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You too can be a Sketching Machine

Every week on The UX Blog Podcast, Nicholas Tenhue interviews user experience professionals about current trends, hot topics, and their careers. Remember to subscribe on iTunes!

Rizwan is a User Experience Designer at Closed Loop in Roseville, CA. He creates intuitive, persuasive, and profitable user experiences for top brands such as PayPal, Allstate, Holland America, and Riverbed. He is also a speaker and loves sharing his passion for Sketching at meet ups and conferences. Rizwan is the creator of the UX Alphabet app, a handy reference app of UX concepts ( When he isn't designing, he is usually at home drawing dinosaurs and cars, dinosaurs in cars, and other combinations of dinosaurs and cars with his twin boys.

Send your sketches to [email protected] or tweet @theuxblog with the hashtag #SketchingMachine for a chance to be featured in our 30-day sketch blog post!

Sketching Tips

Practice every day

Even if it is for just 5 minutes. As you start to get better add more time. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at it.

Use a pen to sketch

Why use a pen? It helps you to commit to your sketch. Remember you're not making a drawing so resist the urge to make it perfect. If you mess up, keep going. If you really mess up grab a new page. Mistakes and over-drawings are fine. Sketching ≠ drawing.

When starting out, copy!

That's right I said it. By carefully copying (not tracing!) you can examine the strokes and the techniques others use. Just don't sell it as your own work. After some time you will bring your own style and flavor to your sketches.

Keep a sketchbook

Get a small sketchbook you can carry around easily. Take it with you everywhere and sketch what you see around you. 

Just do it!

Keep practicing, experimenting and sharing your sketches. You will quickly start to see improvement. 

Share your sketches

A great way to stay accountable to sketch consistently is to share your sketches. You can use the hashtag #SketchingMachine to share your work on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Sketching Examples

Rizwan encourages everyone to take part in their own 30-day sketching challenge. Leave a comment below to tell us what you'll sketch! Here are some examples from Rizwan's 30-day challenge:


Nicholas Tenhue: Welcome to the UX Blog Podcast, bringing you up to date with the current trends, hot topics, and career advice in the field of user experience. I’m Nicholas Tenhue, and you can visit us at 

Nicholas Tenhue: Hello everyone, and welcome to episode 3 of the UX Blog Podcast, today I am joined by Rizwan Javaid, who is a user experience designer, closed loop in Roseville, California. He creates user experiences for top brands such as Paypal, Allstate, Holland America, and riverbed. He is also a speaker, and loves sharing his passion for sketching, and meetups, and conferences. He is also the creator of UX alphabet app, a really handy reference app with lots of UX concepts to explore, and when he isn’t designing, he is usually at home drawing dinosaurs and cars, or dinosaurs in cars, and other combinations of dinosaurs and cars, with his two twin boys. So, welcome to the show Rizwan.

Rizwan Javaid: Thank you very much, Nick. 

Nicholas Tenhue: So, thanks for joining us, and I would just like to, first of all, ask, what is the topic of this show?

Rizwan Javaid: The topic of this show is, you too can be a sketching machine which is all about sketching, and how you don’t have to be a creator, or you don’t have to be a designer to gain the benefits of being able to sketch.

Nicholas Tenhue: Right, and that is really interesting because, a lot of the guests that we speak to on this show are actually not UX designers at first, they start off in another profession, and they end up being UX designers. So, it kind of goes to show that everybody can be a designer.

Rizwan Javaid: Ya, definitely, because everybody usually in a team, you have different roles, and we are all sharing ideas, so the more comfortable you are with sketching, the quicker your ideas will resonate with your team, and faster you can move, so sketching is a skill that everybody can benefit from. 

Nicholas Tenhue: Absolutely. So, can you tell us a little bit about how you got into UX as a profession yourself?

Rizwan Javaid: I started a long time ago, before the dot-com bust, and I got into design at a small agency, and I started learning flash, and got into building websites through there, and slowly transitioned into actual websites, and web design, little bit of front and coding, and then about four years ago, I transitioned into a UX design role. I was working in Dallas, and then moved here, to Roseville, California to work at closed loop as a UX designer.

Nicholas Tenhue: Okay, Great. How did you find the transition then?  What kind of new skills did you have to learn in order to make the switch?

Rizwan Javaid: I think it was a progression, so you know, the best part was  I could use everything that I had learned previously, and then just add the user experience methodologies, the concepts, the techniques, and as I was learning them I could still use all the design, and the design skills I had from my previous jobs and just, you know, keep building upon those and you know, to help me become a better UX designer. 

Nicholas Tenhue: Right, so everything is just kind of an additive experience.

Rizwan Javaid: Yes, definitely.

Nicholas Tenhue: Great. So you are also the creator of UX Alphabet App, which is super interesting. I’ve actually had a little play with it with myself, and it is a really good resource. I have learned a lot already from it.

Rizwan Javaid: Thanks. That was my try at, see if I can actually code an application, you know I am comfortable with designing, the coding part was definitely a big challenge, you know, the biggest challenge I had up until then, and so I wanted to be able to take an idea from the very beginning, and go through with the design process, and the development, and final, you know, submitting it to the app store. So go through that whole process, and see how it is, and luckily I was able to make it pass the development stage, which is...

Nicholas Tenhue: A pretty finishing line, right? So, did you use any frameworks for that one or, was it all in native?

Rizwan Javaid: It was all native. It was in Swift, and I tried previously, about four or five times, I think when iPhone 3 first came out, to build an app by learning objective C, but it was not clicking, and then once Swift came out, that was my chance to jump into it.

Nicholas Tenhue: Big breakthrough.

Rizwan Javaid: Ya. So, I am really happy for that.

Nicholas Tenhue: So, for those that are getting into development themselves, or our UX designers, and would like to try their hand at a bit of coding, what advice would you give to them?

Rizwan Javaid: I would say, to make sure you are focused, and working on your app everyday, and you are mentally there. For a lot of designers, it’s hard to make that jump from development designing to development, so you have to be mentally present. It will be tough. There will be days where you just want to give up, go back to designing, you just have to keep pushing through the fog, and then you will see the light at the end. It will be worth it at the end.

Nicholas Tenhue: Right, perseverance is definitely key. So, I mean it seems like there is a lot of different people that  I am speaking to, that are doing a lot of different things. I see that you have a lot of speaking events coming up. So, how did you get started with that?

Rizwan Javaid: As a UX designer, about a year or two ago, I realized that I need to actually get out of my comfort zone, and go talk to people, and be comfortable speaking in front of people. So, slowly, after work, I would do some  lunch and learns, and started the ball rolling there, and then one day I was going through Twitter, and saw a local meetup that was looking for speakers, and I thought “This is my in”, and I applied. I had an idea of what I wanted to talk about. They accepted, and that got the ball rolling. So, after that, I have been continuing to present ad meetups, and then once I did a few, I realized “why not apply at a conference?”, And I did that, and they accepted my talk, and so slowly just getting better and it’s still a challenge, but it’s getting better. So the goal was to make the weakness of communication to a strength that I have. That was the main reason for me to get into public speaking.

Nicholas Tenhue: Ya, that’s perfect, just all the time, trying to get better, and sharpening your skills, and making sure that you become a completely sort of t-shaped uxer in terms of communication, in terms of design scale, in terms of technical knowledge. So, it’s a really good thing to do. When can we see your next big conference talk then?

Rizwan Javaid: My next one is in August. It’s at abstractions. It is a 3-day conference in Pittsburgh. Soon after that, I will also be presenting at Mobecov, which is in Poland, so I am really excited about those 2 events.

Nicholas Tenhue: Alright, so all of the listeners both in America and in Europe can come and see you then.

Rizwan Javaid: Yes, definitely, and you can come and experience the power of sketching firsthand.

Nicholas Tenhue: Alright guys go get your tickets. Okay, so speaking of the power of sketching, why is sketching so important?

Rizwan Javaid: The power of sketching lies in the ability for us to use sketching to ideate, literate, and to communicate. So, for example using sketching to ideate, when you take the seed of an idea, and you think about it, you can exploit it to a certain extent, and we can picture it to a certain degree, you can move it around, look at it from different angles, but there is only so much that you can do, and all this activity keeps adding to your [inaudible] so to make sure that you do not lose your ideas, sketching is the best way to get them onto paper, and then you can explore them even further. That’s a great benefit of sketching.

Nicholas Tenhue: I feel like, it’s been for me anyway, it’s a really powerful tool, especially during backlog grooming when you are trying to talk to the technical lead when you are trying to talk to product management or even program management. Getting it down on paper is 100 times faster than trying to explain something or show a document to somebody. And you also get that whole feedback loop, it’s about like you are doing a mini sprint inside a meeting room with the people that you are trying to groom the backlog with.

Rizwan Javaid: Oh, yes, and it is so important because we all have different experiences and sort of, say a client has some instructions for us, we all understand, and we all could have different understandings of that message, but if we quickly sketch out what we believe the client is saying, everybody can be on the same page.

Nicholas Tenhue: Ya, it’s all about aligning those mental models, right. Ya, that’s so powerful.

Rizwan Javaid: And as you were talking about feedback, the better we sketch, the better we sketch out ideas, and better other people can see them, then the better feedback we can get from them, and there’s less time involved in trying to explain, and have, not get the right feedback, but if we sketch and make it clear, and explain it properly we can save time, and get the right type of feedback that we need.

Nicholas Tenhue: Ya, absolutely. I’m just thinking all the time of those pictures you see on google image search where you have this funny, kind of, the tree with the swing, I think it was. It’s like what the project manager wanted, what the designer wanted, that kind of thing.

Rizwan Javaid: Ya, exactly.

Nicholas Tenhue: Alright, so on the whole flip side of things then, what is the number 1 misconception when it comes to sketching? What do people always get wrong?

Rizwan Javaid: I think people sell themselves short. Everybody can sketch, like I said, you don’t have to be a designer, you don’t have to be a creative type to sketch and anybody can sketch, if you can sketch a circle, triangle, a line, you can sketch to get your ideas across. I think people need to start seeing sketching as a vital tool in sharing ideas, and moving quickly, so that is one of the things I would comment on.

Nicholas Tenhue: This is maybe just in my experience but, do you think also that people don’t want to sketch because they feel that, that’s a designers job, they don’t want to sketch because they feel like it would be, kind of, I don’t know in a sense, like degrading to start doodling things on paper.

Rizwan Javaid: I think it could be intimidating, for like say, a product manager, or developer, to start sketching in front of a designer, but if you look at it from the other angle where you're actually contributing, and your sharing your ideas, you can have a better conversation with the designer instead of having a 1-way conversation, you could have ideas, sharing, improving, and building off of each other's ideas, so it’s just the way you look at it, and the other point is there are a lot of designers who don’t like to sketch, which is kind of hard to believe, but you know, even in my case, I was one of those, I  would do the minimal sketching that I need to, but I would jump into the digital world, and start doing my ideas there, but then I realized, that’s not the best way to do it, then I actively started improving my sketches, and getting better at it, until a point where I am more comfortable sketching now, and  now I’m a little bit sad when I do have to move into the digital world, because there’s something there when you’re sketching with your hand, and then the paper, I think it’s definitely, we can share our ideas clearly, and openly when everybody sketches.

Nicholas Tenhue: Ya, and I suppose when you jump onto the computer that tangible magic is almost lost, and you can’t move the bits of paper around. You can’t hand them to other people. You can’t rearrange them as well unless you have one of those big kinds of screens, that are touch screens type things and very kind of minority report style interfaces. Those are all really good points. 

Rizwan Javaid: Ya, because then you are definitely down one path, and you are definitely going down the funnel, so it’s better to spend more time sketching, and validating your idea, and then moving on to the digital world where you’ve never dim your ideas.

Nicholas Tenhue: Right, and it’s the same concept of having technical, you know, we don’t want to end up with too much design debt by jumping into something that is our first idea.

Rizwan Javaid: Exactly. Using sketching to iterate is another great power of sketching because you can uncover hidden issues when you start sketching which you wouldn’t be able to do if you just went with your first idea. So, that’s another power of sketching that is really important.

Nicholas Tenhue: Right, so let’s talk about context a little bit. We use sketching a lot in things like googles, you know design sprint where we are doing parallel designs, and then we are doing iterative designs in order to kind of get that breath of ideas, and then the iterations on the best ideas to kind of nail them down into a little corner and make sure that we are scoping everything out, right, but all in a very kind of open iterative manner where we can throw away things really quickly if they are not going to work. Where else can we use sketching? I’m talking about in the board room, I'm talking about in a conversation in the hallway that we bump into, the CTO, we have a great product idea or something like that. You know, where else can we use sketching?

Rizwan Javaid: I think anywhere where you are sharing ideas, you know, whether it’s one on one conversation, you're talking to your teammate, you can share your sketches with the client, and help them understand, so you are on the same page with the client. I think sketching is a skill where because you don’t need to have a computer with you, you just need a pen and a paper, so wherever you are, whether you’re at the gas station, and getting your oil change, you can sit there, and sketch, and come up with ideas, and make use of the time that you have.

Nicholas Tenhue: Never stop sketching, basically.

Rizwan Javaid: Along with, I would add, doodling is also something that, it seems like it’s frivolous, there’s nothing behind it, but doodling has a lot of benefits because you can, you know, as your hand is making movements, your mind is making connections at the same time, and I also learned about a recent study where they found out that people who were doodling while listening to a phone message recalled 30% more information than people who were just listening to the message on the phone, so it seems like there is definitely a value to doodling as well.

Nicholas Tenhue: Right, it’s almost as if when you have a certain scent and then it reminds you of a moment, or it reminds you of a thing that got a strong connection, and it’s the same thing, I guess with doodling.

Rizwan Javaid: Yeah.

Nicholas Tenhue: And I really like that you said that there’s the feedback loop between your mind and your hand, and then from your hand to the paper, and then from the paper to other people's minds, who are then iterating those thoughts themselves. There are lots of iterations going through the loop there.

Rizwan Javaid: And the good thing is, it’s fast and quick. It’s not a long drawn out process. You can quickly improve your ideas, and iterate, and share, and communicate, and move faster than you would otherwise. 

Nicholas Tenhue: So, let’s talk a little bit about your advice on how, as a UX designer in an organization, you might be able to bring sketching to the other people, the ones that don’t typically sketch. What other ways to go about it, are there any tools or resources that you would recommend?

Rizwan Javaid: I would say, if you are in a group setting, encourage other people to go up on the board, and sketch their ideas, and be encouraging so that other people who are not designers would be more open to sharing their ideas visually. 

Nicholas Tenhue: Right, so just be that kind of facilitator to kind of enable people.

Rizwan Javaid: Yeah, and you know even lead by example, whenever there is an idea, or you are trying to get some clarity, just go up to the board, and start sketching it, and I think once people see you, they will, it may take some time, but they will learn to also start doing that because they will see that, as soon as go up to the board, ideas become clearer, and that’s a great way to share that idea as well.

Nicholas Tenhue: Ya, absolutely, and I am just thinking about whenever I get up to kind of explain an idea on the board, you kind of grab the attention of the room as well because somebody's moving, somebody’s doing something new, and then it starts a new conversation, even though the people in the room don’t realize that you are kind of that catalyse that’s sparked, that gunned that conversation, if you kind of talk to people and make them realize that it was actually me getting up and starting drawing this concept on the board that started that conversation, and helping them understand that they can do the same. I think that is a really good way to go.

Rizwan Javaid: You know, a few years ago, I noticed that I was seeing other designers do that, but I wasn’t doing it, and I wanted to be at that spot to be able to quickly get up, and without any hesitation go up there and show my ideas, and so one of the techniques I've used is that I have gone through a 30 day sketching challenge, where each day I choose a topic, and then I would sketch that, and then I would share that online on Twitter, and so there are a few different benefits to that, I was sketching regularly, and I was sketching things that I most commonly would sketch, like say people, arrows, boxes, concepts, and then I would share it online, and that’s where I would get over that timidness of, “what would other people say?”, and so I slowly, but surely as you progress, you keep getting better at sketching, and then you also get over the hump of not being too worried about what other people would think of your sketches, so that would be another way I would suggest people to try out if they want to get better quickly.

Nicholas Tenhue: Yeah, that’s a great idea. You know, I think I am actually going to do that. I think that we should make a hashtag right now that people can use on Twitter, or Instagram to do their 30 days sketch. What do you think it should be?

Rizwan Javaid: I think it should be #sketchingmachine.

Nicholas Tenhue: #sketchingmachine. Alright, I am going to start tomorrow.

Rizwan Javaid: That’s another way that you can actually involve other people in your company, whether it’s developers or product managers, you know, make it a competition, or make it a challenge for everybody to try that out, and it doesn’t have to be this big increment thing, it could just be 5 minutes a day whenever you have time to just do anything for 5 minutes, and then because it’s a challenge, it would be a great way to show other people that this is a great way to share ideas as well. 

Nicholas Tenhue: Alright, great. So, I think what I will do is, if any of the listeners out there decide to take up the sketching machine challenge, we’ll write a blog post with some of the interesting sketches that come out of that. 

Rizwan Javaid: Cool, yeah, that will be exciting.

Nicholas Tenhue: Good stuff. So I think we talked about sketching enough, let’s talk a little bit more about you. What are you going to achieve next in life, once you’ve done your speaking, where are you going next?

Rizwan Javaid: I think I do want to write a book about sketching. I think just to share the ideas with everybody, and just to encourage people to start sketching, and bring other people who are not designers into the world of sketching. That would be my next challenge.

Nicholas Tenhue: Alright, I hope it’s going to be a really visual book with a lot of scribbles and a lot of lines across all of the pages.

Rizwan Javaid: Oh, yeah definitely. It will definitely be hands on, and more exercise based because I believe that’s the way to learn, so a lot of my talks have sketching activities in there so, you actually are there, sketching, so that’s the best way to learn something, just by doing it, and you will be able to see how easy it is to sketch, and you can get over any fear of sketching pretty quickly.

Nicholas Tenhue: Ya, I would love to come to one of your talks, because they sound real kind of engaging, everybody is doing the same thing and their sharing their sketches afterward, sounds like a real blast.

Rizwan Javaid: Yeah, you should definitely come.

Nicholas Tenhue: Alright, so I am going to ask you now, just as we’re wrapping up, a question that I am going to try to ask every guest that I have.

Rizwan Javaid: Okay.

Nicholas Tenhue: And that is, what is your definition of UX?

Rizwan Javaid: My definition of UX is making products easier for the end user, and easier engaging for the end user, and also achieving the business goals.

Nicholas Tenhue: Right, so it’s just a combination of the real world and not just theories, it’s kind of taking UX out of that white tower of academia, and putting it to work in the real world.

Rizwan Javaid: Yeah, because if the design is easy to use, then it doesn’t solve the business needs, and then if there's no use for it, there’s no value to it. If it’s all business, it’s not easy to use, that doesn’t work either, so the challenge for UX designers is how to keep the goals for both users and businesses in mind while coming up with solutions to the problems.

Nicholas Tenhue: Absolutely. That just makes me think if there’s a space for something like UX outside capitalism, outside sort of commercial businesses as we would think, and how we would define that, and how that would look.

Rizwan Javaid: Yeah, I don’t think it should be connected all the time with business so there’s definitely applications for social betterment as well.

Nicholas Tenhue: Absolutely. So, if you had one piece of advice that you could give to the listeners, what would that be?

Rizwan Javaid: I would say, always challenge yourself, and get out of your comfort zone, because you will not grow if you’re always in the same spot that you’re comfortable, you need to push yourself to get out of there, and learn, and grow, and constantly be doing that because there’s nothing worse than a dinosaur UX designer, who stays where they are, and not grow because personally, I think that is the most rewarding thing, seeing the areas that, there're so many different places for me to try out, so many different things for me to try out, and it would be just a shame if I sat in my comfort zone, and did nothing about it. So, always be learning, and always be pushing your limits.

Nicholas Tenhue: Yeah, I think that could be an inspiration to everybody because there’s nothing scarier than being that dinosaur, and being too comfortable in your ways. I guess somehow that relates back to the intro where you like to draw dinosaurs with your 2 boys.

Rizwan Javaid: Some applications with dinosaurs are good.

Nicholas Tenhue: Jurassic Park, sketching, but not in the boardroom, not in the meetings.

Rizwan Javaid: Not in your personal goals.

Nicholas Tenhue: Exactly. Alright so, just before we sign off, do you have any other messages that you would like to leave for the listeners?

Rizwan Javaid: Again, just talk about sketching, and try out a 30-day challenge, and then you will see that sketching is a skill that is so important, because it will save you time, and energy, and it will also help you communicate with your team as well.

Nicholas Tenhue: Alright. Well, I am going to be sketching from now on. So thanks a lot for joining us as our guest on the show.

Rizwan Javaid: Thank you very much, Nick.

Nicholas Tenhue: I’ve been your host, Nicholas Tenhue, and if you enjoyed this show, please subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes. Remember to tune in next week for another episode of the UX Blog

This post first appeared on The UX, please read the originial post: here

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