Sketching to Break the Ice

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Your product needs people. Why would anybody spend two years, 6 months, or even a couple of weeks of their lives designing and building something nobody uses? It doesn't make sense, yet some of the smartest people in the world do it all the time. We really tend to think, "If you build it, they will come," yet that's never the case. Every product needs a way to break the ice to get other people involved or it won't have legs to stand on for very long. How do you get people on board with their time, creativity, and money?

You sketch.

You sketch with a purpose and you adopt the mentality of sketching as a group. This is fundamental to design in organizations of people getting started. Everybody on a team can do this. Dan Roam is right. It doesn't matter whether you are a black pen, a red pen, or a yellow pen person, you have to contribute directly at this level. You have to talk in pictures. Great product is never the product of a lone genius, but rather the collective wisdom of a motivated team with a shared vision. Sketching is the best way to codify that vision and strengthen your team.

If a sketch happens in a forest and no one is around to see it, does it even matter?

Sketches are social or not at all. They can't hide in your desk, on your notepad or tucked away in some folder on your computer. In that way sketches are exactly like your product, or your vision for your product. What good are they if you don't open them up to other people? How can they change anything for the better if nobody knows about them? How do you expect to do it all on your lonesome?

At the end of the day if you really believe in what you're doing, you know in your heart you can't do it alone. You need other people--people with expertise in areas like marketing, business development and operations that you don't have. Every day you wait to get them engaged you squander your opportunity a little more. Sketches are how you break the ice and go on to build great products capable of providing awesome experiences for people.

Thinking of the Oscars tonight I thought back to Steven Spielberg who talked about his creative process for generating and sharing a vision with his team:

I do stick figures and things. I can do perspective, I can at least put depth into drawings, but I can't draw.

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It has 3 comments.

Chris (ZURB) says

Awesome post Jeremy- I totally agree that sketches are the best ice breakers. The more work I do with clients, the more I've realized the power of sketching. We can show the wildest ideas with no fear of rejection. Even if the idea seems far fetched at the time, it could serve as an opportunity for the future.

I'm always reminded of this tweet from a while back that said, "When I look at ZURB sketches I'm always like, 'wtf', then I'm like, 'hmm', and then I'm like, 'Oooooooooooooooohhhh!'" It is just that wow moment that the sketches can capture in the beginning of a project and really make the relationship strong from the get go.

Dmitry (ZURB) says

Thinking about companies that did not sketch early which had product failures vs. companies that did sketch early on. Apple comes to mind. They must've sketched tons early on. Anybody out there ever see a sketch from Apple's design team?

Ozten (ZURB) says

Another great post. It's amazing how few people tap into the power of Visual Communication. Working with digital products, we often create something out of nothing. I don't know how to do that without the conceptual armature that sketching provides.