The Value of Wireframe Sketching


I think Sketching is misunderstood in the Tech Industry. Sketching is something everyone on your team should be doing! You’ll hear it from professionals across the industry, that problem solving starts with sketching ideas. Unfortunately it seems to me that not many teams are actually taking advantage of this great practice.

Do it Every Day

I sketch every day! Whiteboards, post-it notes, 8.5″x11″ sheets of paper, and office walls are waiting to be filled with ideas! Map out anything and everything you can think of, from user flows, to a complex interface pattern, to even what you’re going to cook for dinner this week. We sometimes forget that the essence of sketching is getting ideas memorialized, so that we can share and understand our experiences, both professionally and privately.

Assumptions We Need to Move Past:

  • It’s a talent owned solely by designers(non-artist paralysis)
  • It’s just doodling; There is no process
  • We don’t have time to waste; There is no time-boxing
  • There is no apparent value in scribbles

It’s not Talent, It’s Dedication

Let’s be clear, sketching is not drawing! Some of the most useful sketches for finding a solution are often the ugliest drawings. Ideas are the most important element of sketching. The beauty of ideation is that it can change quickly, and as such we need a medium to match that pace. This is where sketching, not drawing comes into its own. Great illustration skills are nice for some type of client work, but for wireframe sketching they can actually hold you back. Always we must be mindful that creating a successful product is our end goal. As such, speed and iteration are the name of the game. By keeping at it, and moving past our fears we begin to cross new borders toward productive ends!

Process Creates Better Performance

Creating a design can often be a complex and dizzying experience if you don’t know where to start. While some form of research and ideation is common to most modern workflows, it sometimes lacks direction in what are the goals of these endeavors. To avoid going through the motions, we need to focus on a clear problem statement attached to a time-boxed effort. By soliciting team feedback we get early stage buy-in, both internal and external, which will help lubricate the mechanics of the team’s future interactions. Make sure everyone knows their ideas are welcome and encouraged within this section of the project lifecycle. Only once everyone is one the same page, can the product begin to take shape!

A Time and Place for Ideation

For many, design starts inside a software application such as Photoshop or Sketch. Although tempting, it is important to evaluate your problem statement when deciding the correct medium for your design implementation. When the idea is still going through iterations, it is very important to use a medium that can match that pace. In this regard, sketching will always be more efficient than Photoshop. Sketching prevents tunnel vision, and instead focuses your attention on solving the problem without the bias of technical limitations. Further, sketching is a social experiment that is best shared with the team. In this way, we are moving the ball forward on the project, as well as creating camaraderie and buy-in from the larger team, namely the non-designers. Place boundaries on the meetings, feedback loops, and appropriate sprint length so that this stage doesn’t get stuck in idea purgatory!

So while it may seem like sketching will slow your sprint down in the short term, it may actually save you time in the long term.

We All Have the Ability to Sketch

So please, don’t think that you have to be able to draw in order to sketch! I need my clients to give me feedback, and sketch ideas right there by my side. When recruiting stakeholders sometimes they need to be reminded that no design or wireframe is precious. The best thing you can tell them is to get your hands dirty, and move past their fears of drawing based shame.

The more you and your stakeholders sketch the better you will get at tying an idea down into a visualization. Again, anyone can learn this ‘talent’, just like anything else in life. It just takes a little hand-holding and wherewithal to initiate the unassuming stakeholders in your process.