Anyone that has worked with me for any amount of time will know that I literally draw as I think and am likely to leave little tracing of my thinking in the form of doodles all over the place. I might say not always ideal in a paperless corporate culture or a tidy polished agency environment!

I don’t just sketch interfaces, I sketch strategy frameworks, concept models, storyboards and random diagrams. I live sketch too in workshops, which is probably more of expert skill, but one that’s extremely valuable alignment tool in a workshop environment. Sketching has simply become my way of thinking.

Over the years, many people have asked me to give them sketching tips and to be honest I’ve always put it to the back of my priority list as I’ve almost seen it as not the most valuable part. The challenging part I’ve always thought is working out what to sketch in the first place. On reflection, I wonder if I’m wrong. I’ve done it so much, it comes so naturally now that I find it very difficult to work without a pen and a piece of paper. Like everything, it takes a degree of confidence to put pen to paper and certainly in full view of others.


Recently I was asked whilst working at a client’s office to provide a sketching workshop and this time I accepted. So these were my top tips:

Use good pens

I consider a trip to a stationary shop a real treat and the array of pens on offer is immense, without meaning to you can easily spend a fortune. My favourite pen though is actually not one of the fancy ones it’s a trusty Paper-Mate Fineliners. I discovered it in an agency 3 jobs ago and it’s made the stationary cupboard of every agency I’ve been at ever since (and now Clearleft). A good pen, not too thin and not too thick, makes a massive difference when sketching.

Use colour strategically

Before you start a sketch consider how you are going to use colour and be consistent with it. Typically my main sketch is in black pen, I use a red pen for linking arrows and then a reserve a colour for the title and notes and then a different colour for questions.

Use highlighters to lift the edges

As well as good drawing pens consider buying a grey shadowing pen to lift the sketch. I typically use Tombow Dual Brush to add a sort of drop shadow to the edge of the sketch and key elements within it. You’ll be amazed what difference it makes.

Sketching out a system
Using sketching to illustrate a platform's system during a kick-off workshop

Start messy and then draw a neat version

In the case that you want to use a sketch to communicate an idea. I’d just drawing a neat version after some messier doodles.

Practice readable writing - write in uppercase

My natural handwriting is very messy and I always wondered at school how on earth examiners would be able to read it. Over the years though I’ve developed a neat uppercase writing style that I use for more sketches.

Scan and tidy up in photoshop

If I am adding my sketches to a deck I always use photoshop to clean them up a bit. Sometimes scanning can add little marks that look messy and also occasionally I add colour to key buttons to lift them.

Doodle of a user group or persona from a workshop
Using sketching to illustrate user groups during as client workshop

We find sketching can be an incredible 'unblocker' when it comes to designing a complicated system or service, as well as getting stakeholder buy-in. We'd love to hear how you use sketching on Twitter.