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Why You Should Start Your Design Process with Sketching

Creative Market March 31, 2021 · 4 min read

It’s entirely possible to design a web page or even a whole site without looking up from your computer. The sheer range of available templates, design tools, and information is huge, and you can see all your design ideas on the computer screen, just like they would be on the finished page. So why would you want to spend all the time and hassle of breaking out a sketch pad and pencil to work out your ideas? While it’s easy to think that sketching is just an extra step, it’s actually a great way to help you focus your ideas and make sure the best ones get into the website. Here are five key reasons to take a step away from technology.

1. Getting Your Ideas Out

The rough-and-ready nature of sketching means you can quickly get any concept on paper. Seeing things in a visual form can be very helpful, especially in the early stages of design. Sketching gives you a chance to edit your ideas, filter out ones that don’t work, and solve issues on worthwhile concepts that need refining. Also, because it’s quick, you can feel free to try out whatever’s in your head.

2. Comparison Shopping

Sketching out ideas gives you the chance to see all the versions of a given concept on paper at the same time, before you invest your time into creating them on a computer. That side-by-side look is great when you are choosing important page elements or where to place them. It’s especially helpful for working on page layouts, where you need to see how graphics, text, and white space interact.

3. Learning About Your Own Process

Holding on to those first ideas is a great self-study tool for you. Once the project is completed, a quick look at what you kept or ditched from those first ideas can help you understand what you tend to explore that works, and what kinds of concepts bog you down.

Sketching can be a great way to reset your mind when inspiration isn’t coming. Just letting ideas flow out–even if they’re not perfect–can help you get unstuck. Give it a try on your next project.

4. Generating Feedback

Putting a sketch out there really helps you get other people’s opinions. When clients (or other designers) see a rough sketch, it’s easier for them to edit in their mind’s eye than if they see a finished product. Because of that, they are more likely to offer suggestions on how they might want you to move forward. That can eliminate a lot of back-and-forth farther down the line, when changes are much more difficult to make.

5. Helping You Think Outside the Box

Yes, any design you sketch out ultimately has to be feasible on a computer. But, it’s easy to fall back on classic templates and layouts you’ve seen or used before. Working on paper is a good way to break through those habitual tendencies and work toward something fresher and more original before you’re staring that 960 grid in the face. Paper sketching is great place to play with the size of various elements, for example. Even working on a standard template, working it through offline can give you a better sense of what proportions work well on the page. It can also let you compare multiple layout options at a glance.

Do You Sketch First?

While many designers acknowledge the potential benefits of initial sketches, we tend to suck at taking our own advice. I know I’m personally guilty of neglecting this first step all the time, but when I do use it, it becomes immediately clear that I should start with a pencil instead of a mouse more often.
How about you? Do you often sketch out designs while they’re fresh in your mind or do you jump straight to the computer?

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  • Working as an illustrator i believe that sketching is essential and will often be rewarded with ideas you would have never thought of otherwise. Getting solid ideas down on paper first makes the work 100% easier once you take it to the computer. 7 years ago
  • Guilty! I often jump straight to my computer- it just feels like a time saver, when it's actually the exact opposite. 7 years ago
  • I am also guilty. Sketching out my ideas and plans helps me to visualize and plan out products so much better than simply going straight into Photoshop. Thanks for the tips! 7 years ago
  • I don't think I sketch as much as I used to but I am trying to change back. If nothing else it provides a time period where my hands are occupied with something productive whilst my brain gets a bit of a chance to wander creatively. This doesn't happen to me when I start on a computer, I tend to find the process more creatively limiting (though of course there are often bits of the sketching that have notes like 'duplicate this bit repeatedly and rotate it a few degrees and scale it down a bit each time' which is easy on a computer but tedious to sketch) 7 years ago
  • I don't feel guilty this time :) 7 years ago
  • Anonymous
    Great post! I always sketch my ideas out first. In fact, I start with a word list and then sketch. As you wrote, it helps to get all the ideas out, even the ones I didn't know I had. There's something cool about the things my pencil can discover. I love sketching digitally, but I love trying things out in my sketchbook first. Then I can scan my sketches and move through the digital process more efficiently. 7 years ago
  • For designing layouts for posters, flyers, record sleeves or what ever, I often make really small sketches with a ball pen. I call them post-stamp-sketches. On the side a make some notes. When you make a rough layout that small you see immediately if it's working or not. The difficult part is translating it without loosing that nice sketch feeling. Post-stamp-sketching: Try it. 7 years ago
  • I tried to do that a few days ago, then I realized that I haven't drawn in hand for a really long time and my skill degraded badly. I felt so helpless that I couldn't draw what I wanted that I gave up. I have to start again, I need to get back on track with this. 7 years ago
  • It depends on what one creates. If it's a simple logo that doesn't require details, I do it directly to the computer. But if it is more complex or if I make characters or creations that require me to draw by hand, then I do it and I scan. Then I worked on photoshop or illustrator. But usually it's on illustrator. Nothing is fixed when imagining and creating. 6 years ago
  • Always on paper. Post-stamp sketching indeed! In the first phase it's not about creating a single photorealistic illustration, it's about quickly trying out many different possible approaches (there's enough time to worry about stroke widths later!) 6 years ago