My favorite hand-drawing resources


I’m on a quest to be better at hand-drawn visual communication. I think of the subject as “chunks” I need to master:

  • Communicating abstract concepts visually
  • Hand lettering
  • People and objects in context
  • UI sketching

Here are some resources I’ve found fun/memorable/useful. Several of them cover more than one of the areas of mastery I mention above, so I have not categorized them.

Sketching Across the Design Process, Ray DeLaPena

Ray’s workshop at Lean UX NYC 2013 strongly influenced the way I think about the different contexts of sketching: “thinking,” “talking,” and “showing.”

Kate Rutter, Strategic Sketcher at Intelleto

My friend Kate Rutter creates and shares amazing resources. If you get a chance to attend a workshop or hear hear speak at an event, do it!

Hand Lettering Ledger, Mary Kate McDevitt

Although you might think that hand-lettering is just the territory of graphic designers and illustrators, I think it’s great for any hand-sketcher to have a couple different hand-printed fonts in their toolkit. The book has great examples and loads of different worksheets, so buy it on paper and practice, practice, practice!

The Sketchnote Handbook, Mike Rohde

This book is worth getting on paper. It’s printed on nice paper and bound well so it’s a pleasure to read. The electronic version is not as satisfying.

The “Back of the Napkin” series from Dan Roam

I first saw Dan Roam at SxSW 2010 when he launched “The Back of the Napkin.” He now has a several books and tons more resources on his site.


The VizThink folks are an international community. They have interesting events and good resources.

Quick, Useful UI Sketches, Lane Halley (that’s me!)

I’ve pulled together my current thinking about UI sketching in a workshop. I use a technique I call “reverse wireframing” to teach you to see the structure of UIs and through a series of exercises, you’ll create your personal shorthand to draw UI elements.

Good luck, and please leave comments with your favorite resources!

Free resources to hone your design skills

If 2013 was the year of code, let’s make 2014 the year of design. Here is a list of free resources that can help you develop and improve your design skills, delivered right to your inbox!

Hack Design

HackDesign is “An easy to follow design course for people who do amazing things.” Sign up to get a new design lesson in your inbox each week, hand crafted by a design pro.

Design for Hackers

Design for Hackers teaches the principles of good visual design to programmers, developers, and makers of any kind. Each email from the 12-week course is based upon a chapter of Design for Hackers. You can buy Design for Hackers as a companion book for the course, or just get the emails for free. There’s also a Facebook page where people in the program connect.


Gibbon makes “playlists for learning. Almost all the knowledge is available on the web, all you need is someone to guide you to it.” Specify how much time you want to dedicate per week and the topics you’re interested in and it will send you a list of links in email each week. Topics include design, development and business.


I look forward to the myFonts Newsletter because it’s always a great source of inspiration and education about fonts and the designers who create them.

The Smashing Newsletter

I consider the Smashing Newsletter a must-read for any Web designer. It’s a great way to track hot topics and emerging trends in Web design.


Most UX people are aware of Jared Spool through his writing, speaking and event hosting. When you subscribe to the UIE Newsletter you get UIEtips mailings which contain useful free content, in addition to announcements of paid virtual seminars and events.

If you know a great resource not on this list, please leave a note in the comments. Thanks!

Top books from 2013

When Media Contour asked me to contribute to a year-end wrap up of favorite books, I was happy to participate. I’ve re-posted my selection below. You can check out the full post here which also includes lists from fellow Cooperista Chris Noessel and LA friends Kai Gradert and Jod Kaftan.

Q: What are you currently reading?

I read a lot and hardly ever finish one book before I start another. Here are several favorites from the top of the stack.

Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us Into Temptation by Chris Nodder
The practice of User Experience design requires an understanding people and their motivations. In this well-written book, abundantly illustrated with examples, Chris examines how the seven deadly sins (Pride, Sloth, Gluttony, Anger, Envy, Lust and Greed) form a framework for understanding human behavior and provides 57 design patterns to make the insight actionable. I’m savoring this book a chapter at a time, because I’m taking so many notes about ideas I want to test in my current projects. I do most of my reading on my iPad or Kindle, but I made an exception for this book because It’s beautifully produced and a pleasure to read on paper.

Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty by David Kadavy
David is the author of famous and funny blog posts including “Why you hate comic sans.” I work with a lot of people who don’t have a design background. When they ask me “what’s an accessible book about design?” I love recommending David’s book because he’s such a clear thinker and good writer. He also has done a great job building a community of learning around this book. You can connect with David and other readers of the book on his Facebook page.

Earlier this year, I also enjoyed jQuery for Designers: A Beginner’s Guide by Natalie MacLees. Natalie is a pillar of our local WordPress community. It’s great to see some of her wisdom captured in print. If you enjoy working through cookbook-style tutorials, and have a basic understanding of css and html, following the chapters of this book will give you a great basic understanding of the mechanics of jQuery for use in your next Web design project. I am grateful to Natalie for making this subjct approchable enough I could tackle it in a couple weekend.

Q: What’s up next on your reading list? Why?

I have a huge stack of technical books I plan to skim or reference in the next year. Here are a couple that I’m reading for fun.

The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun
I started getting more interested in WordPress this past year. I’ve been self-hosting my WordPress blog “The Apprentice Path” since 2010. After attending WordCamp LA In September I started to realize the greater potential of the platform and was impressed with the culture and community that surrounds WordPress. I picked up Scott’s book to learn more about how things work behind the scenes at Automattic. I also had the pleasure of seeing Scott speak at the Warm Gun conference in San Francisco a couple weeks ago. You can see a summary of his talk on his blog

I’m really excited to see that Mary and Tom Poppendieck have a new book “The Lean Mindset: Ask the Right Questions” Everyone who is interested in “Lean Startup” or “Lean UX” or “Lean” anything will do themselves a HUGE favor by going back to the source and reading Mary and Tom’s writings about Agile and Lean Software Development.

Q: What is your favorite book and why? What are the key takeaways?

Am I allowed to say “my sketchbook?” What, you mean a PUBLISHED book? OK then.

I had to think carefully about which books I’ve read more than once. And then I noticed “101 Things I Learned in Architecture School” by Matthew Frederick on the shelf near my desk. This small, lovely and useful book is a collection if thoughts and practices drawn from architecture and relevant to many other disciplines. Sometimes when I am stuck for an idea (or procrastinating!) I flip it open at random and find just the answer I need.

Best wishes for the new year, and Keep Reading!

Getting ready for LSM

I’m attending Lean Startup Machine this weekend. Participants were selected via application. At the event we’ll pitch ideas and form small teams of people with business, tech and design skills. (Hooray for cross-functional and collaborative teams!) We’ll learn Lean Startup methods by doing customer discovery and making things together. The program runs Friday night through Sunday eve and there are prizes at the end for the best projects.

I want to get the most out of the experience so I am preparing for it. One aspect is establishing what I personally want to get out of the event. Here’s my objective.

I’m agnostic about the platform and idea I work on this weekend. What matters to me is:
– The team has a good mix of skills
– The team plays well together
– The idea we’re working with is relevant to people who are easily accessable this weekend

LSM participants have many different skill sets and personal objectives. I can’t assume they know me, or anything about what I do. Because of my own objectives, It matters to me that I attract compatible working partners. I created this brief bio and shared it with the group list before the event. It was hard to write because a) in this context, I’m a learner not an expert and b) I do have something to offer and don’t want to under-sell myself. This is what I shared with the group.

Here’s why you would be interested in working with me:
– I am a UXer with big experience and a small ego
– I am great at finding people to talk to and listening to them
– I make quick, lightweight concept sketches (pen/paper)
– I help teams quickly generate ideas and decide on a course of action

My other form of prep is research. I’m reading books and blogs and watching videos. I am trying to figure out “what is lean startup?” “how does it work? “who are the thought leaders?” “where are the examples of people’s experiences with it?”


  • The Lean Startup movement is young, decentralized and experiential/evolving.
  • Eric Ries identifies it as a movement, not a method or process, and acknowledges participation from prior art and other contributors. (Kent Beck/XP/agile, Steve Blank/Customer Development)
  • It draws on a large existing body of information that requires the learner to know “prior art” or be able to dig back to understand it (e.g. some knowledge of agile terms and practices is assumed).
  • There’s a LOT of amazing great stuff out there if you can find it.


  • As a person newly interested in the movement, I’ve needed to figure out who are the people who are relevant, then do a lot of research into their blogs/videos (and a little into tech press) to figure out what matters.
  • A lot of the conversation is happening on lists, and at conference proceedings (which aren’t always very well documented)
  • There’s a lot of cross-checking involved (e.g. watching a video, the speaker will reference something I need to go follow up)

What’s useful

  • I find Eric Ries’ “talking head” videos about “what is Lean Startup” “What is a MVP” etc, very helpful. Some of them are informal, some of them are a little more produced, but they’re great for linking/sending to people to say “see, this is what I mean…”
  • I’ve found SocratED helpful, because it pulls together some of these distributed resources in a curated way.
  • I’m finding delicious somewhat helpful, mostly to track my own progress, but somewhat to find other links tagged “lsm” and “lean startup.”
  • Quora hasn’t been very helpful to me yet. Still trying to figure out how to use it effectively.

I’ll post some more impressions after the event, watch this space!

Maturing a Practice

@jaremfan (Boon Yew Chew) referred me to this paper. I had a little trouble processing the information because of the dense academic language, however it seems that the authors recommend “practice led research” (PLR) to transform the “seemingly inherent and natural acts found in casual practice into the formal arrangement of accepted truths and regulated practices of a discipline for user experience design (UXD) and information architecture (IA) communities of practice.”

Hobbs, Fenn and Resmini would like to see more rigor applied to the disciplines of UXD and IA.“…this paper presents an examination of the field of user experience design (UXD) in general, and information architecture (IA) in particular. We note that although the field is comprised of numerous fields and communities of practice and that it benefits from the theoretical inheritance of related disciplines (it is multi-disciplinary in nature) collectively it lacks the benefits associated with an institutionalized discipline of its own. They are concerned that “... the present community of practice is characterized by an abundance of know-how and opinion, which is in fact a threat, and a disservice to the larger benefit experienced as a result of applying UXD.”

The author’s opinion is that in order to mature, the practice of UXD must become more formalized. “Through an exploration (and some definition) of practice and discipline we come to understand the benefits to be gained from maturing the community of practice of UXD to that of an institutionalized discipline. Scholarly research and the creation of scientifically validated knowledge is a key element in this process of maturation.”

To accomplish this, the authors recommend that designers take more responsibility for rigor in their work and adapt design methods to “identify and explicate knowledge, theories and practices.” They want us to bring our dialog within academic channels, instead of the Web (newsgroups, blogs, etc.) They believe there is an opportunity to create a structure of scientific validity around design practices that can benefit the both the design profession and the individual work of designers.

There were several aspects of the paper that I found helpful/interesting:

  • There’s a good overview of the UXD/IA space, including a diagram of Morville’s “Big Architect, Little Architect” view of information architecture and related fields and Boersma’s T-model of user experience.
  • There’s some good background on Communities of Practice (COP) and an interesting thought about how they evolve.

“A community of practice (COP) is usually a group of people who are united by their interest in a particular field of knowledge. …COP’s are natural and powerful resources for learning and knowledge (Verna, 2000:4) and take place in reference to the “real execution of work” (Brown, in Verna, 2000:4). According to Etienne Wenger, communities of practice:

  • are nodes for the exchange and interpretation of information (2008: 5);
  • are fundamentally self- organizing systems. (2008: 3);
  • reflect the member’s own understanding of what is important and what their practice is about. They are organised around what matters to members as opposed to business interests. (2008: 4);
  • are mostly informal (2008: 3);
  • exist within businesses, across business units and across organisational boundaries. (2008: 4);
  • are areas of knowledge as opposed to particular tasks; they have an identity and facilitate a shared practice and collective learning. (2008: 3);
  • can retain knowledge tacitly and explicitly and steward competencies, (2008: 6);
  • exist in a number of stages. (2008: 3).

The authors believe that the current state of UXD practice is on the verge of moving from casual (practice-led) to a more formal professional discipline, although I feel they are somewhat disparaging about the activities they mention.

“In UXD, a move from casual practice towards institutionalization has emerged in recent years. Examples of this shift include the establishment of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the Interaction Design Association (IxDA). Published thought leaders exist, although remarkably a number of them do not self-identify as either information architects or user experience designers. Specialist publishers like O’Reilly and Rosenfeld Media are printing for the practice but their offer does not qualify as either academic or scientific. Similarly, a vast body of content, largely available on the World Wide Web and the Internet, provides the practitioner with a literally endless body of know-how for use in design practice, but little of this is of scientific interest, and often dispersed. Perhaps the most significant development of late has been the creation of the peer-reviewed Journal of Information Architecture.”

So, how can this be remedied? The authors suggest that we develop processes by which the intermediate artifacts of the design process can be validated (it’s unclear to me who they are suggesting do this, perhaps by academic researchers?)

“Within newer fields of design practice such as UXD and IA a high proportion of the knowledge is embedded in the artifacts which are the result of the design process. This differs from established fields of practice that contain a strong sense of disciplinary identity such as Law, where a large quantity of the knowledge resides in textual accounts. The codification of the knowledge contained in a field guides practitioners in terms of the expectations and limits of the field.”

Next, the authors discuss how practitioners could partner with researchers (e.g. “practice led research”) to communicate their hypothesis as well as their results.

“In practice-led research (PLR), the artifact has a central position in the academic research process. In PLR, ‘articulation and dissemination of the research findings take place both through the product of making [the artifact] and established means: these are seen as dialogical, interrelated and iterative (Faber, 2009). Practice informs knowledge which reciprocally informs practice.”

“PLR, although variously defined, can be considered to be a ‘self-reflexive’ form of research where:

  • the artist / designer / creative practitioner provides a rigorous critical analysis of their work, positioning it within broader contextual / theoretical / historical / discursive research paradigms;
  • articulation of the processes involved in making the product of research form an important part of the research findings;
  • articulation and dissemination of the research findings takes place both through the product of making and established academic means. These are seen as dialogical and interrelated (Faber, 2009:7).”

As a practical matter, this concept of using PLR to advance the formalization of our practice would require us to overcome some pretty significant obstacles:

  • UXD combines elements of graphic design, architecture, anthropology, industrial design, library science, ergonomics and marketing. That’s a pretty big collection of topics to gather into one practice or framework.
  • Most UXD and IA practitioners are not used to writing or scholarly articles, or interacting with the academic community.
  • There are issues of confidentiality and intellectual property (IP) in much of a designer’s work.
  • The objectives of design research and particular design process chosen for a given project (which are now often informal at best) would need to be re-framed to include new objectives to support the academic research element.

The authors have a certain realism about this issue, stating “The kind of self reflective documenting of process as recommended by PLR may very well not extend beyond a project post mortem or case study, if they are created at all, and often these kinds of documents are not part of the act of making but rather after-thoughts queued onto the end of a project.” But they also rather wistfully add, “The space of documenting-while-designing, recording learning’s, feelings, meanings, decisions, measuring effectiveness and documenting contextual factors while on a project could provide a wealth of knowledge for the practicing community and could provide greater validation for the methods, tools and techniques of the field.”

Reflecting on this paper, I am left with a few thoughts:

  • I agree that we can learn from more “real world” stories and case studies. I’ve participated in the call to create them, and made my own work available in this format. I think that boiling down our learnings into patterns and proofs is actually counterproductive. We need context to be able to understand and determine the appropriateness of a particular solution to our situation. I’ve yet to find a design pattern library or process diagram that could be used for more than just a starting point for ideas.
  • As a person who coaches interaction designers and has taught interaction design practices for many years, I realize that there are many methods to produce good work, different methods work for different people and different situations require different approaches. I am skeptical that we are able to produce a system anything like the legal or scientific system which can be governed by rules, guidelines and absolutes.
  • I am more conscious and self-reflective about my process than most designers I know. The times I’ve tried to share what works for me in a professional or academic environment I’ve been stymied by the formality of the process. If the academic community is interested in hearing our voices, how are they reaching out to our communities to create these partnerships for publication?

Advertising and brief-based training

@ifenn pointed me towards the School of Communication Arts, a fee-based mentorship program for the advertising field.

“The style of learning at the school is andragogical – our students take on a huge part of the responsibility for the learning experience. They behave as if employed in a studio. They pitch for business. They work on real briefs. In many ways, we simulate the culture and patterns of their working future.”

The Shillington School also offers learning through theory and hands-on experience working from briefs under real-world timelines. The focus of the program is to help students produce a portfolio.

I believe that learning through real work is more effective (and more enjoyable), however I’m on the fence about how much it matters that the work be self-originated. I’ve created and delivered a brief-based materials for teaching design studio sessions. This was appropriate for teaching skills in a workshop format to a group of people because it fit in a workshop format of a few hours. It was also helpful for the group to share and learn from each others’ results.

When working one-on-one over a longer term mentoring relationship, I’ve found that it’s better to have the person I’m working with find a domain of interest that they felt passion for, and build the program of activities that help them gain the skills they need related to that space. I think that this leads to more engagement in the problems, because it’s more real, and it also leads to ideas that can tie into meaningful work as they pursue employment.