Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Learning From Your Mistakes: How to Use a Collaborative Sketching Exercise


They say you learn from your mistakes, and boy do I have a few. I think eating four giant Italian meatballs for lunch ranks at the top of that list.

I have been at Rightpoint for a little over a year now and have learned a lot, like when the Peapod delivery arrives on Monday, run, don’t walk to the kitchen to get some goodies. More importantly, I have learned to recognize when to shift an approach on a project that isn’t going as well as hoped. It took some hard learned lessons to get to where I am today and I wanted to share an amazing solution that we have adopted to help when things might not be going as planned.

Typical projects at Rightpoint involve all service lines. We start with UX and Content Strategy and then move into design once wireframes are approved. Once design is approved we pass it on to our development team. It’s a breeze, right? Smooth sailing.

No, not always smooth sailing. Sometimes there are those unique projects that don’t include every all facets of our business, whether it’s due to budget or timeline constraints. When faced with those obstacles, we have to get creative!

A recent Intranet project was mainly focused on design and technology, but no user experience or discovery components were planned. In order to be more flexible with our process and to quickly gather user requirements, we adopted a collaborative sketching exercise where the clients visualized the proposed outcome by drawing it out themselves.

We did a two-hour workshop with the entire project team and our clients at their offices. We gave all participants some letter sized paper and one thick black Sharpie. The larger the marker, the greater reinforcement that these sketches should be lower fidelity. We asked everyone to draw three boxes on one sheet of paper and sketch three versions of their ideal page designs. The catch is that you have one minute for each sketch. The benefit of this is with only one minute to sketch, people were forced to quickly ideate what they wanted to communicate. All the clutter and confusion about requirements fades away and you are left with the building blocks of the page design. After doing a 3-up sketch, we ask participants to take the best of the three they drew and combine them into one fantastical sketch that would then be presented to the group.

After everyone presents their sketches, there are likely to be some clear patterns among the group. We began working in more details and started asking harder questions that would help guide us to a more complete sketch that everyone could align on.

In this session we had lots of happy participants more than ready to put pen to paper. Some started drawing before I started the timer. In previous sessions, two people drew the same unique functionality without ever talking about it.

I’ve also noticed people totally not into the sketching at all… and that’s OK! Sometimes this kind of quick thought process isn’t for everyone; those that are more analytical or methodical may struggle with it. My best advice would be to know your audience and adapt to their needs. If someone feels like they can’t draw or sketch, have them make a ranked list of what they feel is crucial on the page. This way you still understand their thought process and what’s important to them.

Let me tell you, this kind of exercise is amazing because what your clients draw is sometimes mind blowing. Not in an art school way but in a, “there’s no way this would have been able to have been communicated without drawing” way. I kid you not folks; this is a great process to analyze what is needed from a user requirements standpoint.

We are halfway through the design process already and I can’t imagine where we would be as a team without this exercise. Clients were engaged and had a very positive reaction when we finished; they wanted to have more sessions with paper and Sharpies. Internally we were more efficient at recognizing the goals of the business and were able to get signoff on a wireframe sketch. The next step is to design style tiles for the components we outlined in the session.

As a team we couldn’t be more excited with the outcome of this session and are excited to do it again soon.