interaction design · UCD process

enjoying analogue wireframing (pencil rules, ok?)


So, I’ve been doing a whole bunch of wireframing lately.

I have to admit that, in the last little while, I’d gotten into the habit of wireframing straight into Visio, maybe after a quick thumbnail sketch on a notepad somewhere.

The site I’m working on at the moment has quite a bit of application type functionality in it, as well as a whole bunch of content, and offers the opportunity to be a little bit creative with the interaction design.

Out of habit, I pretty much launched straight into Visio (after a couple of quick sketches), but the further I got into it, the less satisfied I was with the output.

So, just for a while, I dumped Visio, got a whole pile of paper, some pencils and a sharpener, and just played around with ideas.

Ahhh. That’s just *soooo* much better.

It’s a little bit 37 Signals/Getting Real (although, these *will* end up as Visio wireframes in a functional specification – the size and dispersal of the team on this project demands that kind of documentation), but it does seem to be a popular approach to documenting RIAs. (Jeffry Veen was saying the other day that he’s going from pencil sketch to build these days).

So, what’s so good about pencil sketching your wireframes?

For me, it allows you to work really quickly and play around with a bunch of ideas. It allows you to focus on the nub of the problem you’re trying to solve and not waste time playing with font sizes or alignment and all that fiddly annoying Visio stuff. It makes it faster and easier to ‘test’ ideas, and to document ideas, concerns, things that will need to be dealt with later.

It feels so much more creative, more ‘designy’ :) I think the output reflects that. Ultimately, assuming you have to, it makes getting stuff into Visio so much faster!

Now, for my next project, I’d love to ditch Visio all together, and just use pencil sketches and prototyping. I’m not sure we can ditch the spec… that’s another post brewing.

So, that’s my tip for the day. Feeling a little stale and uninspired? Got a tricky problem to solve? Step away from the computer and pick up a pencil.

Go analogue.

If nothing else, it’s more fun than Visio.

13 thoughts on “enjoying analogue wireframing (pencil rules, ok?)

  1. yes, we’re resuming normal programming and not talking about chick stuff… for those of you who might have been worried that they’d accidentally subscribed to a neo-feminist blog… not that that there’s anything wrong with neo-feminist blogs….

  2. I always used to wireframe (sketch) with pen and paper. Then just start coding the site.

    Recently a client has asked me for a wireframe and I’ve been struggling to get it right in Visio, and I’m not entirely sure it’s worthwhile. In these days of CSS layout, it’s almost as quick to throw together a brief layout design in code…

  3. hey Gordon, yeah, I posted a while back about getting myself appropriately skilled up so that I could go straight to an HTML/CSS prototype and avoid visio… now I just need to find the time/resources. I think it’s a great approach (theoretically)

    Genevieve – did you do the Google search? I just did and found a disturbing number of posts relating to abstinence. What’s going on with that?! It’s certainly not in my manifesto du neo-feminism :)

  4. This is why I always carry around one of those geeky 4 color Bic pens and a small notepad so I can sit down and insanely scrabble on the bus or train.

    Mind you, after a random flick through it I am reminded of Alistair Crowley.

  5. Aleister Crowley – you’re kidding me. My son has four of those pens for his VCE. (He really likes them too.)

    Leisa, I googled neo-feminism – and no abstinence much yet, it sounds like you did the neo-feminist? Ah Google schmoogle.

  6. heehee. you guys are funny.

    i have one of those four colour pens too James, but I tend to use them for meetings not designing (different colours good for marking out different kinds of action points from amongst the rest of my scribble).

    personally, I like a nice 2B pencil. I’m still undecided on what paper I should use though. At the moment I’m just using A4 paper intended for the printer… it’s most unsatisfying. But something in a book is pretty impractical. And I don’t like ruled lines….

    Donna: I completely agree. I’ve always thought it was a bit strange that my best design work happened away from the computer… but it really does make perfect sense.

  7. I am very big on pencil sketches, and use them all the time for technical architecture diagrams. We use Visio when it makes sense, but otherwise invested in a scanner and just scan our sketches for “official” documentation. I think good content has it’s own legitimacy, whether or not it has straight lines!

    If people ever question it, just tell them you are into Agile Modeling (

    This also reminded me of a story I read at UIE years ago – about an architecture or engineering firm that used to take CAD models and render them out as sketches for clients because they found they got better feedback than if they presented rigid-looking CAD drawings. I have no idea if that story is true, or if I have the specifics right, but I tell it all the time!

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