Drawing On Ideas – Getting The Right Design

So, after my previous posts, we’re now at the ‘widest part’ of the design funnel. Armed with a ton of different ideas to solve your design challenge, you’ll have maximised your chance of picking out the best one.

But now it’s time to narrow the funnel so you can focus on turning these ideas into designs that are most likely to hit the spot.

Idea curator

After your brainstorm, work through each idea one by one and assess how it could solve the problem in relation to your goals and user research.

You may want to involve a couple of other people; designers, developers, product managers etc. to help you work through and rationalise in terms of current technical limitations or time constraints.

By the end of this session you’ll want to end up with a handful of ideas to develop into final designs.

Realise ideas through sketching

Design is all about communication and ‘sketching’ is the cheapest way of playing with and communicating early ideas without getting bogged down. Traditionally, people think of layout pads and pencils when they hear the word sketching but it could be anything; jotting down notes, scrappy diagrams on the back of a napkin or on a whiteboard.

The main thing is to get the ideas down as quickly as possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re not the best artist in the world either – it’s actually no bad thing to have something rough and ready, just as long as you understand it.

A sketch of a section of the query builder tool I’ve been working on for dotMailer. I like to scribble stuff into my Moleskine notebook so that it stays with me wherever I go. I use a gel pen so that the sketches are permanent and I don’t lose work.

Embrace the disposable nature of this early design work. It doesn’t matter if you throw this quick stuff away if it’s not right but it does matter if you throw away hours of Photoshop work.

A rough sketch idea for the new dotMailer overview page. If the design isn’t working, just draw another version and continue to refine designs from one stage to the next.

It’s also really important not to feel restricted to an existing way of doing something. Be inquisitive and challenge the status quo – colour outside the lines!

There may be a more effective solution than what current wisdom dictates. This is how design moves forward.


Sketching is a personal design tool, great for exploring ideas in visual form.  Sketches are not something that you would usually present to stakeholders because they require the designers imagination to fully understand.

However, there’s often a time when as a designer you want to communicate early ideas to key stakeholders. Presentation designs are all about including enough detail for someone else to understand what the designer intended while still leaving enough space if you need to make refinements further down the line.

Presenting a finished-looking design is a sure-fire way for a stakeholder to assume it is ‘finished’ – even if you throw in the “this is just a draft I chucked together” caveat. It might be too early to discuss the exact shade of a button for example.

A presentation piece for the upcoming dotMailer overview page. This time we’ve added the design work into the existing page surround to give it some context. We’ve printed it out because the tactile nature of a print is sometimes more effective for group discussion. You can also stick it on the wall for your colleagues to muse over.

By the time you come to present designs to stakeholders, you’ll usually have narrowed them down to no more than five designs that you deem to be the most effective solutions to meet the goals you set out to achieve.

At dotMailer we often redraw the designs or work them up in a tool such as Axure. We then use pantone marker pens to dress up the drawings and add block colour and shade to demonstrate classification and hierarchy of elements on a page. The intentions of the design are clear to stakeholders and you can then talk through the details, leaving enough to the imagination.

Getting the right design, and the design right

So after playing with ideas, experimenting and narrowing down to a final solution through sketching, you’ve now got the right design. Next time we’ll be looking at getting the design right through rapid prototyping.

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