As designers, we live in a world where by the very nature of our job title or how we dress sets a precedent for us to be creative and ready to put it all out there. All the time. And generally we do well at that, when it comes to generating thousands of ideas or stories for client work. But when it comes to putting ourselves out there in the same fashion, there is often a retreat or a feeling of “I have no idea what I’m doing.” As designers, we are our own worst critics, setting the bar higher than for any other endeavor and often this is a barrier to just getting the work out there.


This is really hard for me to say out loud as I make a living utilizing my drawing skills. But it’s true. We ideate using whiteboards through graphic facilitation and create rapid prototypes of experiences so we can quickly see the breakdowns from interaction flow to clarification of intent and priority. I take visual notes in meetings and presentations. I always start with sketching when concepting new ideas for visual tone for icons and illustrations. So how can I have this crazy fear of putting my drawings out there? And how can I make this better?


Earlier this year, a couple of us participated in the Designer Training Program put on by XPLANE, the good folks we share our space with. Being exposed to this raw, no-holds-barred approach to generating ideas to find absolute truth and not have any expectations or personal agendas started to change the way I thought about creating and putting out these artifacts. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be precious. Get it up on a board. Does it communicate? No? Throw it out, make small tweaks and get it closer.


It started with just a couple of us — going into meetings, always holding onto the nearest Sharpie or Expo marker and as debates and conversations flow in the room, we would respond to what was being said by capturing moments of conversations. At first, things were a simple 1:1 capture of what was said to what went on the board, but now these captures are evolving to include nodes or groupings of like-minded topics and illustrations along with words to create that instant connection to what is being said. By doing this, we are having more active meetings where people are detaching from their laptops so they can take in what is happening on the board and react or go deeper on certain topics. By creating this environment of active participation, everyone has more ownership of the “thing” we are all creating together.


Whether we’re drawing on walls, boards, or paper, people will stop by and ask about the work or process and want to know more. There’s a definite moment of: What’s happening over there? I want to know more about that. I want to learn to draw. What started with a couple of us, is now becoming somewhat of the new normal at COPIOUS.

David Hughes, one of our Strategic Directors, was preparing for a workshop with a client and needed someone to support him in facilitation as the designer. Since it was a shorter-format workshop, I suggested that he could be the designer as well. His first reaction one of: I don’t draw. To which my reaction was: Of course you can, let me show you some basics. Within 15 minutes, David and I were able to go through a few common visual symbols that come up pretty regularly:

A person. A person who is frustrated. Someone with an idea. Someone who wants that idea. Someone looking one way or the other. Someone with their hands up in the air or pointing… and so on.

You then take that and augment it with symbols or drawings that you think might come up relative to the subject matter or client you’ll be working with, and do some practice sketching before the event or workshop. Having a base set in your back pocket will get you started and get you in the game. This is the new go-bag: Have pens and shapes. Will travel.


There is this amazing connection that is happening between those of us who are starting to draw as a part of our workflow. When we’ve finished drawings, we’re proud to show them off to each other. It reminds me of that feeling of drawing when I was a kid, and I would run up to my mom and say, “Look what I drew!” And she would be proud and supportive of what I was working on. The same is happening now as each of us is armed and then inspired by this scrappy visual language we are developing. Every time someone brings over a drawing and says, “Hey, check out this map I drew!” I’m totally proud and excited and want to see more.


Drawing something every day has been a personal commitment of my own for quite some time. But I want to challenge you to do the same thing, no matter your skill or confidence level. Drawing is just another language you can use to communicate with. By practicing every day and committing to ship the work regardless of its state of excellence — either by sharing with friends or Twitter — I have overcome a lot of my own fears of putting my work out there.

So go out and buy good pens and pencils. And just start. No excuses.