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Web Design Basics Part 3: Using Sketches to Influence the Design Process

The length of today’s post belies the importance of sketching and roughing ideas out on paper.

More people prefer using technology to make their design process efficient. Not wanting to be left outside the bandstand when the main act is on, I recently bought a Wacom Bamboo tablet to streamline my process, to cut out the pencil and paper stage, but I have found it has the opposite effect.

Pencil and paper still do play a large part of a designers thinking their way around a problem and here we will pay homage to these, the tools of our trade. Maybe I am too ambitious but we’ll start of by looking at why sketching is important and finish with my tips for getting started.

Rapid Prototyping

Sketching = good for 2 (½) dimensional prototypes.

Designing for a client means they will often seek your work for approval. Sketches effectively inform your client of your intentions and they often feel they can be more honest about what they want because it isn’t obvious you have gone to any great effort with your ideas.

Evolution of ideas

Ideas can change many times on one page thus sketching helps you plan this out.


When we were working on More Click Marketing’s redesign we wanted to quickly piece together a rough layout for the bottom of the homepage. We knew what we wanted on the page by and I put it on paper but seeing it with my own eyes I thought it needed improving. Sketching helped the design to evolve to something with more aesthetic appeal.


Writers, directors, producers and others in the film/television industry use storyboarding to develop their story and analyse camera angles used to make them lend their greatest effect, invoking powerful emotions through a two se ond clip that has had hours of planning poyured into it. Web designers fall into this category also because mapping out the User Experience – how the user interacts with the website and their emotional reaction – and functionalitry of a website. There are many tools available to help with this digitally. Microsoft Expression Studio lets you prototype concepts quickly  but it could make more efficient use of time if a sketchy storyboard are used first.

Refining Ideas

When asked to design a logo for a lemon juice drink our immediate ideas are normally to incorporate a lemon in the logo. Sketching is good for getting your initial ideas out of the way because most of the time our first thoughts at a solution are fairly obvious.


In the image opposite we can see initial sketches I had for a poster I was designing to promote sustainable domestic water consumption.

Getting Started


You will need stationary before you begin (a pencil or pen and paper are usually good starts). Erasers often hamper my ability to draw well because I know that if I make a ‘mistake’ it needs rubbed out and can’t become a happy accident that aids in evolving my design work.

Word Lists/Mind maps

Scribbling down a list of related words to your design will help tune your mind to yopur creaticitty. Sticking with the poster design mentioned earlier, a list of words will probably include:

Water, washing machine, laundry, shower, drains, money, tap (faucets), memory, fluid, spill, mark, stain, vitality, purity, H2O, aqua, liquid, hose, sprinklers, football pitch, golf course, boat, ocean, lighthouse, drink, clean, transparent, river, waterfall, sea, lack, loch, fish, crabs, coral, blue, deep, darkness, buoys, drought, waste, swamp, marsh etc.

Listing words associated with your subject helps get your creative mind switched on and links between different words will become apparent and you will notice less obvious solutions easily.

Happy Little Accidents

Experimenting with sketches doesn’t need to be like a “I’m setting aside time to play with my pencil” systematic approach. Often, the best experiments come by chance when you made a mistake. Designing a new logo for a client that is missing something when you start to…

Presume You Don’t Know the Best Solution

The same might notbe true for you but when others are designing it seems that they think they know the best solution to their clients’ needs. Presuming you don’t know the ideal way will help you explore alternative answers and you might be suirprised y the results.

Sketch, Sketch, Sketch!

Everywhere and everything can be sketched or sketched on. I’m not promoting a graffiti spree in your town but I do encourage you to sketch what you see. If you are stuck on a train in the Middle of Nowhere, take time to draw your surroundings. A nice landscape or abstraction of a large part. All your drawings will give you inspiration, practice and, over time, you will develop your own style.

November 9th, 2011 by | Leave a comment

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