When the Vision is FuzzyIBM Speculative Sketches

IBM Speculative Social Business Sketches

I have noticed a trend with our client work lately around our core creative and conceptual tool- the pencil sketch. We are primarily known for using this craft to help form the concept before we package a content piece or a solution offering with a polished render in the form of an infographic or an interactive or animated visual explanation. However, when push comes to shove, especially when we are working with a startup or a large enterprise ready to roll out a new solution there is not agreement in our client’s team what is exactly the point of the solution.

In this case, the incredibly versatile pencil sketch serves a different role.

Can I Have Some Crystallization Please?

When the “fuzzy” signals start to surface, we then turn the project on its head (with our client’s agreement of course) to less of a marketing project to an ideation project. Better yet, in the pre-sales cycle, we manage expectations that the end product in fact is going to be a pencil sketch or a storyboarded pencil sketch. The business goal is to  force conclusion with all stakeholders on both the point and the value of the idea at hand. And the pencil sketch serves us very well.

After reviewing reference materials and holding a kickoff session, we find the conversations become the most productive when everyone is looking at pencil sketch iterations. It becomes very clear very quickly whether we have deemphasized or overemphasized certain points or the analogy is serving the point and reflects the sophistication of the audience the offering is intended for.


Storyboard Showing New Kiosk Approach to Explain Financing Terms

Iterate, Iterate and Iterate

And there is something psychological about the roughness of the pencil sketch that encourages creative thought. On the flip side, a polished digital render complete with all brand cues discourages change and of course is practically an inefficient way to handle iterations. But the glorious pencil sketch seems to cry out:

“change me, refine me and bring me to that ah-hah moment so my viewers get me and get me quickly.

And a lot of powerful things are going on during this iteration process. The client is coming to terms with an implicit analogy that is informative and provocative while not insulting the knowledge-level of its audience. And the actual specifics of the offering are also being worked out or refined as the pencil sketch steps one through the process or shows the relationships in a strategic ecosystem of tools and services or highlights through data visualization the quantified value delivered or all of the above. The business approach is literally forming as we go through iteration.

Pencil Sketch Ideas for Infographics


Transformative Health Model Sketch

Internal Buy-In – The Stakes are High

In some cases the stakes are quite high and there are significant expectations placed on the final pencil sketches. We work with product development and ideation agencies and client ideation departments and they are looking to get the new idea or offering green-lighted with management and backed with budget to take to market.

Our clients are emotionally attached to the idea and they have spent a lot of time in developing it and are convinced of its merits and are anxiously looking forward to the rewards it will offer to their business and to them personally on a professional development level. And they know that even the best idea – if not framed correctly – can be misunderstood. And based on an incorrect understanding, great ideas do not receive approval to move forward.

Pencil Sketch Ideas for Infographics

Dun and Bradstreet Innovation Lab Ideation Sketches

Pencil Sketch Gives an Extra Kicker in Ideation Phase

So I will get back on my soap box as I do with marketing and research communication that if you really, really, really care about your marketplace getting you when you go to market, they why would not put your best foot forward and leverage the craft of information design to bring your audience into a state of shared understanding and engagement. And of course I see no reason why not to place the same care to get your audience on your same vision in the ideation phase.

In fact there is an extra kicker here as the pencil sketch not only allows you to put your best visual foot forward to get buy-in, it also serves as the most effective means to crystalizing your vision to get your whole team onboard for the ride and excited about the future with your new idea.

Not bad for a humble pencil sketch, eh?

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