Napkin Sketches: a Secret to Software Success - WebINTENSIVE Software
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Napkin sketches

Jun 02, 2015 Napkin Sketches: a Secret to Software Success

You have an idea for a new software system. Of course, thinking about users and features; a marketing strategy and business plan all are important. But here’s a simple, highly effective step that often gets overlooked: make a rough sketch of your software’s workflow. Nothing fancy is needed at this point: just a pen and paper sketch. Pay no mind if your artistic skills don’t quite measure up to Vinci’s.

Here’s how:

  1. Imagine your system’s key user is setting out to perform a task with your software app. She will experience different interactions on pages. For example, sometime she will enter data, other times data will be presented to her. Each of those transactions will be conducted through a feature that in tech-talk is called an “interface.” Often, for ease of use, there will be one interface per page.
  2. Sketch the pages where there will be transactions, indicating the interface that will display on each page. (If there will be more than one interface on a particular page, you might draw that box a little bigger to help legibility.)
  3. Indicate what is supposed to happen in each interface. But don’t spend too much time now worrying over whether an interface will get its own page—that sort of detail gets refined as your project proceeds.
  4. Then draw arrows showing how the user will move from one interface to the next.
  5. Repeat the process for other workflows and/or for other types of system users


This process brings benefits. It helps you:

  • Think through the workflow so you can offer users as streamlined a process as possible.
  • Identify the number and complexity of your system’s interfaces, which is a key to understanding the level of effort in coding your software.
  • Ensure you think of key interfaces and interactions.
  • Generate new ideas to offer users and make your system even more effective.


It’s ideal to then let your sketches sit untouched for a couple of days before revisiting them with a fresh eye.

When you’re pretty happy with them, write up a short description of the software and each interface and share this, and the sketches, with your developer to gain experienced input and initial thoughts on making your vision real.