Shades of Grey_ Thoughts on Sketching _ UX Magazine

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  • 8/3/2019 Shades of Grey_ Thoughts on Sketching _ UX Magazine



    ARTICLE NO. 540 JUNE 24, 2010

    by W ill Evan s ( 9COMMENT(#comments)

    In designing mostly interactive systems (spaces,processes, and artifacts for people to use), I mustincreasingly str etch the limits of communication toolsto explore and document what it will be like to

    interact with the things I create. Artifacts used in communicating design create an inherent frame ofexperience between the subjective response of the person for whom I design, and my expectations of theirresponse. There is a divergence of meaning in that t he audience can only experience the communicationsartifact, not the object being communicated.

    I have described wireframing in a previous article ( as a form of design communication that enables stakeholders, team members, users, and clients togain firsthand appreciation of existing or future problem spaces and solutions. Wireframing (

    /topics/wireframes) adds several facets to the value to communication: the wireframe itself acts as a cognitiveartifact ( ; the process of creating wireframes is a mode ofconversational exploration; and the process of envisioning, external actualization, and reflection is atask-artifact cycle ( (depicted below). This cyclerepresents a continuous, mutually dependant evolution towards a hopefully posit ive solution.


    Design in art, is a recognition of the relation between various things, various elements in thecreative flux. You cant invent a design. Yourecognize it, in the fourth dimension. That is, with your blood and your bones, as well as w ith youreyes.

    - D.H. Lawrence (http://en.w iki/D._H._Lawrence)

    If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.- Kahlil Gibran (http://en.w iki/Khalil_Gibran)

    s of Grey: Thoughts on Sketching | UX Magazine

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    Will Evans is Director, Experience Design for Semantic Foundry ( 14 years industry experience in interaction design, information architecture, andexperience design strategy. Will earned an mba as well as masters degrees in human-computer interaction and cognitive psychology. He currently serves on the board ofdirectors for the Information Architecture Institute.

    View Profile(/contributors/will-evans)



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    Experience maps are useful in visualizing how each customer interaction combines to create the overallexperience.

    OCTOBER 04, 2011

    Wireframes are representations of a design made before final specifications exist, which is problematicbecause in comparison to sketches they are higher fidelity representations of design. Unfortunately,although wireframes are meant to inform design processes and design decisions, they often can be viewedas more concrete than sketches, and therefore considered more final.

    I have often thought that the activities of both sketching and wireframing can best be described asmodalities of decision analysis. With each new design decision explored, new constraints are introduced asnew opportunities arise. At an abstract level, a particular problem space is framed by the tools we feel mostcomfortable with: problem space, domain, expertise, theme, context of problem, bias towards types ofdesign tools and documents, and timeliness of artifacts created. In reflecting on the way many userexperience designers actually work and reading the comments on my article describing the wireframingprocess, Shades of Gray: Wireframes as Thinking Device ( gn/shades-of-grey-wireframes- as-thinking-device) , it seemed necessary to discuss the role and philosophy of sketching in my personalprocess.

    An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.- D.r Edwin Land (http://en.w iki/Edw in_H._Land)

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    I see sketching as an important pre-wireframing technique for doing divergent and transformative design,something that fundamentally differentiates what has been called big D, and small d design. Not to puttoo fine a point on itit is what separates the user experience designers from the wireframe monkeys.This is the argument that I have made, and base it in part on how Buxton defines design in Sketching User Experiences ( 1) , when he writes:

    Amen. I think as designers we must go out of our way to avoid purely abstract thinking and instead usesketches to restore presence to our work by interactively seeing and doing in the iterative task-artifact cyclethat sketching affords, as opposed to going from abstraction to wireframing. As I wrote previously inShades of G ray: Wireframes as Thinking Device ( gn/shades-of-grey-wireframes-as-thinki ng- device) :

    Sketches are a modeling process I employ to be able to conceive and predict the consequences of certaindesign arguments within an unresolved problem space whose border s have not been fully defined. When wesketch an interaction, we are making an argumenteven if it is one that will be tossed away.Representational artifacts such as sketches, wireflows or physical models like paper prototypes areimportant tools for design since they help in assessing and reflecting on the details of a solution in relation tothe whole problematic context in which it is situated. Using pencil and paper speeds up my doing-seeingloop of creation, judgment and reformulation. Few other tools are as fast as pencil and paper in thisrespect. As a designer, I can draw a line and immediately evaluate it. This conversational process betweenmyself and visualization of t he design situation enables the generation of new ideas.

    As I draw sketches, I see the problem in another way, perhaps because a line came out slightly wrong onthe paper. Taking a step back or looking at a sketch from a different angle leads to new ideas and thoughts.

    What I mean by the term d e s i g n is what someone who went to art college and studied industrialdesign would recognize as design. At least this vague characterization helps narrow our interpretationof the term somewhat. Some recent work in cognitive science (Goel 1995, Gedenryd 1998) helpsdistinguish it further. It suggests that a designers approach to creative problem solving is very differentfrom how computer scientists, for example, solve puzzles. That is, design can be distinguished by aparticular cognitive style. Gendenryd, in particular, makes clear that sketching is fundamental to thedesign process. Furthermore, related work by Suwa and Tversky (2002) and Tcerksy (2002) shows that besides the ability to make sketches, a designers use of them is a distinct skill that develops withpractice, and is fundamental to their cognitive style.

    I think of D esign as an exploration of the conceivable futures. I use my sketches and wireframes asmeans to m ake explorative moves a nd a ssess the consequences of those moves. As I explore the problemspace, I could relatively easily keep the design models in my head, but I would fail in my primary objective to create a framework for a conversation among the stakeholders, the intended audience, andme.

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    New ideas are then nothing but old ideas in new combinations or old ideas looked upon or interpreted froma new perspectivesketching then becomes what Erving Goffman ( framing ( . This is also what Paul Laseau( calls a conversation with ourselves in which we communicatewith sketches. This idea is also related to Donald Schn ( s concept of areflective conversation with the materials of a design ( , because asdesigners we shape the situation mentally, in an implicit way, and then explicitly respond through sketching.Schn writes:

    The sketches also form a documentation of the design process without adding any administrative overhead.I can learn a lot by browsing back through old sketches; watching the evolution of an idea as myunderstanding of the problem space is explored, and refined, and this documentation can tell a narrative ofdesign decisions to be shared with direct and indirect stakeholders who can then see why certain choiceswere embraced, and others discarded. Externalizations of different kinds (sketches, wireframes,prototypes ( ) are especially useful for communication purposes where I want

    to present ideas to another member of the design team, to the client, or to a user. The presentationsketches are usually not as rough as working sketches are and their purpose is not only to communicate anidea, but also to persuade the other parties that a particular design is better than other alternatives.

    As noted above, the sketch can be rapid and spontaneous, but it leaves stable traces in contrast toconversation, which is evanescent. Conversation is important for the argumentative assessment andcommunication of design alternatives, which, I think, is at the core of design activities (sketch, present,critique, refine). Designers employ a language of talking and sketching in parallel. Schn describes the workof an architectural design professor named Wim Quist in a session with a student:

    The quote above is a clear statement of what much of design work is about. In terms of distributedcognition, it describes design work as spread over both designers and their representational artifacts (e.g.,sketches). The representational artifacts are, in turn, physical embodiments of the culture and context inwhich they have evolved through the lifecycle of a project. I think the cultural practices of designers,including spatial-action language, provide a solid process for performing experimental design exploration. Itis part of this knowing-through-action , t hat design knowledge is revealed in spontaneous and skillfullyperformed actions. This language is also constitutive of our pract icing user experience community in theways in which we communicate both with ourselves, with our teams, clients, and to our designs themselves.

    In a good process of design, this conversation is reflective. In answer to the situations back-talk, thedesigner reflects-in-action on the construction of the problem, the strategies of action, or the model of thephenomena, which have been implicit in his moves.

    Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression.- Isaac Bashevis Singer ( ) (http://en.w iki/Isaac_Bashevis_Singer)

    In the media of sketch and spatial-action language, he represents buildings on the site through moves which are also experiments. Each move has consequences described and evaluated in terms drawn fromone or more design domains. Each has implications binding on later moves. And each creates new problems to be described and solved. Quist designs by spinning out a web of moves, consequences,implications, appreciations, and further moves.

    s of Grey: Thoughts on Sketching | UX Magazine

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  • 8/3/2019 Shades of Grey_ Thoughts on Sketching _ UX Magazine


    9COMMENTPOST A COMMENT (/comment/reply/1607#comment-form )

    Because sketches are faster, require less overhead, and by their nature are perceived to be less done,they are better suited to the task-artifact cycle of design exploration. They should be considered aneffective modeling process for designers to be able to conceive and predict the consequences of certaindesign arguments during the design ideation phase and subsequently leading to better design.

    Photos ( on Flickr ( ) by Michael Leis


    Refe rences

    Buxton, Bill (2007). Sketching User Experiences ( . Boston, MA: Morgan Kaufman.Carroll, John M., Kellogg, Wendy A. and Rosson, Mary Beth (1991): The Task-Artifact Cycle ( . In: Carroll, John M. "Designing Interaction:Psychology at the Human-Computer Interface". Cambridge University PressNorman, Donald A. (1991): Cognitive artifacts ( . In:Carrol, John M. "Designing Interaction: Psychology at the Human-Computer Interface CambridgeUniversity Pres s.Schn, D. A. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions (

    /dp/1555422209) . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.


    s of Grey: Thoughts on Sketching | UX Magazine

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  • 8/3/2019 Shades of Grey_ Thoughts on Sketching _ UX Magazine


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