How to Get to Consensus Quickly with Sketching

When you’re ready to embark on a project, sketching or collaborative concepting can help get your team on the same page quickly. Gathering a cross-functional team to dig into the aspects of a few sections of your interface will help the team make decisions and move forward quickly from a common vantage point.

What is sketching and how does it work?

A collaborative concepting session is a full day (in some cases two days) where members of the cross-functional project team come together in person to surface ideas and iterate on key aspects of the system. 

Before we start, we ask all participants to search for inspiration for the project and print out screen shots of what they find. The inspiration is meant to identify interface elements that we may want to use in our interface. We post the inspiration on the wall and at the beginning of the session the team reviews the inspiration and shares what they like or don’t like about the interfaces and the team agrees on elements of the inspiration to include in our interface.

Next, everyone is given time to sketch a key element of the system, usually the dashboard or another primary interface page. In some cases, this may a high-level process. 

Everyone puts their sketches up on the wall and presents their ideas. The team reviews all of the sketches and identifies what they like and want to explore further. Then the team starts another round of sketching to refine their concepts of that page, based on the critique. The team presents and critiques everyone’s sketches again and identifies elements to move forward with in the design.

Depending on the amount of time available, the team may repeat this process and sketch multiple elements of the interface.

How does sketching help with consensus?

Sketching, or collaborative concepting, provides three key benefits:

  • It’s a way for multi-disciplinary teams to understand the problem set, collaborate, and brainstorm
  • It provides an opportunity to bring everyone’s thoughts and ideas together in the same place
  • It’s a method that can quickly identify, refine, and vet many approaches to arrive at a recommended concept

This methodology requires everyone to develop an idea and present it to the group. This ensures that everyone has the opportunity to surface their points of view about the problem space and possible solutions, without anyone dominating the conversation. It can also provide a greater sense of buy-in with the final concept because participants can more easily recognize their contribution.

Including a cross-functional team in the process, including product, marketing, IT, customer support, etc., allows us to vet ideas to ensure that everyone has a chance to point out any opportunities or pitfalls early in the process. 

In order to achieve meaningful consensus, a few things have to happen. First, the right people have to be included in the process. Second, everyone has to fully participate. Participants can’t come in and out of the session or be distracted by other responsibilities. To get the most out of your collaborative concepting experience, the team needs to prioritize it.

What sort of consensus is sketching good for?

Sketching can help teams come to consensus on the following aspects of a system:

  • Navigation approach
  • Interface elements to use in the system
  • System structure

Remember, we’re talking about consensus early in the project. The benefit of this is gaining a solid starting point were many points of view are considered. With sketching, we've done a chunk of the work up front to develop a solid framework that can help us make decisions later in the project. By no means is sketching intended to cover every detail or set our thinking in stone. 

While taking a full day (or in some cases two full days) for a sketching session may seem like a lot of time, it can save a tremendous amount of time in the long run by gaining consensus on a starting point or ruling out ineffective or technically unfeasible concepts early on. 

Do you want to jump start your project with a sketching session? Contact us to learn more.

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