That's my Moleskine notebook. I take it everywhere I go and use it to sketch out ideas as they pop into my head. I'm constantly sketching on paper, napkins—you name it. Sketching with simple tools like a pen and paper is the fastest way for me to explore different ideas, concepts and designs.
The above statement is mostly a lie.
Well OK, it's partially true. That's my Moleskine and I occasionally use it to sketch out ideas and jot things down—however you would be surprised out how FEW drawings I have in it. It's actually quite pathetic for someone who "thinks visually". Since sketching is the new black right now, I'd like to offer up a personal perspective that comes at this topic a bit differently.
Sketching and drawing are not the same thing.
Allow me to elaborate on this personal opinion. For me personally, drawing on paper actually has some downsides. I find that when I draw, I'm tempted to render things. Rendering (making things look nice) gets in the way of my thinking process and as much as I try to ignore how things look, I find that the physical drawing part limits me. Sometimes I actually enjoy the drawing part so much, that my brain slips into "doodle" mode which is very relaxing but a essentially puts me into a semi-trance, as opposed problem solving mode. Again, this is a personal opinion but I have found that the act of "sketching" actually has nothing to do with drawing whether it be paper, or white board. Now to be clear, I am not saying that a pen and paper aren't useful tools—they are. But here's a few things to consider. They work for me and might work for you, especially if you are uncomfortable with "drawing" but want to sketch more.
1. Sketch in your head
Since you most likely have eyes, it means you are capable of thinking visually. When you have a visual idea, make up a name for what that idea is and write it down. Then take a mental snapshot of the what's in your head. I do this all the time, especially because in reality I don't carry a sketchbook with me at all times and often times, just naming something is enough for me to recall the idea when I'm ready to make it visual.
2. Use the tool that you are most comfortable with
If you like the feel of pen and paper then this article might not be for you. For me, I am very comfortable sketching digitally. My tool of choice is adobe illustrator because the vector art lets me move things around as quickly as I can. In fact, I actually embrace the limitations of tools such as Powerpoint because it helps me focus on the idea—not the rendering of it. It's difficult to get things to look perfect in Powerpoint, so it forces me to keep things simple. Plus, both tools let me copy and paste any image I can find on the internet—again this bypasses the temptation to render. Bottom line is that sketching does not have to be separate from digital. Actually, I consider most of my images to be digital sketches and didn't draw on paper for most of these.
3. Think in color
Paper and pencil sketching doesn't allow you to express your thoughts in color—and for me personally, I think in color and shapes! Again, there are lots of digital tools that allow you to quickly color items, select shapes and edit rapidly. Print out versions of digital sketches that you think are getting at something, use color to create visual hierarchy in your ideas. For me personally, color helps me think.
While I think the act of sketching is essential—I think there needs to be a distinction between the tools and the act of sketching itself, as well as drawing. Sketching isn't better when it's analog, or when it's digital—it's better when we are in the right frame of mind. For me, this includes resisting the urge to make things look too pretty and working with tools I feel comfortable with. For me, the tools are a combination of digital, mental and visual. No Moleskine or white board required.
So just get out there and sketch. But don't feel like you have to draw. Work in a medium that lets you move forward rapidly and doesn't get in the way of your ideas. That could very well be a sharpie and napkin—but it doesn't have to be. Sketching is really a state of mind. Oh, try a good beer when you sketch, that helps me too. ;-)