As a self-confessed Instagram addict, there are always plenty of design-focused accounts that catch my eye. One of these is the UX Store, which sells paper prototyping tools for UI and UX designers, as I was completely intrigued by their mental stencils. They looked well-made and durable and I was absolutely itching to give them a go.
A few days later, an exciting package was waiting for me at home!
Full disclosure: I was sent these items free of charge by UX Store but I’m under no obligation to give a positive review. And I will be completely honest.
Here are some up close photos of what I received:
Both stencils are made from stainless steel and certainly feel hard-wearing and of good quality. I was really impressed with how well-made they did feel – I’ve used plasticky, low quality stencils before and unfortunately it really shows in the quality of your stencilled work, giving you lines that aren’t sharp and smudgy work.
These were definitely promising.
Sketch pad and Sticky pad
The Sticky pad is on the left and the Sketch pad is on the right. They are absolutely identical except the Sticky pad has adhesive at the top so it effectively works like a giant post-it note – which I can see would be useful for sticking them up on a wall on the fly.
Each pad has space at the top and bottom for notes, and has a subtle dot-grid within the phone to make it easy for you when sketching.
Pocket UX sketchbook
This was a pack of 3 hand-sewn sketchbooks. I hesitate to call them ‘pocket sketchbooks’ because these sketchbooks won’t fit in your pocket if you’re a woman and have annoyingly tiny pockets. But the intent is there!
On the inside flap of every sketchbook, there’s some handy advice for sketching tools and techniques to help you make the most of your book – a really nice touch. Then, each page is very similar to the pads, except there is more space to write annotations.
So, what did I think using these?
Let’s start with the stencils.
The first thing I noticed about the stencils, is that they fit the phone outlines on the pads and the sketchbooks perfectly! I know that seems obvious but it does appear to be a good benefit of using the stencils and pads/notebooks in conjunction with each other – they are designed to just work together.
However, one thing I thought could be changed is that top note area. It is labelled “Project” which I’m sure would be helpful to some people. However, I started to use that area to denote which screen I was sketching, so I wasn’t sure if it even needed a label. If there’s no label, you can let people use that top area exactly how they wish..
I started sketching out my app interface and noticed that some of the icons were placed really cleverly on the stencil. For example, the search icon in the picture above was placed exactly where I’d expect to sketch it in real life. Of course, this is impossible to achieve for every icon, but it did show that a lot of thought had gone into creating the stencil to be as easy to use as possible.
One problem that a lot of stencils face is that, especially for the finer, more detailed icons, it can be quite difficult to fill them in because there just isn’t enough space for your pen to get in there! Take this Notifications icon:
As you can see using my thumb as a visual reference, the icons themselves are at a usual small icon size. When there are parts of an icon that are even smaller, like the bit at the bottom of the icon thats detached from the rest of it, it can be challenging to get your pen properly in there to get a defined shape:
When you’re sketching rapidly on the go with a bigger pen like a Sharpie, it’ll be challenging to get all your icons looking super crisp. They’ll turn out more like my ones above. But if you’re keen on absolute precision you can always use a smaller pen, or just suck it up 🙂
On the All in One Stencil, there is a great set of hand gestures that is definitely useful to have. I liked how each one is labelled so you knew what it was, although be aware that if you have bad eyesight, the labels may be difficult to decipher.
At the end of only a few minutes sketching, I ended up with this:
I thought the stencil did a great job at letting me add some more detail that I usually would have completely butchered or taken far too long over – namely drawing out icons over and over again. They are now firmly in my bag and will stay there – a very useful resource.
You’ll also notice I used the Sticky pad in the picture above. I sketched it on the pad block and then once I was done, I peeled it off and stuck it to the wall. However, I did notice that the sheet started to very quickly unpeel itself from the wall (peep the tell-tale curl at the top!)
I think if you’re going to have a product that markets itself on its adhesiveness, it needs to be really bloody sticky! So I decided to test out a number of the sheets to give it a fairer test:
My preliminary results weren’t too promising. The sheets started to unpeel themselves from the wall quite rapidly and I wasn’t convinced of their sturdiness to survive being on a wall for an entire workshop or meeting.If I had one piece of advice for the UX Store, it would be to make the Sticky pads even stickier. For the rest of us, it would be absolutely fine (and cheaper!) to just get the Sketch pads and use trusty blu-tack!
Finally, I come to the sketch books.
I really enjoyed using the sketch pads. Each page is perforated along the edges, so you can easily tear them out – I can imagine that being super useful at work. I also appreciated that the sketchbooks have been constructed in a way that allows you to lie each page completely flat when you’re using it, so you don’t have to navigate any weird bumps at the inner edges.
Although the sketchbooks are small, they come in packs of 3 which gives you more to play with. But personally, I’d love to see a sketchbook that had way more pages and sacrificed its slimness slightly – please make it happen UX Store! 🙂
The UX Store goodies above are seriously well-made and well-considered. Though they might be a tad pricey ($26.95 for an iPhone stencil!!), they are definitely the best of their quality that I’ve recently come across.
Their stock leans very much more to the mobile side of things, and I’d love to see an expansion to Responsive Web. Having said that, if you do a lot of mobile-focused sketching and paper prototyping, the stencils would definitely be a valuable addition to your toolkit.
In terms of the Sketch Pad vs Sticky Pad vs Sketch Book, in reality, you definitely don’t need all of them. I’d even go so far to say that you should discount the Sticky Pad completely until its more, well, sticky.
Choosing between the sketch pad or the sketch book, I think it depends on your lifestyle and what you would find more handy. Personally, I’d lean a bit closer to the Sketch book because there’s more room for annotations.
Final final thoughts!
- If you end up buying any of the above things, do comment and let me know how you find them!
- Want even more detail about these products? Check out my review on YouTube where you can see the products in more detail
- Finally, a big thank you to the UX Store for allowing me to try out your products 🙂