When someone says “web design,” it often puts an image in my head of a designer at a computer working in Adobe XD or Sketch. Because the final medium of the design is displayed on computer screens, web design is not often associated with pen and paper.
When I studied Graphic Design (now called “Visual Communications”), I was disheartened to learn that our first semester was all about physical art mediums. A wall of pens, pencils, charcoal, and paint towered between me and what I went to school to do: using a computer to design my heart out.
However, it was that wildly messy (charcoal goes everywhere) semester that taught me the foundation to all design: you should almost always sketch it out first.
Here are the top 7 reasons to sketch on paper first:
- You can sketch anywhere. As much as I love my laptop and what it does, I can’t always use it at the exact moment that inspiration strikes. Whether that’s on a busy train commute or waiting in line for my coffee, I know I have my trusty pen and paper in my bag to get those important ideas out.
- Sketching is much faster. Our brains already work faster than our fingers, so naturally we should employ the fastest method to get those ideas out. This is especially true for those of us who are still coming to grips with our new design programs. Even though I’ve been a working graphic designer for years now, I know I can draw a circle and rectangle much faster on paper than I can on Illustrator.
- Keeps your ideas simple. Initial ideas for your next big thing should almost always be monochrome, most commonly black and white. When armed with just a single-color pen/pencil and a blank page, we’re forced to keep our ideas simple, focusing on the general layout and design elements rather than worrying about the little details. When using a design program, we tend to get fixated on exact measurements and colors. By sticking to just sketching, we concentrate on the raw ideas we want to express.
- Allows for more ideas, more quickly. Because of the speed at which these sketches will be coming out, your brain is working faster and is already using those simple sketching elements to form the next design or layout. Give this exercise a try: Take a regular sized piece of paper and fold it in half three times to make eight smaller rectangles. Using just simple shapes in these small spaces, sketch out eight quick layouts and design elements for a simple webpage. Once you’re done, you have the added benefit of having all eight in front of you in one go — no need to scroll from one artboard to another!
- No need for commitment. I know that I can get particularly attached to a piece of design if I’ve spent too long on it, and I’m sure a large portion of you have that problem too. Another great thing about quick sketches is the lack of personal attachment to anything. After all, it’s not about your preference, it’s about your client, which leads us to the next point.
- Generates feedback early. Hands up those who have done work for a client but “forgot” to show them anything until you’ve gone so far down the creative process that any changes the client wants will result in you crying over all the time you spent on something the client never wanted. I’ve been there. Sketching (and sharing them!) is a fantastic way to get feedback and direction from your client much earlier. Plus, because you’re not committed to a particular design yet, it’ll be a lot easier for your heart to part with anything that you’ve already sketched.
- Allows for thinking outside the box. Sometimes, knowing what is achievable might hold you back from going beyond and thinking outside the box. Designing with a design program might limit your design flair to whatever is possible for you within that program, or what you’ve always been used to. Don’t limit yourself right from the beginning of your creative process. Try your hand at sketching and seeing what ideas you have first.
Although I’ve been in the industry for a few years now, I still have to remind myself to start all of my new projects with sketches. It’s hard to shake the habit of jumping straight into a design program. With everything else in life, it gets much easier with practice. Sketching is fun, quick, and impulsive. It’s an important part of the creative process that will help your work and your client relationship. What you do with your pen and paper is up to you!
Ready to try for yourself?
We recommend you start your learning with the UX Design track on Treehouse. It’s free to start, and then you’ll get unlimited access to courses, quizzes, and workshops for just $25 per month.
What sets Treehouse apart is their dedication to helping you find your perfect job or develop your own business.
If you liked reading this article, you should also look at these two:
- Tech Jobs: An Explainer
- The Best Places to Look for Your First Tech Job
- 5 Treehouse Students Who Found Tech Jobs in Less than a Year