Sketching: A developer-turned-designer’s perspective

Even though I’ve been working on creating designs for the longest time, I’ve done it on Photoshop, or SnagIt or even mspaint: basically, some software tool or the other.

That probably is because I never went to design school… probably because I am an engineer who graduated from a software developer to a designer.

Being a software developer for 7-8 years just makes you more comfortable with using software tools and IDEs for enablement and for problem solving. Your computer becomes your comfort zone for work.

I remember my early projects as a User Interface developer. What was passed down to me generally was a screen flow document and (decently hi resolution) screen mark-ups, usually jpegs or bitmaps, of the screen that needed to be developed; with notes on there regarding transitions or state changes.  A designer or a design team generally handed those down.

As a developer, my impression of designers was : “They create screen-shots”

So when I finally decided to graduate to being a designer myself, it automatically meant: “I should now create screen-shots: jpegs, bitmaps or pngs” and i was totally fine with this.. did fairly well too.. all this time, until a couple of years ago. That’s when I decided to dig deeper into formal education for design.

I was surprised to see almost all design folks highly advocate the use of paper and pens for design. Reading articles, blog entries and listening to interviews from various designers reinforced the fact that designers use sketching as their primary design method.

Wow.. It had never really occurred to me that web designers, software designers could be working with paper and pens as their primary tools, sketching their designs and validating their approaches before they converted their prototypes into jpegs. I thought only fashion designers sketched!!

So then,  can you move back to sketching once you’ve started down the Photoshop path?

You can.. but it’s definitely not easy. It is hard to unlearn your habits be it everyday habits or design habits.

For starters, detailed insights like these will be of great help:

The messy art of UX sketching

An interview with Jason Fried

Second, I’d suggest to start small. Don’t try and tackle the whole of your next design problem with sketching. Gain expertise slowly.. Start with one section of one screen.. Try and sketch that piece or a simple dialog/pop-up  first.. then move on to larger chunks like sketching the entire screen and then as your confidence builds up,  take on the entire design problem.

Be aware though that when you start, your sketches will look all fuzzy and funny.. not perfect like the ones you saw in the tutorial. But they’ll get better as you practice..

As always, there’s no shortcut!


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