Sketching in the Design Process

Sketching in the Design Process


Sketching is the use of quick hand drawn ideas, they do not represent a final solution but instead communicate the earlier, indefinite stages of an idea.

“Sketching is not only the archetypal activity of design, it has been thus for centuries.” (Buxton, 2007)


1. Sketches allow designers to explore multiple ideas quickly.

Sketches allow designers to discover flaws or unforeseen opportunities early in the design process. Sketches should be fast and loose so there is no question as to whether it is an early concept or a final design.

2. Sketches should ultimately save time and money.

Sketches are a part of the early ideation phase prior to developing a prototype. Prototypes take more time to create and cost more to make. Sketching at the beginning helps designers to be more informed as they enter the prototyping phase.

3. Sketching and the interpretation of sketches as a specialised skill. 

Being able to sketch and to interpret sketches is a specialised skill that separates designers from their non-designer colleagues.

4. Sketches should be disposable and plentiful.

Sketches are merely a vehicle for getting your ideas out of your head and into the world. They are not precious objects but tools to help you refine your concept at the beginning of the design process.


The steps involved in sketching are quite straightforward. First you gather some pens and paper and next you quickly sketch down your ideas. Seeing your ideas take shape (even in the form of a rough sketch) helps as a starting point in the ideation phase as it allows you to make connections between ideas you may not have otherwise thought of as well as sparking some new ideas that evolve from your sketches as you draw.


UI designers sketch their ideas out when creating wireframes.

Graphic designer Paula Scher’s sketch alongside the finished Citi Bank Identity. (Pentagram, 2020)

Minnesota Zoo early logo sketches. (Love Logo Design, 2012)

Examples of lettering artist Jessica Hische’s sketches informing the composition of her more refined sketch that she shows to the publisher before designing the high fidelity book cover. (Jessica Hische, 2018)

An example a sketch of mine from a recent UI design project.


Having sketched in various design projects myself I would advocate sketching as an integral part of the design process. It ensures that designers exhaust every possible idea early in the design process in a way that is cheap, fast and informative.


Sketching can and has been used in the development of pretty much anything. Examples include (but are by no means limited to): Graphic Design, Animation, Ceramics, UX Wireframes, Jewellery Design, Fashion Design, Furniture Design, Interior Design, Shoe Design and more. Wherever there is a prototype to be developed, sketching should be a fundamental part of the design process.


Sketching is achievable by anybody with a piece of paper and a pen. Everybody sketches differently and like with most things, practice makes perfect.

Time and cost

The amount of time spent sketching is entirely up to the designer and can be influenced by a variety of factors: time constraints, the design brief requirements, the designer’s willingness to sketch and their ability to exhaust every possible idea in a timely fashion.

Associated costs also vary depending on the designer’s sketching tool preferences. For example, some designers are happy with any old paper and pencil whereas other like to have a variety of pens with different widths to communicate depth and structure in their sketches. Some designers also opt to sketch digitally using tablets or iPads. I personally prefer pen and paper as it is easily disposable and allows me to be less precious about how the sketches look and to focus on the ideas.

((Brandon, 2007) cited in Buxton, 2007)