T08: Designing great user experiences without sketching

Tuesday, 28 June 2022
Back to Tutorials' Program


Everett McKay (short bio)

Principal, UX Design Edge, United States



By participating in this tutorial, you will have a better understanding on how to design without sketching and see the benefit of delaying sketching until you have a better understanding of what to sketch. Furthermore, this tutorial gives you a unique opportunity to compare and contrast different design techniques applied to the same challenge—an opportunity that you are unlikely to have in a real project.


Content and Benefits:

Can you design without sketching? In a recent poll, the majority of respondents said they couldn't.

In Sketching User Experiences, Bill Buxton rightfully makes the case that sketching is the heart of the design process and is a great way to suggest and explore design alternatives. But given our persistent "UI is not UX" background discussion, it's time to ask: Isn't sketching really UI design, and true UX design requires broader thinking using other tools? After all, you are sketching UI screens and flows, right? So where and how does the broader UX part of UX design take place? Using what tools?

Why does this matter? Three reasons: 1) sketching too early can harm exploration, 2) true UX design thinking requires a broader tool set, and 3) if most/all of your work product is some kind of screen design or task flow, the broader UX design is likely being ignored.

In the lecture part of this tutorial, we will explore what sketching is all about in the UI vs. UX context, leading to an emphatic "yes" to the first question above. We will then explore four different techniques for designing a UX without sketching it first.

For the hands-on part of this tutorial, we will work in teams to take on a design challenge. We will start by setting a baseline, then apply each of the four non-sketching techniques to this challenge. Finally, we will sketch our proposed designs and compare the results.

Tutorial outline

  • Concepts
    • UI really isn’t UX
    • UI design and sketching
    • UX design without sketching techniques
    • Introducing our design challenge (and process)
  • Design challenge
    • Step 0: Setting a baseline
    • Step 1/Method 1: Designing a human conversation
    • Step 2/Method 2: Embodying a value proposition
    • Step 3/Method 3: Embodying a curated set of design principles
    • Step 4/Method 4: Embodying a process or algorithm
    • Step 5/Method 5: Sketching the UI
  • Review
    • Teams present their work
    • Class discussion on process, results, takeaways


Target Audience:

Targeting intermediate designers, but any level may attend and benefit.


List of materials or devices required by the participants:

Microsoft Excel (or similar).

Bio Sketch of Presenter:

Everett McKay is Principal of UX Design Edge and a UX design consultant and trainer with global clientele that includes Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, and Africa. Everett's specialty is finding practical, intuitive, simple, highly usable solutions quickly for web, mobile, and desktop applications. Everett has over 30 years' experience in user interface design—and even more programming UIs. (He loves React!)

Everett is author of "Intuitive Design: Eight Steps to an Intuitive UI", the definitive guide to designing intuitive interactions, and "UI Is Communication: How to Design Intuitive, User Centered Interfaces by Focusing on Effective Communication", a groundbreaking approach to UI design using human communication-based principles and techniques. While at Microsoft, Everett wrote the Windows UX Guidelines for Windows 7 and Windows Vista. Everett holds a master's degree in computer science from MIT.