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Opportunity Sketches

Exploring Opportunities Through Sketches

Method: Sketching | Deliverable: Opportunity Sketch

Opportunity sketches are rough drawings that allow us to explore ideas and concepts in a quick, simple way. Far from full-fledged layouts, these quick sketches help us visualize high-level concepts and ideas that a team will explore later in the project. 

Opportunity sketches are used early in the design process to communicate  “what if” scenarios to everyone on the project team. Rough sketches give a project team a chance to fail fast and discover opportunities — hence their name, opportunity sketches.

ZURBians sketching together during a   brainstorm session.
A sketch session.

Guide Objective 

The guide objective of this section is to generate opportunity sketches that encourage design  discussions.

Goals of an Opportunity Sketch 

The goal of an opportunity sketch is to visualize rough ideas so they can be shared with people on the project team. It’s thinking aloud, but on paper. Opportunity sketches don’t always look like an interface element or a page. They’re mental notes used for inspiring the team and influencing the product strategy. Not all of them make the cut.

Additional goals include: 

  • Create a breadth of “what if” scenarios to shape the product or service direction and build  confidence in design constraints. 
  • Inspire ideas that create impact and use visualizations to align a project team around  possibilities. 
  • Encourage collaboration and discussion with stakeholders, teammates, and design leads  to drive towards ideation.


Think of an opportunity sketch as an illustrated question. Each sketch represents a focused idea  that could improve a product. Opportunities can be used immediately in an iteration cycle or serve as a reference for a future release.  

Opportunity sketches should help us discuss questions.

Example questions these sketches pose: 

  • How are we addressing the current problems of the existing product? 
  • Is this idea possible with the current technology? 
  • Does this opportunity fit within the product’s mission and goal? 
  • Will this help ease the user’s workflow, or make it more complicated? 
  • Are we providing something that’s actually useful, or is it more form than function?

Good opportunity sketches create conversations.

These conversations help us balance the business goals, user needs and technical constraints.

A Venn Diagram of user needs, business needs and technical possibilities.
  • Opportunity sketches help us visualize rough ideas so we can share them with our project  team, stakeholders and customers. 
  • Sketching helps us see the problems together.
  • Opportunity sketches visualize talking points that enable the right conversations. 
  • Dedicate time to working through many quick ideas with sketches that communicate  “what if” scenarios. 
  • Opportunity sketches are meant for socializing and soliciting reactions. It’s thinking aloud,  but on paper, like a doodle. 
  • Before we can solve customer problems we need to understand them.

Opportunity sketches are disposable.

Keep sketches loose so you can build off ideas early in a project.

  • Good sketches are a glimpse at what might be, not what you definitely plan to create. 
  • Use sketches early in a project’s development. 
  • Create sketches fast because many of them get thrown away. 
  • Like quick ideas, not all of them make the cut. Expect to throw away a lot of the sketches. 
  • Sketch and think at the same time to reduce the burden of creating ideas.

Quick sketches give us the chance to fail fast and discover opportunities quicker.

A few quick opportunity sketches.
  • Don’t spend too much time on any one idea. Get your thoughts on paper and move on. 
  • The more ideas you work through, the sooner you’ll eliminate mundane ideas and discover real gems. 
  • Think in tiny little snippets. Each sketch should take a couple minutes. 
  • You’ll want 20 to 30 per session, and expect to have several rounds. 
  • Opportunity sketches don’t always look like an interface element or a page. 
  • Don’t think in terms of layout. Rather, think about what features would help a product  achieve its goals. 
  • Sift through the ideas to watch for common ideas that help us frame the problems we want  to solve. 
  • Organize the sketches into a procession of thoughts that feed into each other rather than  discussing ideas in random order.

Leaders should inspire their team to visually express their ideas.

Discuss ideas on paper. No one will be stressed out because the criticism isn’t directed at any one person.  

  • Expressing ideas can be stressful for your team because people will internalize criticism. 
  • Focus on a volume of ideas to reduce the natural instinct to fall in love with a single idea. This will also help remove the sting from rejecting any one idea. 
  • Bring the team sketches together to remove individual silos, promote collaboration, and build on ideas.


Each sketch should surface a single opportunity and thought on paper. A sketch is a question in the form of a sketch. The goal is to get all questions and ideas on paper and quickly encourage design discussions.  

When you begin sketching you should give yourself a set amount of time to get through a defined  number of opportunities. Create an abundance of sketches, even if you don’t show them all to ensure you have got the best ideas out on paper.  

For example: Review the product you are designing and assess what you have learned thus far. Turn any ideas and questions you have into sketches. Give  yourself an hour to sketch 20-30 opportunities (give yourself only a minute or 2 on each  and don’t overthink it!) 

Grab a stack of white or templated paper and a sharpie. Don’t worry about sketching UI elements for opportunity sketches, focus more on the concept and how that can be visualized in a way that doesn’t restrain the idea to a UI component.  

For example: You want to sketch the concept of a global search, instead of sketching a  search box you could draw a globe with a magnifying glass. You can be playful with these  and bring in sketches of people to help express your idea or question.


Various opportunities explored through sketching.

You can also explore opportunities in Helio. This testing template makes it easy to explore all the opportunities with your actual audience.

Whitespace Opportunities Test

Dig into your target audience’s needs to discover the unknown and take advantage of new whitespace opportunities.

Use this template for:

  • Product Development
  • Learning your audience’s needs allows you to expand your platforms in ways that increase user engagement
  • Discover what challenges have not yet been solved for your audience
Use Template

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