Andrea Fineman's Sketchbook

How do experience designers use sketching?


Andrea Fineman
Adaptive Path, San Francisco

Unlike architecture and graphic design, service and interaction design haven’t yet discovered a way to exist as both art and as something utilitarian. Sketches by Charles and Ray Eames, Toulouse-Lautrec and Frank Lloyd Wright hang in museums; these drawings were stages in the design process for products, graphics and buildings that still serve a practical purpose today.

But what if your “product” is more ephemeral, such as a service or other experience? In my field, we believe that interactions should be both immediately comprehensible and invisible. Sketching concepts for apps, websites and services in physical spaces, therefore, reflects an emphasis on the utilitarian.

I use sketching to quickly test out ideas and develop new ideas as I go. Sketching even very common interaction design patterns (for smartphone apps, for instance) can reveal new ideas for data visualizations or other interaction features. More often, though, making a quick sketch of an interface that seems simple in your mind can reveal fundamental flaws in the idea.

Sketching intangible services that don’t take place on a screen serves the same purpose. Service designers often like to depict future service designs as stories—primarily text with some illustrations. However, sketching the service in action helps me come up with new ideas for what I’m designing, and can also help me realize I’m going down a crazy path.

Service design and interaction design are disciplines that may need to evolve radically before reaching a level of maturity that, like architecture, their products can be appreciated in a utilitarian and aesthetic way simultaneously.

More about Andrea Fineman

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