireframe, or even PowerPoint strategy slides. I'll consider the idea I'm trying to present, make sure what I want to express is focused enough to be on one page or two (read the section about Tufte and PowerPoint), and figure out a way to express it visually, without a lot of annotations. Once I feel confident enough, I'll go to my computer and finish the drawing in InDesign, PowerPoint or another visual tool.
Sometimes, the initial sketch will encourage me to split the thought out or reconsider how I'm approaching it. Having a strategy or idea is great, but if you can't communicate it, no one can take action on it. You need to be able to present your idea so that:
- it's simple enough that people understand it at a single glance
- it's exciting enough in the presentation so that someone will want to work with you on it
- it's straightforward enough so someone can easily create a plan from it
When you sketch an idea out, you should walk away from it and come back to it to see if it meets that criteria and then start creating the visual.
How do white boards work into this?
White board sketching is great for a group to express their ideas. Each person can grab a marker and make their ideas and thoughts tangible for that meeting. Sure, the thoughts can be erased, but a picture of the board on a phone can fix that (as does printable whiteboards). Often a white board sketch session needs to be recorded into a PowerPoint slide, diagram, spreadsheet - something. But the white board allows the team to create an idea, everyone add to it, and make it a group contribution.
(Read more from Lynne Cazaly on this.)
In the end, one person will create the slides and the group will comment on them, making sure that the information is simple, exciting and straightforward.
Why sketching is great to do?
- Make abstract ideas tangible
- Gives a long life to ideas
- Helps you to clarify how you communicating an idea
- Can get you more buy-in for your idea
- Becomes an tool to influence others and collaborate
Why do we all need to sketch?
There is such a need for more effective communication, and the best way for us to do that is to include images and text together.
If we are all creating infographics, we need to take a step back, figure out what we are trying to communicate, and experiment with different approaches to communicate it well. Sketching allows for that.
Sketch on a white board, in a notebook, include text with the images. Get inspired with books like the Sketchnote Handbook, Edward Tufte's books, the Napoleon March chart, or Lynne Cazaly's chisel tipped pen. Explore infographics. Get a Moleskin or other notebook, a pen and pencil, and start sketching your thoughts.
Make your ideas tangible and long lasting - and explore new ways to communicate that idea to others.