This entire week we’ve been exploring how the right technology improves the way we work, learn, and, ultimately, live better lives. This post explores the need to use old-school tech–paper and pencil–with the right technology to create great design.

 

My favorite design tools don’t run on Windows or Mac, and they don’t connect to a USB port. This may be a little surprising, coming from a technologist and product designer. But the truth is, I prefer low fidelity physical tools over high tech virtual ones.  

All I need is a pencil, sketchbook, or a marker on the giant whiteboard in the conference room down the hall for initial design ideas. These are tools I can hold in my hand. When I use them, they make real objects that I can immediately see, touch, move, and even smell. It’s easier to think about the problem when I can see all the pieces right there in the room with me. This is when I do my best work.

 

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And maybe this isn’t as surprising as it seemed at first. If we think of design broadly as bridging the gap between imagination and reality, then pencil and paper is simply the shortest path an idea can take from the world of the imaginary to the world of the real.  

 

Design and Designers’ Old School Tools

When an idea is presented as a visual artifact it becomes a real thing. People can see it. It can be shared, changed, and improved. Sketches, diagrams, words on a page – line up a bunch of these together, and patterns emerge. Show them to a room full of people, and conversations begin. 

 

Pencil and paper is the shortest path an idea can take from the world of the imaginary to the world of the real.

 

This is the essence of design. We see it reflected in the language we use: “putting ideas down on paper.” We see it too in the architecture of popular software like XD and Sketch, where designers arrange artboards together on a giant virtual workspace, evoking sheets of paper tacked to a conference room wall. These digital tools emulate the real-world paper experience, with an added level of precision and quality that’s not achievable with paper and pencil alone.  

Producing high-fidelity mockups has never been easier than it is with today’s design technology, but I still prefer to begin in the messy world of paper and pencil. These low-fidelity tools put the focus on creation rather than perfection. They encourage me to move quickly from vague, imaginary concepts to concrete, often messy, artifacts in the real world.  

 

Design and the Right Technology

Higher-level technology plays an essential role in refining the design. With design software, like Sketch or Adobe XD, I can move incredibly quickly from low-fidelity concepts to a high fidelity finished product. Conferencing and messaging services like Zoom and Slack support real-time collaboration, sharing, and discussion without requiring the co-location of the stakeholders. And cloud filesystems, like Google Drive and Dropbox, provide a central place for the team to store and reference the artifacts we produce.

 

With Bluescape, I can bring all kinds of visual artifacts together in a single virtual space.  Everything in the space is shared with everyone who needs to see it. 

 

Of course, getting all these tools to work together can be a challenge. Bluescape is a digital work platform that’s beginning to address this particular space. With Bluescape, I can bring all kinds of visual artifacts together in a single virtual space.  Everything in the space is shared with everyone who needs to see it. Using an iPad and Apple Pencil, I can do my low-fidelity pencil work directly in that space too. As I work, I use a large wall-mount touch screen to spread everything out so I can see it, move it around, organize it, and mark it up as needed. Other people can join me in the virtual space too, and they see whatever I see. So team meetings, critiques, and presentations can all take place inside Bluescape.

 

To produce my best work, I need all my tools doing what they do best, from the low-fidelity pencil drawing to the high-tech finishing tools. The key is to shift easily from one to the next so that my process runs smoothly and efficiently from start to finish.

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