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Thinking Out of the Box

Hands off of mouse and keyboard – the advantages of pen and paper scribbles in the digital age

I am sitting in front of my new computer – a marvel of modern technology. It is stuffed full with every imaginable designers’ software, and I ask myself: Why should I ever use pen and paper again? Is it not a lot easier to create everything digitally?
Have you had similar thoughts in the past? Or do you start creating things straight at the computer without considering anything else?

In the following I want to encourage everybody to reach for pen and paper again when creating ideas, and to incorporate this into their daily workflow. And I want to encourage everyone already using pen and paper to continue and perhaps even do so more frequently and consciously. Here is why:

Sketching is efficient.

A sketch pins down an idea extremely fast, even if only roughly. Sketches are done quickly, and duplicated, iterated on, modified or crumpled up and thrown away even faster. Trying out many different directions in a short period of time enables you to very quickly discard a lot of paths not worth going down – and also narrows down the terrain you are looking for. Sketching an idea on paper or a whiteboard instead of implementing it straight away in a wireframe or even a high definition mockup lowers the risk of investing a lot of time into ideas, which might later have to be discarded or adjusted with a lot of expense. Necessary adjustments are quickly sketched on paper without having to rearrange or even adjust objects in Photoshop for example.

Brainstorming and refinement of icon metaphors.

Brainstorming and refinement of icon metaphors.

Sketching facilitates creativity.

By keeping a certain distance from design, implementation and technical constraints scribbling allows you to think in many different directions, to show and hold thoughts visually, to consume, change and rethink them again. Visualizing ideas immediately and reinterpreting them afterwards creates a cycle, a flow of creativity allowing to continuously enriching and refining your ideas.
Sketching is also an effective tool to overcome a thinking barrier. It often helps to just let the sketching happen – to sort your thoughts and get back into the flow.

Sketching is communicative.

Through a sketch concepts are easily communicated to colleagues or customers at a high level of precision, which allows creating a clear conceptual base for discussion. It also makes sketches a valuable tool for communication regarding the evaluation of raw concepts, without the risk of getting lost in detail or talking across purposes. Discussing detailed mockups increases this risk by far. In addition, sketching actually allows the designer to understand the essence better himself.

Collaborative whiteboard sketching.

Collaborative whiteboard sketching.

 Sketching focusses on essentials.

Sketching is crude – this does not sound desirable at first. But that rawness, far from technical implementation and perfection is needed to drive a concept ahead quickly. In elaborated and well-thought-through concepts it is often the details that catch your eye first and thereby divert attention from the essential points.
Thus, a refined mockup may quickly lead to a discussion about single color values, while it should actually be clarifying the overall direction of the concept.

Sketching is possible always and everywhere.

Yes, nowadays the smartphone is always at hand, waiting to synchronize notes into the cloud. But simple text notes are still written down faster in your notebook than synced into the cloud, not to mention scribbles and sketches. A notebook fits into every pocket and should be your constant companion. No matter if in the pub, on the train, in the office or at the beach, good ideas appear anytime and everywhere and often just as fast, they disappear again. In meetings a whiteboard should always be accessible, since sketching together is especially productive and can avoid long discussions, as it keeps the group focused.

Spring sun brainstorming.

Spring sun brainstorming.

Sketching conserves.

Sketching is the perfect tool to document spontaneous thoughts when you do not have the time to follow them through. Returning to these scribbles later will sometimes reveal a diamond in the raw, just waiting to be cut into jewels. The great thing about a notebook is that you can always “scroll back”, see where you came from, which point was refined and which one discarded, and which concepts you might want to reconsider as they seem to become useful again.

Sketching is for everybody.

No worries, sketches don’t have to make a Rembrandt or Michelangelo nod in appreciation. Scribbles do not ask for the precision of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, they are allowed, maybe even expected to be quick and dirty. Dots, lines, rectangles, circles, arrows, sticky men and of course written text, nothing else is needed. There is no artistic talent required as it is about keeping and communicating ideas and not about detailing a piece of work or art.

Icon scribbles from basic shapes.

Icon scribbles from basic shapes.

Sketching is fun.

Sketching allows you to free your inner child. Everything is allowed, and if you manage to free your mind and let creativity take its course you will be surprised how fast you can get to very rewarding results. Furthermore I really enjoy time spent working away from the screen with pen and paper.

Want to start sketching yourself?

Then do not be afraid of pen and paper, because even without being a natural artist you should visualize ideas and concepts to conserve, refine or talk about.
Sketching is a fast and efficient, and the easiest tool to set free your creativity, capture and have fun with it – all at the same time.
That’s why we use Sketching as a tool very naturally and intuitively in all our professional services – when creating interaction concepts or doing screen design or icon design.

Want to know more about our services, products or our UX process?
We are looking forward to hearing from you.

Corporate Experience Manager
+49 681 959 3110
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