What is sketching?

The format of the sketch is traditionally thought of as pen and paper from the field of architecture, (Goldschmidt, 2003) but in 2009 Bill Buxton introduced a wider definition of the sketch. He introduced it as any form of sensemaking, that aids the ideation of a designgroup, from pen and paper, to 3D models.

Depending on who you ask, sketching is used for different purposes. Goldsmith describes the pen and paper sketches as having the purpose of being a tool for thinking (Goldschmidt, 1991). By looking at the relationship between the artifact of the sketch and the architect sketching, Goldsmith deduced that a dialogue happens between the sketcher and the materials. Goldsmith (2003) calls this phenomenon “backtalk”, which is similar to Donald Shön’s practise of “reflection in action” from 1983.

Bill Buxton is the principal researcher at Microsoft Research and author of the book “sketching user experiences” from 2007, which focuses on why sketching is so important in a design process.

In his workbook published in 2011 together with Greenberg, Carpendale & Marquardt, he shows how to use sketching with practical exercises from a beginners’ starting point. Buxton emphasizes the activity of sketching as important, and goes as far as saying that it is much more important, than the resulting artifact of the sketch (Buxton, 2007). The strength in the artifact itself lies in the social life of the sketch, which is the activity of being looked at and discussed, making the sketch’s favourite meeting place the “wall-mounted corkboard” according to Buxton (Buxton, 2007).

Billedresultat for sketching user experiences    Billedresultat for sketching user experiences

Buxton creates a “A sketch of a dialogue of a sketch” (Buxton, 2007) in order to explain the relationship between the mind and the sketch, and thereby explaining the activity of sketching a tool of thinking.


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Fig. 2: “A sketch of a dialogue of a sketch”  (Buxton, 2007, p. 114)

According to Buxton there is a number of factors which make up the anatomy of a sketch, from the speed and ease of sketches, to how a level of ambiguity is needed in order to suggest and explore, rather than confirm. Sometimes when people call something a prototype or pretotype, Buxton considers it a sketch, because it depends on the purpose and situation.

Bill Buxtons book is a key work to read for all sort of designers, from interaction designers to UX’ers, and come with my warmest of recommendation.

What is Sketchnoting then?

Mike Rhode coined the term officially in 2012 when he published : “The sketchnote handbook”.

It refers to the practice of taking visual notes.

I recommend his two books:

Workbook-400    Handbook-400

I have written more about my experience of Sketchnoting here.


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Buxton, B. (2007). Sketching user experiences: Getting the design right and the right design: Getting the design right and the right design. Amsterdam: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
Buxton, B., Greenberg, S., Carpendale, S., & Marquardt, N. (2011). Sketching user experiences: The workbook. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.
Goldschmidt, G. (1991). The dialectics of sketching. Creativity Research Journal, 4(2), 123–143. doi:http//dx..org/10.1080/10400419109534381
Goldschmidt, G. (2003). The Backtalk of self-generated sketches. Design Issues, 19(1), 72–88. doi:10.1162/074793603762667728
Schön, D.A. (1983) The reflective practitioner – how professionals think in action. Basic Books.