November 16th, 2006
His premise is an interesting one:
It’s hard to describe what design is because it crosses so many boundaries: fashion, architecture, interaction, and mechanical, to name a few.
But it’s easy to talk about what all those different types of design have in common. One thing is sketching. While a clothing designer is trained very differently from an architect or an industrial designer, they all learn to use sketches as basic starting point.
Buxton asserted sketching was a fundamental activity to ideation. It is a quick way to play with an idea. And it communicates the proper stage of the idea to the viewers. Early, rough sketches just scream, “This is an idea! I’m not done!”
Buxton talked about a study of sketching for traditional design disciplines that showed all had common attributes:
- They are quick to make and timely to talk about the idea
- They are inexpensive and easy to dispose of (making designers less “wedded” to a particular idea because of investment)
- They are plentiful (designers should bring many different ideas-as-sketches to the table, not just one)
- They have a clear vocabulary (such as drawing through the endpoints to show the “unfinishedness” of the idea)
- They use no higher resolution than necessary (so they don’t waste designer’s time and effort in preparation)
- Their resolution does not suggest they are further along than they really are (to avoid giving the impression of being more done than reality)
- They suggest and explore instead of confirming (to support ideation, instead of forcing decisions)
Buxton then suggested “Since Experience Design is a type of Design, it too must have sketching. However, traditional sketching doesn’t work well to represent interactions, so what would sketching for interactions look like?”
Ideation vs. Evaluation
Buxton suggested ideation is a different process than evaluation. In ideation, the goal is to come up with many different ideas, using each idea to suggest others. In evaluation, the goal is to narrow down the choices of ideas, honing in on the best idea. He suggested today’s usability process is evaluation, while ui design is ideation, an idea I agree with.
He made it clear that both ideation and evaluation were necessary.
“It’s like saying there are both girls and boys. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but both are required and it’s important to know the distinction.”
Ideation has to come first. You generate ideas, which you will subsequently evaluate. So, Buxton suggested that sketching has to come before prototyping.
Sketching vs. Prototyping
The attributes of each are different:
The idea is you create many sketches at first, then narrow them down, until you’re ready to build your prototype to evaluate with. Because sketches are more lightweight and cheaper than prototypes, they are easy to play with and throw away. When you’ve explored the idea space sufficiently, then you eliminate ideas to a basic few, which you then prototype out with the rigor necessary to evaluate.
“It’s about making many good mistakes. I want to have brilliant mistakes.”
This was just a subset of the great ideas in the 90-minute presentation, but I thought the idea of sketching was a brilliant take on the ideation process I hadn’t heard before. (At least, not quite this way.) If you get a chance to hear Bill speak on this subject, I highly recommend it.
Update: Nick shared this link where you can watch a recording of Bill’s presentation.Tweet