It is the most useful tool a designer can possess, and yet designers are still jumping into digital tools before they consider a classic combo… The pencil and sketchbook.

As Novoda's creative lead, it’s not my job to dictate which tools the design team uses to create their masterpieces. It’s up to the team to democratically decide how they wish to communicate their ideas. But everyone on the team agrees that designing at a paper level is absolutely essential.


Scribbles, as we refer to them at Novoda – to ensure we don't confuse sketches with the Sketch app we use for visual design – are the fastest, simplest way to put together prototypes for reviewing and testing. In fact, we often begin development of native apps using scribbles, sliced up into .png files, as the basis for the developers.

The beauty of working at this level of speed is that we can discover new ideas, fail fast (a buzz phrase for sure, but an essential part of the process) and validate UX concepts with customers at an early stage. Skipping this phase (as some designers are still doing) can drastically increase your time spent figuring out the right design, costing your client or your startup a lot of time and money. Delaying shipping because you’re spending time fussing over the visual aspects of a design before you know if the customer can even use the product, is shortsighted and will often result in a less usable product. That is a disastrous situation, that will ultimately lose you customers.

The pencil is a designer’s trusty sidekick. One that travels with you wherever you go, and always has your back.

My favourite scribbling tools

My preferred tools are listed below. I would never be without them and I have a set of these tools at home, in the office and carried in my bag every day.

Staedtler 3B Pencil

My favourite pencil to draw with is the 3B from Staedtler. Cheap, solid, and the 3B softness is easily erased but dark enough to photograph well for sharing with others on Basecamp.

Derwent A4 Sketchbook

There’s really very little that is unique about this sketchbook and there are many other similarly-priced brands available. The thing I love about it is the 110gsm cartridge paper. Thick enough to have a satisfying feel, but not so thick you feel precious about scribbling quickly - a good balance. It works as well with pen as it does with pencil.

Uni Pin Fine line 0.3 Pens

These pens feel great when drawing and I often use them to draw the final line over my pencil work so it stands out in photos. Some people enjoy working with different thicknesses, and I do sometimes switch to 0.2 or even 0.1 for a finer line.

UI Stencils Pixel Ruler

This is a great tool. No more using millimetres on a ruler to do measurements. Ok, I know this is utterly non-essential, but it really is a handy tool and I find myself using it daily. Mainly to ensure all my drawings have a fundamentally similar size so when they’re easy to work with when I slice them for development prototypes. Plus it’s super cool and looks great on your desk.

Dot Grid Sketchbook

This is a bit of a luxury to be fair. A £22.99 (With free UK delivery!) sketchbook is quite over the top and many other grid sketchbooks exist for far less. But I love this book for working on the detailing of small icon designs or lettering ideas that I want to see on a grid.

“But I can’t draw!”

So what? An ability to draw beautifully is not a requirement when scribbling down wireframes. None of our scribbles are works of art. In fact in some cases, they can be an absolute monstrosity of pencil or Sharpie lines criss-crossing over themselves. The only thing we ensure with our scribbles, is that the message of the journey is clear. A button looks somewhat like a button ie it’s a box or circle with perhaps a scribble of an icon or text, or maybe we’ll surround it with a coloured pen. They don’t always end up being the concepts we go with, which is why we scribble. To ensure that if we put a button in the wrong place we have only wasted moments of our time, rather than hours or days.


Just have fun

The great thing about scribbling your ideas is that it's fun. This is personally my favourite part of the design process. It's the place we have the most freedom to quickly try new ideas and collaborating over a whiteboard or sketchbook is really satisfying. Make the most of this step, for it is here that you will be at your most creative and form the basis of what will become your successful product.