Visualizing your idea on paper is one of the fastest, most effective ways to take your first steps to prototyping. When you try to visualize your idea, you'll immediately encounter important choices that may have been hidden when you were still thinking about it in an abstract way. By sketching, it becomes possible to explore these choices and their consequences as a first step towards a real (or paper) prototype. And the good thing is: you don't need to be great at drawing to use it!


Time± 30 minutes
Difficulty1 / 5
PeopleSolo - 10
AuthorDesign A Better Business

How To Use Sketching

Let's be clear: you don't need to be great at drawing to use sketching effectively. Even if you can barely manage to draw a square or a triangle, the process of sketching your idea is going to help you tremendously in going from an abstract idea towards something other people understand and appreciate.

To become more proficient at drawing and sketching it helps to develop your own 'visual language', and use a 'visual alphabet' to draw ideas and concepts quickly. Below you'll find some pointers in how to do that. Using this visual language, sketching becomes a new way of communicating, where every image can take the place of a 1000 words.

There are many ways in which sketching can help you out in your journey: sketching a customer journey, sketching a prototype, sketching a storyboard, or sketching out your value proposition are just a few options.

This tool page can only scratch the surface of what you can achieve by sketching. Take a look at some of the additional resources at the bottom of the page for more (and deeper) insight in how to master sketching.

So don't be afraid, just take a piece of paper and start drawing!

Tool Overview

  1. Basic Concepts Draw basic concepts by building them from boxes and simple shapes.

  2. Abstract Ideas Practice drawing a library of abstract ideas such as time, idea, communication.

  3. People Experiment with different ways to draw people. Try to give them emotions and activity.

  4. Combine Combine small drawings into larger, more complex drawings. A couple of basic shapes are all you need in your vocabulary!

Step-by-step guide

1 Before you start

To draw, you need paper and a pen. That's all there is to it. Just sit down in a quiet place and start drawing.


  • Have markers (fine tip) and paper for everybody
  • Allow yourself 30 minutes of undisturbed time
  • Music helps!

2 Getting started

Think about what you want to achieve with your drawing first. Is it a storyboard? Is it a picture of what your idea might look like to customers? Do you want to explore how the different components of an idea interact? You get the idea. Defining what your image should achieve defines what kind of image it will be. In the case of a storyboard or a customer journey, you'll need a couple of scenes, so start by drawing a number of boxes, one for each scene. If it's a picture of your value proposition, imagine your product as an advertisement. If you want to explore how your idea fits together under the hood, then your drawing will be a diagram, and boxes and arrows are your weapons of choice.

2 Do it interactively

When you have a bit of trouble to get started, it helps to use a whiteboard instead of paper. With your fellow teammates, start by drawing some of the concepts that are important to your idea. Take turns adding to the drawing. If it's not entirely clear what something is, just write it down next to the drawing. Ask questions and use a 'yes and' mindset to add to the drawing, building on eachothers ideas. Once you get to a point where the image takes shape, you can copy it out on a clean sheet of paper.

3 Organize your drawing

When drawing, think about how your drawing is perceived by your audience. They need to be able to make sense of it. With this, there are certain rules of thumb to follow, just as you would in structuring a text. First of all, there is a hierarchy involved. Some things are more important than others. The important things should jump out at you. Make them bigger, bolder, give them a thicker outline. Things that are less important can be smaller.

Tip! If you have colored markers, reserve the colors for the important things, and keep the rest black and white. This will make your drawing seem organized immediately.

Secondly, there is an implicit order in how we perceive things. Most people (at least in western countries) perceive the flow of time from top to bottom, and left to right, just like regular reading order. Use this knowledge when you want to communicate a sequence of events in your drawings.

Tip! Don't try to get the perfect organization all at once. Start out sketching components of your drawing, and then cut them out and organize them on a clean page in the way you want. Redraw them in that new organization. If you're using drawing software, this organizing can be done on the fly.

4 Develop your Visual Language

People who have mastered sketching and visual storytelling have developed their own visual language. They have learned what the most effective ways are to draw certain concepts, so they don't need to think so hard every time. To become better at sketching, spend some time practicing and developing your own visual language. The books by David Sibbet and Dan Roam (bottom of the page) have tons of tricks on how to do this.

Tip! One of the best ways to become an adept of sketching and become fluent in your visual language is to take sketchnotes. Get a nice moleskine and pen and make sure you always carry them with you. Rather than taking written notes, try to start taking visual notes. Mix in more and more drawings in your notes, and start to learn how to organize them on your page. You can do this in real meetings, or for instance practice by taking sketchnotes of Ted talks or podcasts.

5 Next Steps

Once you have an image finished, show it to others and ask them to describe to you what they see. You'll learn a lot from their reactions. What do they see? What do they (not) understand? Happy drawing!

Tip! Experiment with your images to elicit specific responses. How can you make people feel enthusiastic? Energetic? What happens if the image is sketchy vs if it is very detailed?