Edward Bulwer-Lytton said “The pen is mightier than the sword”. The pen is also mightier than the photoshop in a lot of ways. The pen (or pencil, if you prefer) is one of the most important tools in a designer’s arsenal and has been for a long time. Long before computers or photoshop.
With an emphasis on iteration and quick prototyping, web design is becoming about speed and being able to quickly test ideas. Sketching can facilitate quick iteration and allow a designer, or anyone (more on that later), to experiment with dozens of ideas. All this done with items that cost less than a few bucks, no batteries or updates required.
A pen and paper will bring with it a low barrier of entry. Applications, like photoshop, are expensive and have massive learning curves. A pen is simple, anyone can pick one up and draw a few squares and circles and be part of the design process. Non-design team members, like stakeholders and other departments, can take part in a meaningful way. They can get down and dirty and be part of the early stages. This can give designers additional perspectives and angles on the problem, and ultimately, allow UX and web designers to do their job and put it all together, refine the experience, and incorporate style and consistency.
Extending the Pen and Paper
Evernote & Moleskine – There are many products on the market to bridge the gap between the analog pen and the digital world those sketches are intended for. Evernote has OCR (optical character recognition) which will make all the notes you wrote beside your sketches searchable, which can be pretty handy. Evernote also partnered with Moleskine to create a notebook that pairs with their mobile app, so you can set a reminder, keep a section of the page private, or categorize the note just by ticking a box, or applying a special sticker to the page.
Whitelines – Whitelines has a similar notebook, where you can tick off boxes on the page and take a picture with their free app and it will know what to do. What sets whitelines apart is their notebook design. Like their name says they use a very light gray paper and the lines on the page are white rather than a traditional blue or black. Looking at a blank page is strange at first but as you start sketching, or writing, the lines start to fade away and your lines and words become the focus of the page. Lines disappear altogether when you scan or photograph the pages with their app. Whitelines also integrates with Evernote and other services.
Adobe – Not to be outdone by Evernote, Adobe also partnered with Moleskine to create a “smart” notebook. With the download of another app, you can convert your Moleskine sketches into jpg’s and SVG’s and upload them to your Creative Cloud account with just your smartphone. The idea is moving seamlessly from sketching to digital design.
Whatever the method you choose it’s undeniable that sketching is an easy and fast way to start any design, include many perspectives, and iterate quickly.