Developing a sketching system
Issue 78: Creating a shorthand to accelerate ideation
Readers have asked about the origin of my drawing style for Proof of Concept. The honest answer is it evolved over time based on what was the most effective way to communicate ideas. If you look at the early issues, the sketches were directionless. At some point, I decided to draw in the manner in which I create diagrams and low fidelity sketches to convey ideas. In Issue 59, I wrote about sketching as a strategy. For this one, I'll share a bit about the benefits of developing your sketching system and how having a visual language can increase your creativity. The goal of a sketch is to make a rough drawing—you're not painting the Mona Lisa. A sketch is a powerful communication tool to take ideas and make them tangible. Over the time working with people, I developed some shorthand techniques on how I approach drawing in hopes to convey those ideas more rapidly
My sketch system
A lot of you have asked about my drawing style for this newsletter. It's very low fidelity and for the purpose of recognition and connection to a concept. One important thing to remember is people don't have to fully understand your system unless you're planning to create a presentation. It's helpful for you to generate your ideas.
Annotations and references
I am a huge fan of creating quick annotations to help people comprehend my sketches. Annotations and references are great ways to make it visually clear on the intention. I use this system in my whiteboarding sessions and now applied it to my sketches. It’s dead simple. Plot numbers on your sketch and on the side write descriptions. You can create powerful documentation at the fidelity of a napkin sketch.
I use symbols as a way to remind myself of key elements; often borrowed from other systems. For example, I might borrow symbols found in the Unified Modeling Language (UML) but for quick sketches, I may not be building a literal diagram based on that language. Three circles stacked on one another helps remind me that this is regarding a database.
I use just about 50 shades of gray to create fills and depth to communicate the ideas. A lesson I've learned in art school that is engrained in my mind is to never work with a blank canvas—to fill all the white space. Though there are times and places for minimalism, having fills helps you refine and edit. I use black ink sparingly, only for line emphasis. For more detailed drawings, I may use it for cross-hatching and adding fine details.
I always carry red and blue ink to add additional layers to my sketches. Effective visuals for me is when people can look at something flat and can see metadata of information in additional layers. In this case, red marks fixes and adjustments while blue are reserved for key indicators and documentation.
Thickness and depth for emphasis
Storyboards and user flows are helpful artifacts but can be overwhelming to look at as they get more complex. One trick is to use different thicknesses to emphasize certain frames. In the drawing above, I use shadows to create elevation—can you see them? I use a lot of line hops to show a visual connection for frames that are far away without drawing lines that look like a game of Snake on a Nokia cell phone.
Developing your own system
Doing exactly what I do might not work for you. The key is to create one that helps you recall and execute quicker.
Questions to ask while devising your system:
What are you building artifacts for? Your system for a film storyboard may be different than a technical diagram
What are symbols easily recognizable by you that are repeatable?
How do you reference other concepts and tie them together?
I hope this gives you some ideas to develop your own sketch system.
We'll miss you, Wilson
On Thursday, I said goodbye to my best friend of 19 years. Wilson passed pain-free and with dignity at the VCA hospital in Indio, California. The past few days have been incredibly difficult. I considered not writing anything this week. However, I think a big part of grieving and coping is to keep going. It doesn't mean hastily forgo mourning, but try to keep a routine.
Tweet of the week
Have cats on my mind.
16 Famous Designers Show Us Their Favorite Notebooks - an older article but classic