Method overview

“Solving problems with pictures isn’t new. It’s what we’ve always done,” says visual thinking expert Dan Roam. Since well before humans invented writing, we drew pictures to communicate. Though many people are unaccustomed to using drawing as a communication tool, it is truly a natural way to explore ideas, build understanding, and tell stories.

Thumbnail Sketching asks you to utilize your inherent creativity by drawing pictures as a way to rapidly generate a number of ideas. The act of sketching promotes a natural cycle of creativity that supports concept ideation—you externalize what’s in your mind, and then, upon seeing your idea visualized, you think of variants, and so on. And since the goal is simply to get the ideas out of your head and onto paper quickly, thumbnail sketches should be small, gestural, and general. This process forces you to explore many different ideas rather than work out the details of any one concept. Don’t worry if your sketches aren’t pretty—just get your hand moving!

The benefits of this method

  • Helps you generate ideas quickly.
  • Promotes divergent thinking.
  • Encourages sharing of ideas.
  • Helps you make iterative improvements.


Quick guide

  • Identify a topic for exploration.
  • Assemble a team and some basic drawing materials.
  • Ask each person to work independently.
  • Invite them to think about one aspect of the topic.
  • Ask them to draw pictures of various possibilities.
  • Invite them to consider another aspect of the topic.
  • Ask them to draw pictures of various possibilities.
  • Invite a group discussion of the sketches.
  • Pick a subset to refine with additional sketching.

Helpful hints

  • Encourage visual thinking, not perfect drawings.
  • Limit the time frame for each round of sketching.
  • Ask the participants to refrain from editing early.

Combining LUMA methods into design recipes

The methods in the LUMA System are great on their own, but they are really powerful when combined into design recipes. Just like when you combine ingredients to make a tasty meal, you can also combine design methods to address challenges such as improving workplace culture or uncovering customer insights.

An example of a recipe from LUMA Workplace®:

Want to learn more about LUMA methods?