How to Conduct a Sketching Session

As a designer, how many times do you hear, we just need a designer on it? One of the last projects I worked on at NPR was training.npr.org. My biggest challenge on the project was that it was already done by the time it reached my desk—it just needed a designer on it. Not only does using the word “just” in that sentence devalue the subject matter, but it also highlights the illiteracy of what design and collaboration can bring to a project!

To be fair, the project was nearly complete. The content was there (kudos to the @nprtraining team…they are amazing at what they do), but after putting on my UX hat and digging into the site it was clear it needed more than just a designer. It needed a redesign.

The first step of any redesign process involves knowing the brand’s mission and goals (Vox). In order to more fully understand the goal of the project we conducted a sketching session. Sketching sessions are part of Lean UX and are an incredibly useful tool in order to level-set a team around priorities, ideas, and projects. Below I’ve recounted the steps of our Sketching Session:

how to sketching session

  1. Start by gathering a multi-disciplinary team together in a room who have a vested interest in the project, e.g., core team members, stakeholders, designers, and developers, social media team, etc. Keep the group to 6 or less, if possible.
  2. Choose a unbiased moderator. Someone who is not part of the core team. This person will lead the team through the following exercise, keep track of time, takes notes and listen for common patterns in the team’s responses. They will recap at the end of each round of sketching.
  3. Round One: At a whiteboard/large pad of paper, the moderator should ask the core team to say what they think is the “purpose” or mission statement of the project. The core team is encouraged to just yell out what they think and the moderator will write down what is said on the whiteboard/paper.
  4. Next, the moderator asks the team to describe “Who are the users”
  5. Finally, the team is asked to describe “What are the goals of these users?” A consensus should start to form around Purpose, Users and Goals of the project. Keep this in a visible spot throughout the session…Now let’s sketch!purpose users goals
  6. Round Two: The moderator explains to the team to think “blue sky” about what this project could look like, i.e., the homepage. They are asked to sketch for 10 minutes. Set a timer (and play some music). At the end of 10 minutes, each member will present their sketches to the room—i.e., what they think the homepage could look like—and explain their thought process. No one is judged on their artistic ability. It’s all about the idea. Think big here!
  7. While participants are going around the room explaining their sketches, the moderator should be listening for commonalities and popular concepts. Really listen to the why here. Afterwards, take a 15-minute break.
  8. Round Three: The moderator asks the team to sketch MORE ideas, building on everyones concepts they just presented for another 10 minutes (a good time to change up the music).
  9. At the end of the second 10-minute sketching session, each member should go around again and describe their sketches to the room. Again, the moderator can synthesize common elements, identify patterns and facilitates the conversation. Optional 5-minute break.think sketch present talk
  10. Once Round three is completed and everyone has had a chance to discuss their sketches, have the team recap and set the next steps / follow-up meetings.

Approx time: 2 hours. Can be less with fewer breaks and chit-chat.

I’m always trying to improve upon this so please let me know what did or did not work for you. Reach out to me on Twitter or email. For more about sketching sessions, visit http://willowtreeapps.com/blog/3-steps-to-running-design-studio-workshops-best-practices-tips/