Collaborative Sketching Takes Center Stage

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September 1, 2013

On a daily basis, we at Crux Collaborative find ourselves in mid-conversation trying to hash out a UX solution, when the look happens. The look says we are not quite connecting here. It says words are not working. It says my context is different than your context.

Luckily, the look does not spell disaster! We just pull out a pad and pen or head to the nearest white board, and the magic of sketching leads us to a unified and better idea in a matter of minutes.

Traditional Sketching

Sketching has been a core component of our process from the beginning – but historically, it’s been an internal way to collaborate and iterate ideas quickly. We always thought of it as “behind the scenes” stuff.

Early last year, we decided there is no good reason to keep such a powerful tool behind the scenes. We’ve had such success collaborating internally by sketching, so why not use it with clients?

Collaborative Sketch Concepting

We developed and piloted a new methodology – Collaborative Sketch Concepting (CSC) – that brings our team together with client teams for 4 hours of dedicated sketching and collaboration.

The results have been extraordinary – the process has reshaped how we work together as a team, strengthened relationships with our clients, and produced incredible work. Best of all, our clients love the process… and the results.

We asked the Crux Collaborative team to share what they like most about collaborative sketch concepting and how they feel it has benefitted our process.

What do we like about sketching?

It’s a repeatable process that results in repeated success:


“I love that it reduces risk and eliminates wasted effort and budget. We don’t waste time going down a path to propose a solution that can’t be implemented because of a business or technical constraint.

Because we have representation from all disciplines and from both our side and the client side – if an idea is proposed that won’t work or doesn’t make sense from a user or business objective, we catch it (and resolve it) in a single afternoon.

This makes the entire project so much more efficient because we’ve caught and resolved the pitfalls and issues before they even make it out of the concepting phase. That way when we are ready to enter the design phase, we’re able to move forward quickly and with confidence that we are refining and designing the right solution. ”

– Mahtab, Principal

It works with all different groups and skill sets. And it’s fun along the way.


“You don’t need to know how to draw in order to be effective. We get to know our clients better by spending more casual time brainstorming and drawing. Everyone relaxes a bit more. It’s fun because we are truly collaborating with no hidden agenda. It’s about developing the best solution for the user and the business.”

– John, Principal


“I love the fact that it really is collaborative. We all come together and contribute ideas. I love that the team sketching is multi-disciplinary; UI/UX designers, developers, clients, and project leaders.”

– Annette, Senior Interface Designer


“It enables us to access a variety of viewpoints and expertise – not just our own. One of my favorite parts of collaborative sketch concepting is hearing others explain ideas from their relative areas of expertise.

Everyone approaches a sketch differently, and these slightly different angles along with built-in biases based on a person’s skillset are what makes this a true collaborative process.”

– Mike, Director of Design + Development

What do we like about sketching?

We’re more efficient and there is little to no re-work.


“Simply stated, it creates immediate buy-in and shared understanding for all participants, both client and Crux Collaborative team members. That immediate shared understanding creates remarkable efficiency that cascades through all phases of the project.”

– Jen, Director of Operations


“With collaborative sketching, the problem solving happens organically by validating (or invalidating) assumptions on-the-fly, thanks to the many different perspectives in the room. We’re able to build consensus and shared understanding within just a few hours.”

– Tony, Senior Front-end Developer


“When we sketch as a team, we all have a greater sense of ownership of the solution. We each have an opportunity to weigh in with our expertise and opinions early on in the project and we discover questions that may have been roadblocks in the future, giving us the chance to address them in the earlier phases.”

– Katherine, Project Coordinator

It promotes engagement. There is no consultancy viewpoint vs. client viewpoint – instead, there’s a singular project team viewpoint.


“I see the biggest benefit as being the shared understanding and buy-in that you build with clients as a result of the process.”

– Katie, User Experience Specialist

What are the Do’s and Don’ts of Collaborative Sketching?

Below are some key lessons we’ve learned so far as we refine the practice of Collaborative Sketching.

Collaborative Sketch Concepting


  • Every participant must be 100% present and engaged; turn off laptops and mobile devices.
  • Gather “inspiration” (screens, motifs, design ideas, etc.) ahead of time to help get ideas flowing.
  • Introduce the problem before you ask the team to sketch. Allow time for it to soak in.
  • Everyone draws. Everyone participates in the critique. There are no passive observers in the process.
  • Make it fun! We always order in fresh, warm chocolate chip cookies and have plenty of fresh coffee on hand.


  • Don’t assume you’re not creative enough. It’s your area of expertise that matters and aids the creativity of the group. Often, your ideas in the critique are what helps the solution evolve.
  • Don’t be afraid to draw. Don’t worry about how good or bad your sketches look, it’s about the ideas.
  • Don’t come in with an idea or agenda. It doesn’t work if you try to rig the results in advance; collaboration must be genuine!
  • Don’t try to include a remote participant. (We’ve tried it and it doesn’t go well!) For the process to work, everyone has to be in the room, working together.

By Mahtab Rezai
Principal & CEO

Mahtab has spent nearly two decades as a user experience designer, researcher, strategist, leader, and mentor. She has designed user experiences for companies ranging from startups to the Fortune 50.

View Mahtab's Bio

By Tony Johnson
Senior Front-end Developer

Tony has spent well over a decade building interactive applications. He collaborates in the full life cycle of projects – bringing a unique blend of technical savvy, creativity and strategic thinking to our user experience consulting services.

View Tony's Bio

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