Low-tech Love: The Sketchbook

SketchbookPlain-256Because of its recent return to my working methodology, I want to take a moment to single out a very low-tech web working tool for praise. I’m talking about the sketchbook, that handy little tome in which we can capture and generate some of our best ideas. Not to be confused with the writer’s notebook, mind you, which is a great tool, too, but a different kind of beast.

The sketchbook is a free space for your ideas to play, unbound by lines and ruled margins. It’s a laboratory, a playground, a testing facility and a sounding board. And perhaps best of all, it requires no batteries and can go pretty much anywhere you do. Here’s why I love mine so much, and why any web worker would do well to have their own on hand.

Idea Log

You know the feeling of getting hit with innovation lightning? The one you get when you come up with something great, something you’re terrified will fly out of your head before you get to a computer. That kind of idea, to my mind, is best captured by the sketchbook, in as close an approximation to the unprocessed original as absolutely possible.

The nature of our brains is such that as we think about an idea, we tend to process and refine it while we keep it in our heads. I much prefer to capture the really good ideas raw, before I’ve had a chance to rationalize and massage them into something more manageable, but possibly much less potent, too.

With a sketchbook, I find that I can capture the idea in its essence, unhindered by editing and page constraints. I’m a very visual person, so it helps that I can use words and images easily thanks to the clean, blank unlined pages. It also makes it easier to add to or scan later on. Plus, even ideas that turn out to be not-so-great could transform into something really useful just through the absent-minded doodling I do on a regular basis on top of existing sketches and concepts.

Collaborative Tool

Describing what you want to do or want to have done can be very hard. Project disappointments, in fact, are often due to confusion regarding expectations, rather than any real failure on the part of anyone involved in the process.

Having a sketchbook on-hand, depending on your comfort level and relationship with the individual you’re working with, can be a great way to spitball ideas using non-traditional means. Even if design has nothing to do with your project, you can use the space to rough out workflows and processes, draw mind maps and illuminate key project concepts in a way that verbal communication simply doesn’t allow for.

Passing a sketchbook back and forth, and taking turns writing, sketching and thinking out loud has produced some of the best collaborative work I’ve ever produced.

Stress Relief

Doodling has always been one of my favorite pastimes. Ever since my early school days, when I used to idly doodle in the margins of my primary workbooks, I’ve enjoyed sketching and drawing as a means to relax. With all that practice, you’d think I’d be better sketcher than I am.

Skill aside, a sketchbook to which I can turn at any moment to work off a little stress through therapeutic doodling is a must-have for my professional health. It’s always close to hand, it doesn’t cost anything, and it isn’t bad for my health. There are few other stress relievers for which all of the above is also true. Best of all, it’s a leisure activity that I can actually do while I’m working, which is invaluable.

Even if you’ve never tried sketching or doodling before, give it a shot and see how it makes you feel. The key is to master being able to draw with a complete absence of self-conscious thought, so that you truly get lost in the activity.

So do yourself a favor and get a sketchbook. It will become a constant companion, and possibly one of your most trusted advisors.

Do you tote a sketchbook?


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