A hundred sketches in 2 days

The Challenge: 100 observational sketches of things, people, spaces, flows, and contexts on white index cards over two (2) days throughout San Francisco.

The Tools: One (1) 40% warm gray marker, one (1) black fine point 88 marker, and one (1) pack of white index cards.

The Motivation: Empathy and storytelling are vital skills to hone in any occupation, but especially for the UX practitioner. Our job is to design experiences not based off our wants and needs, but that of the end user. Like all skills, these are muscles that need to be continually flexed in order to strengthen and grow.

Intentional observation can help us to improve our ability to tap into our empathy by forcing us to focus our attention outward. As humans it’s easy for us to fall into our own head and assume our needs are everyones. When we silently observe others and watch them engage with the world separate from us and our perceptions, it helps to improve our ability to quickly capture others needs, wants, and motivations. 

This practice will in turn help us to design systems that better meet those needs and desires. It’s critical that we continually take time to re-evaluate and reassess to ensure we are being driven by the user preferences and not our own.

Equally important may be the ability to tell a story, and in the realm of UX, there may be no better way to sell a vision than to do that visually. This visual does not need to be complex, and in fact, it may serve better when it’s not. Leave something to the imagination. Allow the receiver of the story to connect the small contextual details themselves. Make the emotion and intent clear, while they fill in the details as they fit within their own life.  

The Takeaways: Sketching is hard and like almost anything else,  practice makes better. Whether you see yourself as an avid sketcher or artist, do not view this as art, but rather rapid storytelling. It’s less about the quality of the visuals and more about telling a story by quickly and clearly conveying emotion and intent.

As we are often our toughest critic, try to avoid getting stuck on any one sketch for more than 5 minutes. Like the clay pot story, this is a situation when quantity trumps quality as quality (or improvement) will inevitably follow. 

I found time boxing particularly a useful strategy. When the time is up, you’re done. Put it to the side. Next.

The more you do something the better at you will become. You may never become Da Vinci, but that’s not the goal.

Lastly, love the gray marker, it works wonders.