I don’t draw

I don’t draw.

Okay, that’s not really true: I do do a fair few little scratchy sketches and scrawls, as the need demands – especially when working with clients. But it’s not something I seem to do out of habit any more.

Yet whatever I do (attempt to) do, as sketches, it’s certainly not up to the standard of, say, the excellent all-sketch slidedeck that Hugh Evans used for his Open Group webinar the other day. Let alone anything by Dave Gray, or any of the Sketchnote crew. And when I say that what I do is a scrawl, I mean a scrawl: it works, just about, but that’s all that can be said of it. Oh well.

(Much like my handwriting, I suppose – which really is atrocious, much of the time. Child of two doctors, is my excuse, an’ I’m stickin’ to it! 🙂 )

It’s not that I can’t draw: I spent seven years at art-college, for heavens’ sake, I ought to be able to do it by now! It’s just that I… don’t. And I don’t really know why.

It does take its toll, though. The lack of visual-thinking to back up the thinking really does hinder things a bit. And you know that expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words”? Well, in the absence of pictures, the only option I have is to write a thousand words. Or more. A lot more. Which is one reason why, yeah, I’ll admit I do tend to write kinda long…

On the other side, it takes a long time to do ‘proper drawings’ – formal diagrams in Visio or Omnigraffle or whatever. It’s true that I do do lots of those, but in many cases, they really do each take at least as much time as a thousand words would take to write. In which case, what’s the advantage? – other than the fact that too many people would seemingly slap a TL;DR on anything longer than a few dozen words anyway. Oh well.

But beyond those general frustrations there are two deeper reasons, I suppose.

The first is that the workflows for including real drawings in just about anything electronic are absolutely abysmal. If I do a hand-drawn sketch on anything paper-like, the only way to get it into a blog-post is either to scan it or photograph it, then copy the photo-file onto one or other of the computers (probably involving a change of file-format), clean it up if necessary (and save as another file), resize it down to blog-compatible format (another file-save), then pull it into the blog’s own image-storage. Where I then have to hunt it out from wherever it’s gotten lost in amongst the (to date) well over 500 other image-files stored on the blog, in order to include it in a blog-post that could end up being written on half a dozen different machines by the time it’s actually posted.

(Use of five separate applications to create, edit and move three different files, just for that trivial all-done-in-digital graphic at the top of this post – and seventeen minutes, from start to finish. Not exactly ‘a quick sketch’, then. Oh, and the overall blog-post written on four different machines, in this case: not at all unusual. You want to see where the blogger’s time goes? – well, that’s where it goes…)

Trying to include sketches and other images into slidedecks is almost worse… again, different image-sizes for different uses (on-screen or on-line), all of which have to be saved as different files, that are also different again from the ones that are used for blogs. It’s a mess… – words somehow seem a lot easier!

The other reason is a bit more subtle, but it turns out to be a real show-stopper. What I really want to be able to draw – what I’ve wanted to draw since those days at art-college, and for the most part stopped my drawing dead in its tracks even way back then – is time. Draw how things change, as they change. Not just snapshots in time, or spliced-together slices of time – as in classic film or animation – but change itself, time itself, change in time, change as time.

Sounds abstract? Not at all: in enterprise-architectures, one of the things we most want to be able to depict is changes in time – from as-was to as-is, as-is to to-be, option to option, trade-off to trade-off, strategy to design to implementation to deployment to use and back again, and much more besides. Change in time is everywhere in enterprise-architecture. And we don’t really have any way to describe it, other than in words, or awkward comparisons from one static diagram to another.

Sure, there are various toolsets that sort-of claim to sort-of do perhaps some of this: simulators, for example, or some of the HTML5 graphics-apps. But have you tried using them? The term ‘user-hostile’ comes to mind: by the time we have something that is actually displayable and usable, it would have been much quicker to describe it in text-form, even in several thousand words…

I would love, love, love, to have a toolset that lets me mix text and sketching as ‘equal citizens’ within the same user-interface, and preferably one that makes it easy to add graphics and photos as well.

(There are plenty of iOS and Android apps that claim to do this, of course: I have about a dozen of them already. All I can say is that they’re all almost uniformly awful – and none of them so far will allow me to put the result straight out to a blog, or a book. In short, nice idea, shame it doesn’t actually work…)

Even more, I would love, really love, to have an EA toolset that fully understands the relationship between rough sketch and formal repository, allowing multiple re-use, supporting both informality and formal rigour in multiple notations and multiple frameworks or no framework at all.

(The only toolset I’ve seen that even hinted at that possibility was Phil Beauvoir‘s excellent free Archi desktop-app for Archimate modelling, but even that has come to a halt for now, for lack of funding-support. Oh well.)

All of this should be possible: in fact not even all that hard to do, for someone who knows what they’re doing with code and the like. I’ve explored the underlying issues and requirements often enough on this blog and elsewhere, for several years now – all the core requirements for user-experience and workflow and repository and the rest. I’d do it myself if I had any idea where to start, which these days I don’t – and it does need to be done to professional-level quality anyway, which I definitely don’t know how to do. Sigh.

Which kinda leaves me stuck, sighing.

I don’t draw.

I just wish I could, is all.

Any bright ideas on how to get out of this impasse, anyone?

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10 comments on “I don’t draw
  1. Anthony Draffin says:

    Hi Tom,

    I still advocate Sparx Enterprise Architect as a tool of choice. It allows multiple notations from formal ones to very informal ones. For informal ones you can choose their whiteboard notation, which allows you to drop different objects: squares, circles, arrows etc onto the page. Then when you want to switch over to a formal notation you can choose something like Archimate, UML, SOMF etc. It also allows the concept of “hand drawn” which allows you to change any diagram into an informal notation with rough edges and italic notes and then back again with the click of a button.

    In technical terms the switching between notations can happen quite well with each object sitting in its repository and being able to be changed between notational stereotypes.

  2. Peter Bakker says:

    Hi Tom,

    I can’t draw either and I my handwriting is unreadable (even I fail to read my own notes sometimes). So I sketch and d(r)oodle a lot 🙂

    I was always very very happy using pencil and paper until I wanted to share sketches. Recently I’ve started using Autodesk’s SketchBook Pro (I use it on my Android phone but it is available for multiple platforms) to make the sketching-sharing workflow easier. It takes some time to get use to but it I’m quite happy with the feeling compared to pencil/paper. I draw with my finger so the result is a bit rougher. But the good part is that it can work with layers which makes adding text and reusing images or photos quite simple.

    But perhaps it is already on your long list of “uniformly awful” apps 🙂

  3. Gene Hughson says:

    I sketch constantly when talking with customers and colleagues (some uncharitable types have suggested that hiding my whiteboard pens renders me mute), but like you, I find it tedious getting those sketches into documents/blog posts. One thing that helps is to quit obsessing on the syntax and concentrate on communication (definitely agree with Simon Brown on this). Tailoring the content to your audience is much more important than being “correct” if correctness hides the message. I definitely agree that an architectural animation tool would be very useful – being able to show both behavior over time and structural evolution would be wonderful.

    • I think there is an architecture tool available which is showing behaviour over time and the name is:

      Story Telling

      How boring and yet again how exiting. By that the Architecture story is not a model or an animated series of models (or whatever fancy you can dream of) but instead something which is shared between story teller and audience. And if the story is told good then it gets its own life and by that it becomes a shared story which allows to do insane things noone could have dreamt of.

      Given the fact that this is the tool which has brought mankind from stoneage to now and is by that the most proven tool in the market I wonder why you are searching for another one?

      • Peter Bakker says:

        “Sketching and visualising through drawing is what defines an architect” – Brian Edwards

        Understanding Architecture Through Drawing, second edition:
        http://archive.org/stream/Understanding_Architecture_Through_Drawing_Malestrom#page/n1/mode/2up

        • I am fine with drawing to assist a story (and I was before you posted). 🙂 A good Architect is not drawing (& modelling) alone, (s)he is creating a story for people to use the object already in their dreams as if it was there.

          I think there will never be any better tool in the market than human interaction via communication to create their shared story.

          • Peter Bakker says:

            I totally agree with “I think there will never be any better tool in the market than human interaction via communication to create their shared story.”

            And sketching/drawing is the tool of the architect’s trade to develop & enhance the interaction and the shared story.

            So I don’t think we disagree, we just put the emphasis different 🙂

      • Gene Hughson says:

        I’ve written a fair bit re: architecture as narrative, so I agree that it’s a good tool. By the same token, the day I stop looking for better tools and better methods is the day they shovel dirt in my face. That journey in search of better, not any one stop on the way, is what’s brought mankind from the stone age to now.

        • I agree and I am also seeking for new tools every single day of my life, but I believe that the shared story of a better future (whatever that means in the context) has brought mankind from the stone age to now (by making them look for new tools because of a story).

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