We catch up with user experience designer, illustrator and visual thinker Eva-Lotta Lamm, who will present both a talk and workshop at Pixel Pioneers Belfast in November, to find out how to improve our sketching skills
What are the benefits of sketching and visual thinking for people working on digital products? When we work on digital products, we are working on complex systems. There are a lot of moving parts we need to consider and keep track of. Visuals are especially powerful to explore and explain relationships between individual parts. By mapping relationships out spatially and in a visual way, we can get an overview of a system, see patterns and gaps more easily and use it as a framework to build our ideas on.
How do you overcome the initial fear (or hesitation) of sketching that many may experience? Just start. If you can write, you can also draw. It’s just making marks on paper. It’s not about the final output you produce, but about how the activity of sketching supports your thinking. And if you need more of a kickstart, just come to my workshop at Pixel Pioneers.
How can you express a complex website or user interface with sketching? The art of UX design is to make complex (technical) systems accessible and useable for anyone. This means, we have to express complex structures in well-structured and simple forms. Sketching supports us in this process as it forces us to simplify, to get to the essence of a product, to explain things in just a few simple strokes. As sketching is a quite low fidelity technique, it's a great tool to avoid being distracted by all the detailed questions and solve the high level problems first.
Can you give us three quick tips to help us improve our sketches? Do it. Do it again. Keep doing it.
Practice is the best way to get comfortable with sketching.
A nice way to practice is to take any existing interface and try to sketch it in two minutes. Then sketch it again in one minute, then again in just 30 seconds and so on.
Each time, you will have to simplify what you are sketching and reduce what you show to just the essential parts. Getting good at quick high-level sketching is one of the most valuable skills to develop. This form of practice will not only improve your sketching, but also your abstract thinking and synthesising skills.
What are your favourite tools and why? Tools matter much less than people like to think. The magic is not in the tool, but in the practiced hand. I always tell people that "any pen is better than no pen".
But if you sketch a lot, of course you develop some preferences for certain tools. You can find a list of my favourite pens on my blog.
In terms of paper or notebooks, I am a fan of using just plain standard A4 (or – in the US – Letter) size printer paper that you can find in any office. The advantage of sketching on loose sheets (over sketching in a notebook) is that you can spread out all the paper on a table or put them up on the wall to get an overview, compare and review the whole of your work. If find this essential when working on a complex project.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? When you get a compliment, just say “thank you”.
How did you arrive at your personal sketching style? Mostly just doing it a lot, and taking some time to reflect on my own process every now and then. We rarely take a break from doing things to actually look at how we are doing them and what we can learn from ourselves. Teaching sketching forces me to look at my own technique and try to break it down in order to explain it to others. This systematic look at my own way of working actually made my work better, because I became more clear and deliberate about how I do things.
Also, when I see some great work by someone else, I try to analyse what exactly it is that makes me like the piece, so I can try and integrate this particular detail into my process.
What can people expect to take away from your talk and workshop at Pixel Pioneers Belfast? The talk will look at the power of visual language and how we can use it to make our thinking and our work better.
In the workshop we will get hands-on sketching practice and work with different techniques for sketching interfaces, layouts, interactions and flows. It’s a nice mix of theoretical input and actual doing that people can immediately apply in their own projects.
Any parting advice for attendees who'd like to sketchnote the talks? If you want a simple introduction to changing your note taking from traditional linear written notes to a more visual format, watch this talk of mine and sketch along with it:
If you do this before Pixel Pioneers starts, you’ll be perfectly prepared for sketchnoting all the great talks at the conference.
Early bird tickets for the conference on 16 November are available until 1 August (just £99!), and there are also limited early bird workshop and conference bundles for just £299.