Four-step sketch


Concepts, Design-sprint, Ideation & idea generation

Creativity / create, Improvisation game, Innovation

60-120 min, longer than 120 min

6-15 persons




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.

Necessary tools (what you need)

  • Pick a videoconferencing tool of your choice.
  • Pick an online whiteboard toolthat allows using large, zoomable canvas.
  • Paper and pen.


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. Share the output of the previous exercise via the conferencing tool or distribute it to the participants.

1. Notes. Everyone takes the paper and a pen. Give 20 minutes to look at everything and just copy down everything. (HMWs, Long-term goals, sprint questions, etc.) Encourage people to not to be neat, the notes are just for themselves.

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 do not 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 favorite ideas. As 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 way 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. The question people should ask themselves: “What would be another good way to do this?” Keep going until they cannot think of any more variations, then look back at their own ideas sheet, choose a new idea, and start riffing on it instead.

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 will not 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.

5. 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.

Tips & Tricks

  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Focus only on one idea (make sure the participants don’t get stuck trying to create a giant solution).

The exercise is successfully completed when? Conclusion?