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Presenting hand drawn sketches

A hand drawn sketch from a client project.

I was asked recently how do I present hand drawn sketches to clients or team members and make the sketches work. The question challenges a problem of some people considering hand drawing just fooling around and not having great value. I believe there are two ways to make it work.

1. Start early and manage expectations

Let’s say a project lasts four months. If you get back to the stakeholders three weeks after a kick-off meeting and show them only a few pieces of paper, I assure you they were expecting more.

It’s much better to say “I’ll send you a few rough ideas in a day or two (or after a research phase) just to see we’re on the same page”. When the sketches come in early, expectations don’t have enough time to inflate. And you framed the deliverables by saying they are rough and should be used as guidelines or clarifications only.

2. Do it with them

A paper sketch is generally worthless by itself. Developing an idea through sketching and testing different options is what makes it valuable, but that is something that’s only in your head most of the time. Other people see boxes, lines and not much else.

What I urge you to do is to sketch in front of, or better yet, with others (whiteboard or paper). Especially for the first time. As you discuss ideas, the sketch will grow organically, and what’s more important, a story will begin to emerge around it. Next time they see a sketch from you, they’ll be more receptive and will expect the reasoning behind it. Which you’ll most certainly have ready: in writing, on a conference call or in person.

This approach is especially good if you have to do an extensive research at the beginning; you can present your finding and then start sketching around it, pointing to the best solution outlined by the research.

Don’t worry, it will work

I hope this makes you a bit more relaxed about presenting your work. Sketching is great and you should do it more often, while keeping in mind that you have to provide some context and a story for the other side.


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