Comments on Sketching: the Visual Thinking Power Tool

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  1. Just wanted to say thank you Mike for a great article. I’ve always found sketching in the early stages of a project works best for me—and it’s also a lot of fun. And like most things, the more you do it, the better you get at it, as you pick up little tricks along the way. Thanks for sharing your sketches—they look great!

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  2. Much like yourself, I’ve loved sketching since I was a kid and I’ve found it an incredibly useful approach when starting a logo design or site layout. In fact my standard workflow begins on paper, long before I fire up photoshop / illustrator / whatever. Some of these sketches here are great!

    I totally agree that artistic ability isn’t a prerequisite to sketching out ideas. It’s great fun to knock out some ‘thumbnail’ ideas and then flesh out the good ones. I often come up with layouts that I perhaps wouldn’t have though of if I’d have gone straight to photoshop.

    On the flipside though, I’ve personally found that taking a little extra time out to learn some basic technical drawing methods (things like 3-point perspective) has really improved the quality of my work. I don’t mean to sound like I’m trying to scare anyone off, rather I find that if you try a sketching approach and it works out, it’s almost like a natural progression to take it further - Because it’s fun!

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  3. What a lovely article!  This was passed onto me by a design colleague.  I am designer of learning experiences and there is no reason why sketching can’t help with this.  I also think of myself as a visual thinker and visual sense maker: having created tools that are visually based and as a major fan of mindmpaping.  I journal and doodle some but not enough. Mike presents and gently persuades us about the value of sketching as a design and problem solving tool.  The links he provides and advice on what materials and tools is helpful.  I have an iPad and am encouraged to try out the apps he suggests taking a look at.  Thanks Mike

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  4. I use the combination of Moleskine + Pilot G-1 0.7 pen or classical pencil. I also build one tool to make browser frame simulation on paper “Sketchbook for web designers”:

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  5. I’m a project manager, with barely any drawing ability at all.  But I’ve spend the couple years with a moleskine cahier extra large square ruled journal as my daily carry for meetings. 

    The grid allow me to easily make not only occasional UI or information design sketches, but also works great for meeting notes and easily doing multiple levels of indentation for structured items - todo lists, navigational hierarchy, tasks and subtasks, etc.  About $6 each

    I’m a big fan of the feel of pencils also, and have a handful of pentel graphgear 500 .9mm pencils with the softest lead I can find.  Also about $6 each

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  6. I’ll have you know that Bob Dylan _is_ a great singer. Even better than Caruso.


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  7. I completely resonate with the use of sketching as an imaginative tool.  Even though my drawing ability is pretty poor, I still derive great value from trying my best to lay things out.

    That said, I noticed that while you had a set of great resources on ways to use sketching as an imaginative tool, there weren’t any on improving your sketching itself.  Do you have any recommendations there?  Thanks,

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  8. Hey, would you consider sketching with a Wacom Tablet on Adobe Ps or AI same as sketching on paper?

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  9. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and ideas regarding your talent Mike.

    I am not good in drawing though I love to do so. I just get envy with my younger brother who is so artistic and love to draw and sketch anything that goes in his mind.

    I love this article because it encourage me to do what I really like plus a tip on how to do so.

    Your article will really help a lot of dreamers to draw and sketch more and to not give up.

    Keep up the good work Mike.

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  10. It was in grade school that I first did my first sketch of our favorite pet “Ringo”.  He is a dog, but he looked like a dinosaur in my sketch.  Since then, I never had confidence in sketching.  But having been read this article, my interest in sketching is now coming back.  Thanks to you!

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  11. Sometimes when I sketch, I use Pencil from the Pencil Project.

    It’s a good and opensource software for GUI prototyping.
    It’s developed for linux / win / mac when standalone and as firefox plugin.

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  12. Was just having a discussion about neuroplasticity and the brain yesterday. If you don’t already sketch, taking it up encourages participation from parts of the brain you might not be tapping. Mike, your article has encouraged me to try to make it part of my workday processes.

    Some books also worth mentioning: Drawing on the Artist Within and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards. Also, The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam. Non-artists like myself might also spend a little time looking up “gesture drawing.” The idea of gesture drawing helps loosen my tightly clenched grip on the pencil.

    If I can get myself to sketch consistently, I’m interested in observing how it might affect my thinking processes.

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  13. ... is what I keep saying for years. I don’t remember how many times I have been laughed at.

    I wouldn’t write “Carry a _notebook_ and pen or pencil with you wherever you go.”, but instead, “Carry a _sketchbook_ and pen or pencil with you wherever you go.” Well, you never know.

    Fully agree with what is being said. Nice piece of work including nice pieces of work.

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  14. Sketching is one part of the design process that is very fun and enjoyably, it allows you to be flexible and think outside the box (grid).

    Very importatn to get over the ” I cant draw” and just do it, there is no wrong or right when it comes to sketching when you are using the process to work through ideas on a project.

    A sketched idea can rock the world : )

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  15. I teach in a 2-yr Graphic Comm program. Sketching greatly improves both fluency and function in our work, regardless of the medium/a it’s intended for.
    We faculty walk uphill both ways getting students to spend enough time in sketching mode. Many want to leap into their Mac apps too soon.
    I find this an alarming disconnect—and outright fuddling—since they often claim to be “visual learners” and come to GC because the “graphic” part of GC attracts they way more than the “communications” part.

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  16. Sorry, Mike, clicked “submit” too soon. Meant to proof and add this:
    I intend to share your article with all of our students in every class—also appreciate “further reading” suggestions.

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  17. First up what a great article. You might be interested in knowing that in addition to all the benefits you mentioned sketching with a pencil (or pen), works well for another reason. When you write on paper you will engage more areas of your brain, example the motor cortex as we write and the Somatosensory system as we feel the pencil on paper. Unsurprisingly the more parts of your brain you engage the more interesting things get.

    Mark Levison

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  18. I am an art teacher and can absolutely teach anyone to draw, especially the negative types who say “can’t draw a stick figure”.  It is the connection: eye, hand, mind.  Love the article. Thanks

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  19. Thanks, that was a good inspiration to kick me in a direction I had already been thinking of!

    I’m a coder gone freelance, and have found I have to broaden my skills into design as well, and using sketches for “prototyping” could work well. I’ll go get a notebook with a grid tomorrow! ;)

    One thing I did miss from the the article tough, was how sketches can aid coders. That’s something I’d like to see, a way to make a simple mock-up of a logic solution, which is what programming is about, but without going as far as UML diagrams or similar.

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  20. Thank you for the article!  Even though I’ve been a long-time sketcher, I don’t really care for concepting my design ideas in a book or all on one sheet.  I feel like I’m wasting paper or running into myself too much if I draw too large, and not getting enough detail in if I draw too small!  And I’ve got way too much stuff crammed into my purse for a sketchbook of any decent size; what if I have an idea when I’m out at a restaurant somewhere?

    Instead, I snip old printouts (making sure the backs are blank) into quarter sheets of paper.  I keep a pile of quarter sheets at any desk I work at: home, work, drawing.  I also keep some in my purse; in fact, a prerequisite of buying a purse/wallet for me now is that it can fit about 10 of them in a pocket somewhere.

    They’re great because:

    • They’re not bound, so I can draw all the way to the edge.

    • They’re easy to rearrange in a particular order, which works great for storyboarding out the flow of a site or animation sequence.

    • I can toss out/redraw something that gets too messy; after all, it’s only a quarter sheet of paper! (I’m a ballpoint pen girl, myself)

    • When you’ve got a set that’s related, you can paperclip it together for easy storage.

    • They’re thin, so they’re easy to trace over if you want to make a more detailed sketch of something.

    • Reusing things that would have been thrown away makes me feel greener, and cutting them makes me feel less wasteful (it also ensures I don’t mistake them for important documents floating around my desk that I shouldn’t be drawing on).

    I can’t begin to describe how they’ve helped my ideas flow and supplemented my initial concept-generation process.  They come with my highest recommendation.  =)

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    I came upon this by a colleague. Even though paper will never go… i do like this.

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  22. Mike, first of all great last name!  I found your site due to an errant tweet of @mrohde but I’m glad I did.

    I’ve always avoided sketching because I’m not an artist but you make some compelling arguments to sketch to quickly get your ideas out on in a concrete form.  I may take your suggest of carrying around a sketchpad to see if it helps me brain storm ideas and become a more visual thinker.

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  23. Mike - Thanks to you and Sunni Brown for sharing your inspiring thoughts about using visual thinking to unleash our imaginations and problem solving.  I just finished teaching an executive MBA course at UW-Milwaukee that focused a lot on visual thinking.  We used Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin as a text and I was very pleased to see my students take the risk to sketch their ideas and share them with others.  We had fun exploring to web-based drawing tools - Dabbleboard and Simple Diagrams.  Both tools helped us gain some confidence in our ability to use drawings to solve problems and think more visually.  Thanks for sharing your work - I really loved your sketch notes in Rework!  Keep up the great work.

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  24. I really enjoyed the richness of your article.  In reading it and seeing the illustrations it did remind of the Da Vinci exhibit and the value sketching was to bringing out his genius.  It also reminded me that the value of sketching extends beyond design as a visualization tool for solving engineering and physics problems.

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  25. Sketching with a Livescribe pen makes a great combination of the paper experience but digitized in an easy to follow manner. The pen can record the creation of the sketch so you can replay your ideas as you explain them by voice. And you can share directly from paper with the latest models. Been using one for a couple of years and it’s amazing.

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  26. Sorry, commenting is closed on this article.