I know, I know, this is a serious blog about serious business – why are we learning to draw stick figures?

Hear me out – most of us were taught the wrong thing about drawing when we were kids. We were told that drawing was about art – it was the aesthetic qualities that were important. The people that told us this missed something really important: drawing can also be about communication.

When we draw, we’re able to not only communicate better with each other, but actually think about things more clearly for ourselves.

Start here! This is all you really need, the rest is just tips to make things more expressive.

 

Unfortunately, the “drawing-is-art” mentality also taught a lot of us to be coy about drawing, and lots of us use qualifiers before we draw (“I’m not good at drawing, but…”), and some adults these days are afraid of drawing at all!

This hurts our ability to communicate, especially in groups, so when I worked for frog design, we’d often take two minutes to teach the group how to draw stick figures – and it worked fantastically!

An exercise we use for discussing new concepts. Structuring things as an illustrative narrative makes it easier to facilitate group discussions.

 

These stick figures weren’t designed to be pretty – they were designed to be functional. Easy to draw quickly, but expressive and flexible enough for us to tell stories, explain concepts, or otherwise create visual markets for certain ideas. Enjoy!

Bodies


Rectangular bodies help us make figures more expressive while staying simple. They also show up better on the page, so our stick people don’t get lost in the background.

Check out how just curving the body can make the figure more expressive and imply the direction that the figure is looking.

Faces


Make the features a little smaller so you can imply the direction that the figure is looking.

Most faces I draw have simple eyes, eyebrows, and a mouth – that’s all you need!

The eyebrows are really the most important – make them happy, sad, or different from one another to make someone look inquisitive or confused.

To make your faces instantly better, make the features a little smaller than you’d expect. This lets us do two things that are important:

  1. You can position the face to one side of the head or the other, implying a direction the person is looking.
  2. You can position the face toward the bottom or the top of the head to imply that the figure is looking upwards or downwards.

Features


Adding features can sometimes make a drawing look muddled, or we can get lost in our quest to make things beautiful aesthetically – don’t worry about adding features to your stick figures unless you have to!

How do you know you need to add a feature? Simply ask – are people going to get confused if I don’t distinguish between different characters?

Most of the time, adding extra features to your stick figures isn’t important. In this example, there are only two people, and we can tell who is who because one has a phone and the other, a car.

 

For instance, if we’re doing an activity where a single user is going through a flow, a simple figure is enough. In other situations, it doesn’t really matter what the role of someone is, or a continuity can be implied based on text or the scene around them.

Features help us distinguish between different figures. Most of the time, this isn’t super important.

In my posts about Product Owners, it’s important to talk about the relationship the PO has with other types of people – so in this case, it was useful for the stick figures to look different.

 

However, if it is important for us to have continuous characters, or characters with different roles, its helpful to add in a few distinguishing features. Even when this is the case, simple is usually better!

 

There are TONS of ways to add features, here are a few ideas to get started! Have fun!

Here are some ways to decorate heads:

Heads are usually the best for designating individual people. Often, it is useful to decorate bodies as well, I find drawing suits really useful for talking about “stakeholders,” and name tags useful for identifying people in drawings that work in the service industry.

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