Sketching for UX Designers: Eva-Lotta Lamm

Sketching for UX Designers: Eva-Lotta Lamm

In this workshop, Lamm talked about what sketching can be used for and took participant through some exercises to help get them sketching – even if they felt they cannot draw!

She began by describing the four reasons she uses sketching: to understand things, to explain things, to create wireframes and to remember things.

Lamm observed that sketching can be a really useful way to scribble diagrams or scenarios to help structure a problem and the information gathered about that situation, so that you can understand things in a very short space of time. She also discussed the benefits of using these sketches to explain things by making a concept more visual. This always involves two people’s thought processes, as there is always an element of translation involved to help people see what you mean. It is also difficult to spread out across multiple pages, so it helps you to be concise.

Eva-Lotta Lamm speaks at UX Bristol

Lamm described her own practice of using sketches to visualising and remember things at conferences. Creating visual notes with words and pictures can help her to remember stuff and trigger the stories behind the notes. She advocated looking on Flickr for sketch notes to see the different styles of visual note taking.

She went on to describe the challenges involved in teaching people to sketch, including the technical challenge of getting an idea from your head to your hand (which is what most people mean when they say they can’t draw), getting from abstract concepts to an image, and getting from thoughts into a structure. She observed that there are more options for structuring your thoughts visually than there are with words alone, so this can be more challenging.

“Its not about being a good artist, its about being a good thinker
It’s not only about being a good thinker, but being a good observer.”

Lamm then gave us an overview of the theory behind sketching, including dual coding theory, which explains that pictures and words are not processed on the same channels in the brain. Words are symbolic, so there is a level of processing involved to understand the code, whilst images can be processed by simple recognition. She did observe that we can be much more precise with language, as it can free our thoughts up to think at a more abstract level, so there is an argument for combining both images and words to make an effective sketch.

Participants in the workshops then got drawing. The exercise involved them choosing an image, and then sketching it repeatedly in a shorter and shorter time period. They started with two and a half minutes, and ended up with only five seconds to draw the same image. They discussed the strategies they developed, including abandoning perspective, dropping the detail and making things smaller.

Delegates sketching

Lamm explained that sketching is about expressing ideas rather than creating a specific portrait of an object. She discussed the transition between going from realistic to abstract, from portrait to idea, emphasising that we do wireframes because we don’t want people to be distracted by the details, but to focus on the idea.

She demonstrated how to use a series of very simple shape to draw anything, advising us to start with the biggest part of the object, followed by a ground line so you know where stuff sits, then add the details. This simple lego approach allows you to draw almost anything you need.

Delegate sketching during the workshop

Sketching is not always about what you see, it is also about what you know. Lamm took us back int time to look at the ancient Egyptians, who were masters of visual explanations. They use perspective, even within one drawing, to communicate as much information as possible. This shows us that it is not necessarily about sticking to reality, but using what you know to get the most information into your picture.

Delegate sketching during the workshop

She concluded by discussing the use of visual cliches and stereotypes to help communicate things, the importance of legends and consistency, and quoted Marshall McLuhan who said: “You cannot NOT communicate.”

You can follow Eva-Lotta Lamm on Twitter @evalottchen.

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