Sketch to save time: your creative process

Sketching is the means of getting your ideas out of your head and actually seeing them come to life on paper.

People always ask me why I waste time sketching out my ideas, instead of going into Illustrator or Photoshop and doing my design there? Clearly they think that Adobe products or a computer save time, and you can come up with a design 5x quicker, just because you're using some fancy software. In reality that’s not true. Even though we live in this modern world where technology makes everything faster, better and more efficient. That is not the case when you are coming up with design ideas. Or any ideas for that matter. This has to do with your head and getting whatever is hiding in there out in the open and into the world. And I don't think Adobe has advanced that far just yet.

Sketch out your plan of attack, then and only then, get to work on making it look outstanding!

Let’s say you’re designing a website, you want to figure out the layout of the whole thing first to see what structure you have to work with. Where the pictures are going to go, how many pictures you need? Will there be a banner or footer or anything else that you want to throw in there? You need to lay this thing out first and plan. PLANNING is the key in the beginning phase of creative work. Don't waste time perfecting photos in Photoshop when you might not use them later on. And whatever you do, don't go coding any HTML or CSS yet. Perfect your layout first! ON PAPER!

Your fundamental idea is what counts and nothing else matters at this point. You are just trying to get that awesome idea out of your head and onto paper. And believe me when I tell you that usually the idea that was so awesome in your head is quite awful when you get it down on paper.  There's nothing worse than wasting hours of precious time playing around with settings in Wordpress or Squarespace or another platform you're using, just to keep changing it because you can't settle. Because as you change the picture size you might realize that what you were going to put next to it doesn't look all that great anymore. But you know what? If you had planned it ahead of time, and really got that layout down you wouldn't have this problem now. 


Think small and lose, let your imagination flow through your hands

Don't make giant life-size sketches, and don't put too much detail in them just yet. 
Word of the day: THUMBNAIL; a small representation of an idea.  In this process, you simply want to quickly map out your idea, don't worry about perfection, this is supposed to look a little messy. Use (square with X) for representing photos, (area with lines) to represent text. 

If you're designing a website for somebody I suggest making at least 20  little thumbnails, no bigger than 3" - 4" tall. After making a few of them, you'll see how your ideas will grow.  Your might even find a better idea than you initially had in your head because you're getting it out and actually seeing it. I know you think Photoshop and Illustrator thumbnails are prettier and nicer and your customer's going to feel like it's a closer to what the final design will look like. But you know what? They probably don't care, as long as you let them know that this is just to decide on the layout and not to reflect the final look of it, they will be understanding.


Don't spend time in Illustrator, get back to the basics, pick up a pencil and paper and you're ready to go

Once you get your ideas on paper, you eliminate the crappy ideas,  you will be left with a few that you really really like. Once you narrow it down to about 2-3 ideas, why not make bigger sketches plan out where your headings are going to be, where your buttons are going to go, if you're going to have a sidebar or not, or what is going to go in your sidebar and in what order. Map it all out in pencil, this is your only tool for the first day to so. Once you have that and you're happy with what you have, you can move to your software and start designing for real this time. You can even go straight to Wordpress and start to code what you need to code.  


Show your client your ideas, make sure you are on the same page before you move on

When you're starting out, or if it's just your thing, you might want to show this to your client for approval. Let's say you sketch out a little thumbnail and you plan to have a slideshow at the top of the homepage, what if for some reason your client despises slideshows, what if they're afraid of moving pictures? Ok, that is crazy, but you never know right?

This is the initial process, this is when you let the client know what the website will actually look like and where the content will go. Remember, you don't want to spend all day or a couple days in Photoshop, Illustrator or Dreamweaver designing ideas when in the end the client may reject them. Spend no less than 1-2 hours on thumbnails for the main layout. Then move to the individual sections of the design.


But I don't have a 4-year degree in Art...You don't need it, just pick up that pencil girl!

I hear this all the time, "oh but I don't know how to draw" this is not about drawing realistic portraits, it's not even close. You don't have to have an art degree, you just pick up a pencil get any piece of paper you have next to you and start drawing. It doesn't have to be perfect remember?  It's just a layout idea, draw a square and then draw shapes inside it to represent where your items would go. Simple.

Keep your ideas forever and have your own book of references in the future 

Another thing I suggest is keeping a sketchbook, it's fine to just draw those little ideas on any loose paper and toss it when you're done, but I suggest and what I have been doing for a long time, probably since high school, is keeping sketchbooks. I don't rip the sheets out of them, I keep them. That's where I do most of my sketching or my thumbnails.  Because the website that I designed for somebody five years ago and I had all these thumbnails for it, the ideas that I didn't use for that job, I might like for the current job that I'm doing. You never know, and it's nice to go back and see what your ideas were even if it's just to see how you've grown. This is like your little resource book, so use it, don't throw away your ideas just because they don't work for your current client, it doesn't mean it won't work for the next one. The same goes with any sort of design work, keep your sketches and your ideas for future reference.

There have been so many times that I flipped through sketchbooks that I had in high school and I  found an awesome idea I had then and never done, but now it's awesome and I'm reviving it. That's the best type of research that you can do, these are not somebody else's ideas that you're googling for, these ideas were once in your head, they are original, so why not use them.

I personally love Paper Blanks sketchbooks as well as Moleskine, but you can pick whatever you like. 

Remember, sketching is meant to pull out ideas stuck in your head, make them come to life on paper. You'll be surprised at how many other ideas you can come up with in a short amount of time.

Do you use thumbnails for your creative process, why or why not. I would like to know what other ways you of weeding out bad ideas if you don't use sketching?