I have a lot of sketchbooks. The pile is a bit scary, actually, balanced on my printer (like the printer itself, gathering dust). It’s about 5-7 active sketchbooks, and a small stack in the filing cabinet that I can’t quite part with yet. I’ve found it best to organize them by project, with one for the “here-and-now” work, and one for future ideas for my project, and one for really random ideas that don’t quite have a place yet. It preserves the flow, and I’m in the right headspace when I open one.
But my favorite sketchbook is a battered one that I reserve for sketching interfaces that I see and like. Sometimes I set aside time to do this, for practice, and other times I do it as a way to get unstuck, to get the pencil moving on the page. (Aside: working from home, I find another great way to get unstuck is to wash dishes.)
I learned this technique in grad school, where our Interaction Design studio instructor made us fill an entire notebook of sketch copies through the semester. It was brilliant and I practice I’ve tried to keep up since. Similar to science students filling notebooks with diagrams to study, the best way to deeply understand something is to draw it yourself.
“It is not until you draw something, whether it is an object, a building or an activity, that you really begin to understand it.”
― Martin Salisbury, Illustrating Children's Books: Creating Pictures for Publication
Lately, I’ve been focusing on mobile animations, which is where the idea of sketching to understand really shows it’s value. I don’t worry about what these look like so much, instead I focus on breaking down an interesting animation or interaction into it’s steps or frames. The act of trying to capture something ephemeral means you have to concentrate, pay attention to the detail, and repeat. Not only have I learned a lot more about what goes into animations this way, but it's also easier to notice animations and their details when I see them in the wild.
It’s a useful bit of my design practice that I miss when things get busy. I bought a new notebook today*, after submerging my existing one in a puddle on the counter. Since I’m my only taskmaster now, it’s my goal to fill it before the end of the year.
Happy sketching Friday!
*The sketchbook I like for copying detail is the Rhodia reverse notebook. It's gridded, medium-sized square, and spiral-bound, so it lays flat.