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The Power of Hand Skills

Many times when discussing concept sketching, my digital native disciples profess the advantages of speedy early development of conceptual ideas in Adobe Illustrator or other prototyping programs like Figma, Sketch, XD, and others. But over the years, I have challenged students… We pick a topic, they use the digital tool of their choice and I sketch. Need I say more? I have a 100% victory rate at out performing in both visual production and the variety of concepts explored. Often, I allow a team of students to provide conceptual ideation while one student is chosen to be the digital “visualizer” or sketcher.

This may be a bit unfair since I am a seasoned professional who has had the time to develop a proficient hand-sketching skill set. But this isn’t the issue as not only students, but many professionals resort to digital wireframing and digital drawing tools far too early in the design-thinking process. I realize this perception may be viewed as a bit “old-school”, but the fact remains, a proficient hand-sketcher, can far (far, far…) outperform a digital counter part. A designated hand-sketcher is an invaluable asset and can do wonders on a whiteboard during a team brainstorming session.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am referring to digital tools that rely on mouse input or drawing primitives. Obviously, a digital “sketchbook” with tablet or Apple pencil can be considered “hand-sketching” as I am discussing.

The tangible platform, whether it be the Procreate table app, Adobe Photoshop on a desktop, or a traditional sketchbook (i.e. The UX Sketchbook) is not the problem – it is the process that we need to consider. Early concept development and ideation can flush out design possibilities at a rapid pace. There will plenty of time for wireframing, low-fi comps and mock ups later in the testing and development cycles.