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Sharpies: Our greatest communication tools

The nuts and bolts: The sharpie marker is a low fidelity tool to visualize screen interfaces without having to focus on element details.

A Sharpie is a thick pen — a marker, really — that we use to communicate ideas before spending time with code or Photoshop.

We use Sharpies daily. We do it almost out of habit. Explaining an idea? Get a Sharpie and a sheet of paper. Need to annotate something so you don’t forget? Sharpie and paper. Packaging thank-you cards or decorating t-shirt tubes? Sharpie and paper. It’s not only part of what we do here at Helio every day — it’s part of who we are.

All of our projects begin with quick Sharpie sketches on paper. Because many of the sketches are rough, disposable thoughts, Sharpies’ thick tips keep us from nit-picking details before we’ve discovered ideas that deserve more attention.

Brand-name Sharpies are practical, effective and fast

For our sketches, we simply use Sharpie Fine Point, Permanent Marker, black color. They dry fast, resist water and food spills, and are easy to read from a distance. We particularly like them because:

  • They’re easy — If you can hold a pen you can certainly use a sharpie.
  • They taper — Sharpies’ wide nibs taper to points, making them very versatile when necessary.
  • They’re thick — Sharpies are thick enough to allow a controlled line with some boldness to it, but not fine enough that would allow you to add a lot of detail.
  • They’re enduring — You don’t have to worry about running out of ink, sharpening them or running out of batteries.

Sharpie sketches are great when we need speed

We do a lot of brainstorming to open up problems early in the design process. To that end we have different types of sketches.

  • Opportunity sketches — Really rough ideas on the paper that keep the fidelity low and the concepts and ideas high!
  • Ideation sketches — UI elements and controlled ideas and concepts.
  • Lo-fi sketches — Layouts and ui elements that have a specific order and require a bit more detail.
  • Random content — We use sharpies on our day-to-day work for pretty much anything from a note on paper to a scribble or doodle.