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Sketching & Grilling

Sketching & grilling? Huh?

The similarities between sketching and grilling a steak (sorry vegans and vegetarians) may not seem completely evident at first, but, after doing both for years, I've come up with some parallels between the two. It's my hope that you'll end up hungry to get sketching, and possibly grilling, after reading this.

Time & Taste
Just as steaks have different levels of done-ness, there are different levels of fidelities, or done-ness, for sketches as well.
Typically, the fidelity of a sketch depends on the amount of time you put into it. A "rare" sketch takes the least amount of time, and a "well-done" sketch takes the longest.

The amount of time you take on your sketch will vary depending on the taste of who or what you're sketching for.

Let's take a look at the range of done-ness for grilling your sketches:

  1. Rare
  2. Medium-Rare
  3. Medium
  4. Medium-Well
  5. Well
  6. "Burnt to a Crisp"

We want to keep things juicy, so try to stay in the rare to medium range.

In regard to both steaks and sketches, "rare" is done quickly. These types of sketches are created when you're doing some brief problem solving and your creative juices are really flowing.

These are quick and rough sketches using whatever tools you have handy, like a rock and a piece of wood, a dirty fingernail and a napkin or a permanent marker and priceless piece of artwork. I'd strongly suggest just using a pen and piece of paper.

Sketches in this fidelity are great for getting ideas out of your head. As long as you can figure out what you were sketching a few hours later, it’s good enough. You still have to be able to tell a story  that your audience understands, even if that audience is yourself.

Just as a medium-rare steak takes a little more time on the grill, a medium-rare sketch takes more time to produce. Oftentimes this is where I toss one of my "rare" sketches back on the grill to cook a bit more.

Medium-rare sketches bump the level of fidelity up a notch or two. Your ideas are further developed, your lines are crisper and your annotations are legible to others.

I find that whiteboards are great for this fidelity of sketching. While you're still producing sketches quickly, your team is much more likely to be able to get a taste for where your ideas are headed.

For both grilling and sketching, this is about as far as I'll take things for the sake of time and taste.

Just as your steak has some tasty grill marks now, your sketches should be showing greater amounts of detail and creating greater focus on certain areas or interactions. It's here where you may want to introduce dot-grid paper, printed browser templates, fancier pencils, pens or markers.

From Medium-Well to "Burnt to a Crisp"
It's not very often that I'll take either a sketch or a steak in to this range, but there are occasions that can call for it. Sometimes stakeholders (steak-holders?) need more time to chew on things. Providing them with a well-done sketch will allow them to take their time to digest every piece.

I’ve found that it’s a bad idea to bring a sketch to this range of fidelity. You may find yourself burning through your time and budget by adding unneeded garnishes that leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

A better use of your time would be to bring your ideas into the browser and create a prototype that is able to not just convey the basic UI, but interactions as well. If you’re not comfortable with in-browser prototyping, using tools like Photoshop and Illustrator coupled with apps like Invision or Marvel may be a better route for you.

Wrapping it up
I remember the first time I had my family over to our house for a cook out. Being relatively new to grilling and having never grilled for my parents before, I was nervous to grill the steaks just right for everyone.

Luckily, I had my dad there to give me advice and help me determine the right amount of done-ness for my family members. At the end of the night, there were a few extra steaks that I wrapped up for my family to take home and be enjoyed another day.

If you’re new to sketching, don’t be afraid to sketch with or in front of others. It may be intimidating at first, but you’ll soon realize just how appetizing your sketches are to others, and, just like I did with those steaks, when you’re done sketching, be sure to save them for a later.

Happy sketching!