The very word sketching doesn’t invoke a lot of respect, especially when mentioned in the context of software development. After all, User Experience Design people come up with wireframes, diagrams and designs, not sketches.
Sketches are considered a throwaway byproduct of the design process. What I would like to point out is the value of sketches and why they should be given an official slot in development process.
Since Pathfinder does Agile, understanding the value of user based testing comes naturally – “Release early, release often”, right? How quickly can you release a sketch in order to get that ever so valued feedback? That’s the key to reducing cost through sketching. By reducing cost you can make a better product within a given budget.
To really get the best of this “quick release testing”, there are several things that need to be understood upfront:
1. A sketch should be done with pencil and paper or equivalent. There is no quicker medium for visually explaining an idea.
2. Making a sketch should take seconds. otherwise it’s not a sketch.
3. Everybody can make a sketch. You don’t have to be a visual designer. Don’t try to make it into an art piece because that’s a misguided effort. Leave details for when you figure out the basic idea. The point is that at least you understand what you’ve sketched.
4. A sketch is not a wireframe. They both have different purposes: sketches should be used to explore and “test” ideas cheaply, wireframes should be used to explain IA.
5. Paper will take anything. When sketching, one has a rare opportunity to think without boundaries. Don’t take technology, standards or any other consideration into account when sketching, nothing but user end goals. You would be surprised how apparently challenging interfaces can be produced efficiently if developers get to understand them really well. A good sketch is the beginning of that process.
6. Without fail, sketches generate discussion because of their associative power. Make more sketches and you will have more discussion. The more aspects you discuss, the more unknowns you will discover. The more unknowns you cover, the less money & time you will spend trying to wedge a square peg in a round hole.
It’s an interesting exercise to organize sketches chronologically and see the progress of an idea. A lot can be learned about what you didn’t know at the beginning and you might consider from the start the next time.
My hope is that in the near future visual interfaces will have to be bound less to existing standards for ease of production. This would create a need for visual interfaces not yet seen which makes them exploration for which plain old sketches are the best tool.