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The Art of Sketchboarding

Tara OrtizWritten by Tara Ortiz
Aug 27, 2018 10:52:00 AM

I’ve spent the past 14 years as a designer. I got my degree in graphic design, and I’ve done everything front print design to product packaging to user experience (UX) design. Today I am a senior designer who specializes in user interfaces — what users see and interact with when they use a web product.

I’ve been asked before what makes a good user interface, and the answer really depends on the client. What are their goals? What do they want their user to do? Inherently, the follow up questions I hear are: Well, what if they don’t know what their goals are? How do you help them figure it out? My answer is “Sketchboarding.”

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Sketchboarding is a method of informal drawings that help outline a story. Think of storyboarding for the film industry. In films, storyboards are a set of sequential illustrations that represent parts of the whole story, if not the whole story. With sketchboarding, the illustrations can represent parts of a website, if not the entire website.

Sketchboarding can be used for far more than just illustrating parts of a website. They can be used to understand workflow. They can be used to capture what emotions you want users to feel. The options are virtually limitless.

What is important to understand about sketchboarding is that at its most basic level, it is a method used to tell a story. Storytelling is hard wired into us as human beings, and as more companies like Facebook, Snapchat, Apple and countless more invest millions of dollars to facilitate social storytelling, it is important for us as individuals to realize the power stories possess.

Here’s an example of how sketchboarding helped a previous client of mine understand their own story. The client managed a newly formed division of a software company whose employees all worked remotely. As a result, they spent months trying to hone in on a process flow . Team members were confused by what steps of the process they were responsible for, and that confusion led to redundancies, miscommunications and ultimately mistakes in both their proposals and their implementations.

Once the team was able to sit together in a room, they were able to make a series of sketchboards that illustrated each person’s experience within the process workflow — and as a result, the process flow itself. With those sketches completed, the team had the story of their process, and it became clear where corrections needed to be made.

Here’s what one of the team members said about that realization:

“This instant visualization was crucial in allowing us as individuals, and then as a team to address stop gaps and work through solutions.”

That is what sketchboarding can do. I like to think of it as visual talk therapy. That may sound silly, but it’s true. Sketchboarding allows clients to take a problem or challenge they face and understand what the issues are and how they can fix them.

Sketchboarding is pretty impactful, but what makes it even more powerful is that anyone can do it. I’ve heard several clients tell me they could never sketchboard because they can’t draw, and I’ve strongly disagreed. Drawing skills really aren’t a factor. When I introduce the concept, I always tell people not to let what they consider a lack of talent hinder them in this process. Even if you don’t have real drawing talent, you can pick up basic fundamentals.

The only requirement to successfully sketchboard is an innate ability to problem solve and come up with ideas.

So try it out. Next time you or your organization has a problem it can’t solve, get everyone in the room with a whiteboard and markers, or some paper and pens, and draw out the problem. What’s the story? What’s the conflict? What’s the solution?

If you’ve used sketchboarding before, or are interested in learning more about it, please feel free to email me and let me know.

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Topics: Design Services

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