Notes from the August MKE UX Meetup: Sketching

Last night was the August edition of #mkeUX, and just as its previous iterations it was a great time. This month’s topic was sketching and how such a relatively simple act can provide enormous benefits to the UX process.

Mike Rohde and Cyndi Thomas were the presenters for the evening, though really in a setting like mkeUX, everyone is a presenter in some way. As expected, both of them know their material and were well prepared to discuss it at length (and there was no shortage of audience questions & comments, some of which made their way to Twitter). But without further ado… some quickly jotted down notes from the evening.

Why should you embrace sketching?

It’s a great tool that makes it safe to fail.

A common hangup is the sentiment that “I can’t draw!” but this isn’t really the point. Regardless of your “drawing” ability, you can’t do it wrong! Sketching is not drawing — sketching is thinking, just in a more visual form.

sketching != drawing

sketching = thinking

— @deziner

Sketching helps you break through the limitations inherent with spoken language and accelerate the process of brainstorming, without necessarily committing too much detail to quibble over. Hi-fidelity wireframes tend to have a “finished” vibe to them that often leads to mis-directed discussions on the insignificant details, rather than focusing on the big picture. The informal nature of sketches can lower that barrier.

Why sketch?

Sketching helps quickly move ideas from the inaccessible reaches of your brain to a visible, tangible something that others can react to. You can’t have a discussion with others around something that’s only in your head.

Sketching forces you to take the idea and break it down into its elemental components, which you can then re-arrange as needed rather than getting lost on the big picture only.

Sketching is extremely quick and easy to do, which allows for far more rapid iterations of ideas and approaches so that you can quickly find your way to the best one. This sort of rapid iteration isn’t so easy to do in formalized tools. The key is volume. You want to get as many ideas down as you can – try everything.

You can also use sketching to get immediate feedback from clients/stakeholders. A great tactic can be to quickly get a sketch on paper, then slide that paper over to them and simply hand them the marker. “Here, show me your ideas on this.” People love to draw, whether they’re good at it or not, and it’s a form of play. People don’t get to play as often as they’d like, and this becomes a great way to give them more direct input and make them feel more involved (or at least give them the much-needed illusion of being more involved).

Cyndi suggested that you set a goal for yourself of x number of ideas to generate, and don’t stop until you hit that mark. Yes, some of the ideas will suck. Some will come easier than others. But if you don’t set that goal, you’ll just stop after the first couple that easily come to mind, and those aren’t necessarily going to be the best ones. Forcing yourself to churn out more will force you to reconsider everything and come up with new possibilities.

Remember: it doesn’t have to look good!


The take-away was pretty clear. Sketching can be an amazingly useful technique if you spend any time at all coming up with concepts, wireframes, or mockups of any sort to share with clients and stakeholders. The speed and informality inherent in sketching helps to reduce barriers and focus the conversation on what’s best, rather than getting caught up in nit-picky details. And even if you “can’t draw,” you can still sketch. So try it!

As always, a huge thanks to the mkeUX organizers, Michael Seidel and Mike Kornacki, as well as to the Bay View Brew Haus for hosting. I’m already looking forward to the September mkeUX meetup, September 28 at 7PM (usually goes until 9PM), at Irish Pub (I presume the one downtown on Wisconsin Ave.) – if I heard correctly the topic will be search (it’s like they’re reading my mind for topics of interest!).

Be there!