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Sketching: The Essential UX Designer’s Toolkit


I’ve already put forward a good case for sketching more often, moving away from your computer and being more collaborative. I covered how to put your ideas out there and get precious feedback from fellow colleagues.

However, I haven’t yet talked about the tools you can use to do so. In this article, I’m going to list my favourite sketching tools and discuss what I’ve been using lately.

Utterly Proud of My Beige Notebook

To have a notebook that you can be proud of is the most important thing. I went through a few notebooks before I found the one. Having a notebook that you love is half the battle, and will encourage you to use it often.

Notebooks come in the most varied shapes and textures. When choosing a notebook, have in mind the type of sketching you’ll be doing. If your purpose is to share ideas and explore concepts you might need a bigger size notebook to do so.

Big and small

Moleskines are great–if you’re a regular sketcher you probably know this by now. They’re available in different sizes, textures, with grids, ruled, all white, or dotted! Plus, the paper quality is great for absorbing ink (yes! We sketch with ink! I’ll tell you about that in a second).

My first Moleskine was a pocket agenda; I’d sketch on the right-hand side pages where there’s space for notes. Nowadays I use the dotted notebook with a soft cover for sketching, and the pocket size plain white for daily doodles.

Dotted notebooks are without question my favourites! They’ll help you with precision; you don’t need amazing skills to sketch, but the more you do it, the more you’ll improve.

A notebook with a soft cover is easy to maneuvre and fold if need be. You’ll be able to bring it in a bag or a back pocket:

Take it anywhere

Post-its® or Anything You Can Grab

When I teach workshops, I always ask my students to use Post-its®, blank sheets of paper and wireframing paper templates to explore ideas. Post-its® are small, but hugely collaborative.

We use them to sketch initial concepts, a blank sheet of paper to sketch eight different solutions (we often do this exercise in a design studio session of crazy 8s) and wireframing paper templates (with a printed device frame) to refine these solutions.

The disadvantage of a notebook in collaborative sessions is that it’s not as easy to pass around and you can’t really stick it anywhere. Also, if you’re a bit protective of your notebook, just like me, you won’t want people sketching on top of your beautiful (ahem) sketches.

You can really use any surface to sketch (please use your common sense here!) but if you want a good repository of all your ideas, definitely go for a notebook!

We Sketch With Ink

And no, we don’t want to erase our sketches.

I’m crazy about pens and markers. You’ll often find me with my head inside the stationery cupboard checking out the latest acquisitions, so you can imagine I’ve tested a few different tools.

The ones I love and use often are the 

Sharpie pen and the Sakura Micron 0.2 / 0.5mm: I use these for writing and sketching. They’re great pens, they don’t bleed through the paper and they’re both very resistant. I’ve tried other pens that are easily ruined after brief usage. Additionally, the Sakura Micron dries very quickly which is perfect for avoiding unwanted tattoos. You can pick up these pens for 10$USD on Amazon (set of six different thickness).

Sharpie pen and the Sakura Micron
Sharpies permanent marker (fine point) and the Sakura Micron

Sharpies permanent marker (fine point): Sharpies markers are amazing. Though they often bleed and ruin the next page in a notebook, they’re great for collaborative sessions where you’re looking to explore as many solutions as possible, avoiding perfectionism while doing so.

Try bringing these markers to collaborative sessions and ask everyone to forget about perfection. You’ll see people expressing themselves better and without being ashamed of their drawings. You can get a box of twelve sharpies for 6$USD on Amazon

Sharpies permanent marker fine point
Staedtler Triplus fineliner set 0.3mm

Staedtler Triplus fineliner set 0.3mm: This set comes with five different colours. By using different colours, I can enhance my sketches by highlighting important areas. You can also think of adding some drama to the sketches by creating shadows and bevels. These aren’t as good as the Sakura pens I mentioned above. If you consider using them for writing you can expect the tip to become ruined relatively quickly. You can get a set of twenty colours, including case, for around 20$USD on Amazon.

UI Stencils

I personally don’t use stencils (I believe we shouldn’t aim for perfection while sketching) but some people I’ve worked with do and they love them. You can find a good variety on uistencils.com and perhaps even create your own!

From uistencils.com

Stencils are great for precision and for refining possible solutions. If you’re planning to paper prototype your interface for testing, but aren’t yet confident enough in your sketching ability, stencils can definitely be the way to go.

A World of Tools

This is a small selection of what’s a huge range of different tools you can find in the market to sketch. Everyone I work with has their favourite set, so your choice of tools depends a lot on the type of sketcher you are and your role. As a user experience designer my sketches are pretty much composed of simple lines and annotations, which is why I use a relatively limited set of tools.

What about your sketching style? Which tools do you use? I’d like to hear from you!

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