Scenario Sketching Technique

When it comes to communicating design scenarios I’ve tried everything from dense written narrative to full on video. It depends on the project, but lately I’ve been gravitating toward simple storyboards that provide a balance between text and image. They generally involve a basic visual narrative accompanied by captions that carry more detail. The images illustrate touchpoints and environmental details and show how a persona might interact with a service.

The technique I’m writing about today leverages existing photographs as the starting point for creating scenario sketches in Adobe Photoshop. Sketches are a great way to communicate the unfinished nature of an idea in its early stages, but not everyone is comfortable wielding a pencil. This is an easy way to produce a set of convincing hand-drawn images very quickly, regardless of whether or not you know how to sketch.

In the hallowed tradition of service design literature, I’ve cobbled together a hypothetical corner shoeshine scenario to demonstrate the general sketching technique. Normally a scenario would include many more frames and captions, but this will give you the basic idea. Introduce the persona, show some touchpoints, set the scene and start illustrating service encounters.

Here’s my pencil sketch tutorial. It explains how to combine several Photoshop filters to produce the effect. Things may seem a little convoluted at first glance, but with the proper actions in place you can spit out a sketch in under a minute. I’ve put together full scenarios in the course of an afternoon.

What I love about this technique is that I can combine photos from multiple sources without worrying about the photos matching. The sketches obscure differences in color and detail so the photos don’t even need to use the same model or location. I regularly mix stock photos with Flickr Creative Commons photos and then fill in the gaps with my own camera.

The pencil sketching technique has worked pretty well for me but I’ve been experimenting with a new effect that approximates traditional marker sketches. These sketches are more difficult to produce but I think they’re a nice alternative. Here’s the marker sketch tutorial as it stands now.

If you want to try this out with your own photos, I recommend resizing them to 150dpi first. Start with photos that are twice as large as the final sketches. Good luck! Let me know if you have ideas for improvement.

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