Stuart Silverstein Experience Strategist/Designer

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Sketching the obvious

In a recent article I did for Smashing Magazine, I discussed  a little Neuropsychology, and how your brain works. Essentially, how your brain works is that the left brain engages until all your usual solutions have been tried and exhausted. At that point, when you have hit the “wall” and have sunk into a deep depression and are researching classes at your local community colleges on auto repair because you feel inadequate as designer, your relaxation causes the right hemisphere of your brain to engage. Your right hemisphere allows you to free associate and creatively assemble 2 things that have no relationship at all – gravity and an apple, gold and a bathtub, a kite and lightning, etc.

On my current project working for Fandango, I realized that this process explains my method for design. When I start working on a design, I find it essential to  get the obvious out first, so my first sketches are all the obvious ideas. The ones you know will work. The first thing that pops into your head once the direction has been defined. So I spend a certain amount of time, just getting the idea out of my head, and on to paper.

Now it’s pretty rare that this is a “winner.” It is often based off of the usual set of chops and techniques I have developed. These are pretty routine, at least to me, and are not usually acceptable work to put out. Occasionally, I am blessed with divine inspiration, and the first idea is so pure and so right, that anything else is just extra, but that is definitely the exception not the rule.

I have found that this process of sketching the obvious allows me to lighten my head, and get the obvious stuff out of my head. It also is very reassuring that I can let it go. I now have the comp on paper, and I can go back to it if I want to, or if I want to refer to it at any time.  It also allows me to hit the wall faster. If I don’t get my idea out of my head, it will haunt me and I will be unable to move past it.

Once I have got the obvious out, I get to a place where I don’t know what to do. I come with no further preconceived notions of what the project should look like, and I am open to explore new alternatives.

  • I often start looking at different layouts and design patterns on the web to see if I can use them as an inspiration to try something new.
  • I also talk with a lot of people. I try to have as many unstructured casual conversations with as many smart people as I can around the topic. I find that talking through the ideas, and hearing yourself talk through a problem often helps you arrive at new solutions without the pressure of stakeholders.
  • Then I sketch every different variable I can imagine – quickly
  • … and use my intuition on which idea to present or further discuss with others.


What’s your process?