creative juice

thumbnails, sketches, and process

Designers are producing some amazingly polished work—images that showcase the final result of a well-executed design. But what steps needed to happen before arriving to that beautiful finished product?

Allovus Senior UX Designer and guest blogger Steve Godfrey talks about the importance of showcasing not just your final design, but also the design thinking that went into it.

By Guest Blogger, Steve Godfrey

I’ll admit it—I am a BIG fan of sketches and rough drawings in the work place. As designers, we seek to focus on specifics to get things right in the end. Dimensions count. Specifications matter.

But in the beginning, rough layouts are a valuable exercise which allows the designer to explore ideas. Sketches enable the designer to quickly weed out the bad and the ugly. The freedom and spontaneity of pen and paper lets you focus on the key problems and solutions, as opposed to worrying about line weights, font choices, or exact placement. Additionally, the limited investment of time may also help us remain objective. If we invest too many hours (and love) into the execution of an idea, it is harder to let go of it… we become attached. Sketches are the opposite. Because they are fast, objective evaluation becomes easier, as the investment in each solution remains minimal.

When we view portfolios, we are often shown the finished designs or products. A tight, finished looking design is always impressive—and yet, I find the thought process captured by the designer’s initial sketches and explorations equally important. This makes sense as an employer or art director, because we want to see how a designer THINKS and how he or she solves problems. Reviewing potential solutions early helps a Design Lead approve or make suggestions earlier in the process (costing them less time and money).

I recently picked up In Progress, a wonderful book by Jessica Hische. You may not know her name, but you’ve probably seen her hand-lettered typography gracing the covers of magazines, web sites, and top-tier products over the years. Her skill is extraordinary. But the wonderful part of this book is the overview of her process. The book includes examples of thumbnail stages through ultra-tight roughs. I find her work and process inspirational.

I encourage designers to KEEP their sketches and work-ups as part of their presentations—you never know when they will resonate with a potential employer.

Tools for sketching: My favorite tool to use for drawing thumbnails is a fountain pen. My second choice for drawing would be a narrow Sharpie.

Below are some examples of thumbnail sketches I drew while working on design solutions.

There was a lot that needed to happen on this screen, so it was important to sketch out the parts. This is a great way of understanding where things might live, before digging in deep.

To track the flow from screen to screen, sketches help the designer understand how it all works together.

Here are some examples of how a thumbnail is translated to a tighter, digital sketch.

As you can see, thumbnail sketches help create an understanding of where things might be placed before taking the design digital. It’s the next step right after you talk with the client and take down requirements for the project. And it’s an important part of the design process. Consider adding your thumbnails to your online portfolio, so hiring managers can see how you think.

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