Avoid Joel Spolsky’s Icebergs by Sketching!

A coworker just sent me Joel Spolsky’s Iceberg Secret article, which is a great reminder about how people interpret visual designs / mocks / prototypes. Here’s my half sentence summary of the post: If the product looks like it’s done, people will think its pretty much done.

But we know that isn’t true. Just because a UI exists doesn’t mean anything under the hood exists. And that is why over the past few months I’ve taken to carrying around a sketchpad. Huh? Paper? Pens? What are they? I’ll tell you what they are: USEFUL.

Here’s why sketching interfaces / interaction designs floats my boat, at least for the first couple iterations:

  1. It doesn’t look done. Because if it was done, it would be user-facing and on production.
  2. It doesn’t look hard to change, so people don’t feel bad suggesting big (or small) changes.
  3. People who you show it to can actually draw on top of it / make their own (they call this collaboration).
  4. People don’t care about details / pixels, they care about the stuff they’re actually supposed to care about.
  5. They’re quick, and your time is valuable.
  6. You can still take a picture of a sketch and stick it inside a mock.
  7. Paper doesn’t have a $350 licensing fee.
  8. Street cred, and it helps people understand the idea of design as art.

Just yesterday I had a pretty loosely developed idea for a an interface element, so I printed out the existing high-fidelity visual mock and drew all over it. Then I took a picture and put the photo of the sketch in the presentation I gave. It worked awesome, because it encouraged discussing the intent instead of the details of execution.

Sketch away!