Skipping the Wireframes: How to Go Straight From Sketches to Design

Due to time constraints on a recent project, we decided to skip the formal wireframe process and go from sketching right into design.  We found the process to be quite successful, thanks in large part to the fact that we were working with a savvy client that was willing to actively participate in collaborative sketching.

After a successful kickoff meeting with the client where we gained an understanding of the goals, aims, and content for the site, I took the information that we had gathered, thought about the overall structure of the site, and did some preliminary sketching on my own.  With a site map and some general ideas in mind, I was ready to meet with the client again for our collaborative sketching session.  We reviewed the site map to make sure that it met their needs, completed an exercise to define the unique aspects of various content types, and then I led the main sketching exercise.  We spent half a day working collaboratively to sketch out the various pages together and then later that afternoon, I refined the sketches on my own and posted them for the client to review.  They gave us the go-ahead and design work began.  Since we were collaborating directly with the client, we were able to gather the necessary information, come up with a solution, and get approval from the client in a very short amount of time.

Here are some key points to making a process like this successful:

  • Make sure the client understands the process and is willing to participate in collaboration.  This type of process can only be successful if you are working with a client that is comfortable with real-time collaboration and is willing to participate.
  • Bring together the right group of people.  Make sure that the key decision makers are in the room.  Also, only include individuals that will be willing to participate.  Any potential blockers should be left out of the session.
  • Include the designer in the sketching session.  Including the visual designer in the sketching process is vital.  If they are around when the decisions are made, you won't have to spend an extensive amount of time walking them through the sketches.
  • Set realistic expectations for the meeting.  Make sure that all attendees know what needs to be accomplished in the given amount of time.  For example, noting that the group needs to get through pages A, B & C and if there is additional time, that pages D & E can be addressed as well will set realistic expectations and help keep everyone on track.
  • Come ready with ideas to jump off the conversation.  Come prepared with ideas to use as jumping off points to get everyone's creative juices flowing.  For example, quickly sketch some very basic options for a page and say "Which path do we want to go down?" and then the group can work on coming up with a fleshed-out version of that page together.

Although this process won't work for all projects, it turned out to be a very successful approach for this one.  If there's a project where it might work for you, I suggest giving it a try!

Laura is a senior user experience designer in our Boulder, CO, office. She helps clients such as PUMA, the Lupus Foundation of America, and Craig Hospital understand the needs of their users and create captivating experiences.

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