Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sketch ... Everything.

Why would you want to sketch? Why professionally would you want to sketch? Continuing the conversation started in my last post about the goings on at the San Diego Sketchcamp, the next thing on the docket after "yes I am perfectly capable of sketching" is of course: WHY?

There are so many reasons to sketch. One of the most fascinating experiences of the day-long workshop was listening to one speaker after another illustrate how they use sketching in their work - and why you should too. Especially if you are a User Experience (UX) professional, which most of the audience was.

Sketching is a great way to capture ideas on the fly and problem-solve together in a meeting with peers or a client. You can capture much more information via pictures than with text. Sure it takes practice, but so does note taking or any other skill. But the end result is a memorable visual description of the conversation as it evolved. Not to mention the fact that the faster you write the worse your handwriting gets, and if you are like many people in this digital age (self included) your handwriting is fairly illegible to start with. Even being familiar with your own handwriting, you may find yourself scratching your head later trying to figure out what on earth those words are. I know I do. Whereas with a zippy picture the meaning doesn't disappear just because some of your lines get sloppy. Remember - we aren't talking about creating "art", we are talking about capturing ideas, impressions, observations.

One speaker in particular blew many workshop attendees out of the water by literally walking and drawing the talk. Amber Lundy spent 45  minutes discussing why she sketches, how she came to sketching from a start in computing (she is a self-described nerd) and and how one can benefit from sketching on the job. She calls it resocializing the interface.

But here's the kicker. As she spoke, the colorful highlighters never left Amber's rapidly moving hand. As she spoke, Amber moved back and forth, along a room-length sheet of paper pinned to the wall, drawing what she was saying. So not only did you hear her talk via your ears, you watched her her talk with your eyes. Talk about an impressive display of multi-tasking.

"Anything you can say you can sketch" according to Amber. Hard to argue with that when you are watching it unfold before you. At the end of her talk she went back and added boxes and additional arrows to show the flow of her talk even more clearly. Imagine sitting in a room with peers or clients and at the end of an intense and productive meeting you find yourself in front of a detailed visual representation of everywhere the conversation went, the points covered and the conclusions you mutually reached. In living color. Wow.

Perhaps anticipating the response ("I can't do THAT!"), Amber made a point of saying that she didn't take a bunch of classes to learn how to sketch so fluidly in front of a group. She said she practiced. And practiced. And practiced. She forced herself to sketch all sorts of things. For example, Amber advocates sketching meetings, not only as good practice, but because you will pay better attention. Remember some deadly dull meeting you have been in when all you could think of was how much you desperately wanted a roving espresso cart to appear in front of you. Then think about how entertaining and productive it could have been to instead have sketched the players in the room and what they were saying. Fun, no? Lasts longer than a latte too.

Sketch things you might not think of scheduling just to stretch yourself - rise to the challenge and think about things when you have time to build the habit. Why? These are the people and objects you interact with on a daily basis, which can come in handy later when you are in a fast paced situation and don't have time to ponder what something should look like. Like what? Sketch your schedule. Instead of a linear To-Do list, how would you lay out your day visually? As a die-hard list maker and organizer, I'm having serious fun pondering that one.

Here is the best (bizarre?) suggestion Amber had -sketch your grocery list.

Be careful however. Perhaps the first few times you should go to the store with both a sketched list and a traditional list. Until you learn what your own sketches mean.

Otherwise you might come home with ... things. Really odd things.

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