Jake Knapp

Four-Step Sketch

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90 +1 - 12 Low
The four-step sketch is an exercise that helps people to create well-formed concepts through a structured process that includes:
  1. Review key information
  2. Start design work on paper, 
  3. Consider multiple variations,
  4. Create a detailed solution.

This exercise is preceded by a set of other activities allowing the group to clarify the challenge they want to solve. See how the Four Step Sketch exercise fits into a Design Sprint


Additional info

Brief outline:

1. Take notes: Ask participants to walk around the room, look at all the write-ups and drawings from the previous activities. Look up any references needed and note down everything they find important. (20 mins)

2. Note down ideas: Get people to look at the notes they took and ask them to turn things into a little more tangible form by drawing sketches from their notes. (20 mins)

3. Crazy 8s: This is a fast-paced exercise where everyone rapidly sketches eighth variations of their ideas (1 minute per sketch - overall 8 mins)

All the notes and sketches created so far are only for individual warm-up and not to be shared with the group. The last step is the one where everyone creates 

4. Solution sketch: Everyone takes time individually to put their best idea on paper in details. (30 minutes). These sketches will be shared with the team and voted upon in subsequent activities.


Produce well-formed solutions sketches and ideas to solve a product/service challenge.




    The four steps of this exercise help participants to “boot up” by reviewing all key information, get their creative juices flowing by starting design work on paper, consider multiple variations, and then taking time to create a detailed solution. 


    In order to use this exercise effectively, you need to already have a set of activities completed with the group in which you clarified the key challenges you want to solve.


    1. Notes

    Everyone takes a clipboard, A4 papers and a pen. Give 20 minutes to walk around the room, look at everything stuck up on the walls and just copy down everything. (HMWs, Long-term goals, sprint questions, etc.)

    The goal here is to collect everything that is around you on the wall and sketch things down. Don't try to make anything new just copy the things down.


    • A way to start this: Have everyone write down the long-term goal and the questions. (in case you are doing a Design Sprint)
    • Encourage people to not to be neat, the notes are just for themselves.
    • They may also look into reference materials on their phones and laptops - this is the only part of the exercise where devices may be used.

    2. Ideas

    Get people to look at the notes they took and ask them to turn things into a little more tangible form by drawing sketches from their notes. Give another 20 minutes for this.

    The sketches people draw from their notes don't need to be beautiful, it just needs to be a start. The purpose is that this sketching will help them to move toward the final sketching. As long as everyone is thinking and writing stuff on paper, the group is a on a good track.

    Again, these ideas and messy sketches are not to be shared within the group.

    When people finished, give them an extra three minutes to review and circle their favourite ideas. And the next step they will work on refining those.

    3. Crazy 8's

    Take an idea from the previous sketches and make some iterations by drawing that idea 8 different times. (Use a sheet of paper divided into 8 squares.) Spend 1 minute within each square of the page while trying to draw your idea in new ways each time.

    Warn the team members after each minute passing. Upon this warning, they need to move to the next square, regardless if they are finished or not.

    Encourage team members to just try to get something down on the page every 60 seconds. Just keep moving, keep sketching.

    The piece of paper they create is theirs, no need to show it to anyone. The purpose is to have something to start with for your solution sketch


    • An easy way to divide up your sheet of paper to 8 squares is to fold the paper 3 times.
    • People may take any idea from their previous notes and sketches that they want to iterate on.
    • By default, people should sketch 1 idea 8 different ways, but if they're really stuck, they can move onto another idea they have! This is a nice way to take off the pressure a bit.
    • The question people should ask themselves: “What would be another good way to do this?” Keep going until they can’t think of any more variations, then look back at their own ideas sheet, choose a new idea, and start riffing on it instead.
    • This is also a great writing exercise. If the idea contains marketing headlines or any bit of text, the Crazy 8's are a good opportunity to improve their phrasing
    • Usually, one of the ideas from the eight will be good enough to move forward with for the Solution Sketch.

    4. Solution Sketch

    Give participants 40 minutes to sketch the concept of the potential solution they have in mind in the form of a storyboard. They need to create something completely self-explanatory individually, as they won't have a chance to explain their concept when it will be presented to the group.

    The sketches often describe a sequence of scenarios (e.g. a three-step storyboard), and therefore typically spreads over several sheets of paper taped together and augmented with some post-it notes and further explanation written on the sketches.

    Tips to brief participants about the sketching:

    • It is not a drawing competition, ugly is okay. Just the idea should be clear
    • Words are important! Make sure to have clear explanations aside your sketch
    • Give it a nickname (the concepts will be anonymous, so other people can easily point to each concept)
    • Focus only on one idea (make sure the participants don't get stuck trying to create a giant solution)

    Each person is responsible for creating one solution sketch. If anyone gets inspired and wants to do more than one, that's okay, but don' overdo it. (Each additional sketch means more reviewing work the next day, and there are diminishing returns beyond ten to twelve solution sketches.)

    When the concepts are created put them up facing the wall and resist the urge to look at them until they will be revealed to the group (often on the following day.)

    Tips for running this activity online

    Running this activity assumes that you have done the preceding exercise in which you clarified the problem you want to solve (and optionally had a Lightning Demo session).

    As your artifacts are online (documents, slides with inspiration and likely an online whiteboard with How Might We challenges), allow time for participants to go through the previous outputs.

    Finally, both the Crazy 8's and the Solution Sketch is an individual sketching exercise, so participants can do it with a piece of pen and paper. When the Solution Sketch is done, explain to people to take a good quality photo of their sketch, and upload it to a designated shared folder where they will be able to view each other's sketches.

    Before revealing the sketches to the group, double check each if the photo quality (resolution, brightness, orientation) is good enough to see the details.


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