Gravity Sketch design philosophy
by Daniela Paredes co-founder & CXO of Gravity Sketch
How we use basic human behaviors to democratize digital creation.
“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”
- Albert Einstein.
Every one of us has ideas and is creative in one way or another. However not everyone “dares” to share their ideas or has the skills, tools, or formal education to express them in the way we (as a society) accept. Over years of traditional education, we are trained to represent our ideas using 2D mediums and employ the laws of perspective. This is challenging for many to learn and adapt to their drawing vocabulary, it takes years of practice to accurately depict an idea using the ‘correct perspective’. I’d argue that 95% of the ideas we try to sketch or doodle on paper are 3D ideas; ideas about products, spaces, experiences. People think they are not creative because they simply can’t communicate their creativity in the way the world has led us to believe we should. People believe they are not creative or artistic because they can’t draw in the socially accepted way and so they often stop creating and sharing their ideas no matter how grand they are.
Just think about how many ideas the world is missing out on; an endless number of ideas remain trapped in most people’s heads? What if we could empower them with the tools to create and collaborate in the most intuitive way possible?
We set out to do this in the way that any designer would. We started out by observing humans… studying how they naturally communicate and express ideas and thoughts to others. This is a simple-sounding direction, but turned out to be quite challenging and proved to be powerful enough to establish the backbone of our design philosophy. — When do we want to express ourselves? How do we? When do we explore and for how long? How do we speak? What instruments do we use? Where do we communicate? With whom? And why?..
According to Wikipedia (yes I am starting a sentence with “according to Wikipedia”) intuition “is the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning”. — Simply, which actions or behaviors come naturally to us? — Over the years we have gained a pretty good understanding of how humans creatively express themselves through movement when communicating a three-dimensional idea. We’ve distilled these learnings into three pillars which are used as our guides when we design and develop the Gravity Sketch interactions and user experience.
Pillar number one — Physicality
We navigate the world and our physical environment with fluid/instinctive movements and behaviours we have learned throughout our life, actions we make without needing to think twice. This is key when it comes to creating an experience that anyone can use. Allowing users to express themselves in the same way they would when having a face-to-face conversation or when interacting with a physical object. The challenge here is to combine our natural interactions in the physical world with the magic of the digital world, providing users with superpowers.
Pillar number two — Immediacy
To get into a true creative flow there needs to be a direct connection between the person and the creation itself.
So the tool is secondary and needs to be almost “imperceivable”. Yeah, yeah, very poetic but how does this actually work?… Very simple, we do our best to ensure that every interaction has an immediate reaction. When you move your body something happens, and there’s a direct impact on your workspace. These interactions remind us of gestures we make in the physical world, for example, if I press my finger into the sand and drag it, I will create a line, if I pull a chair it will move in space, if I touch spinning clay, it will form to the pressure applied. Whether you’re sketching a car, giving feedback, or simply walking around, the goal is to remove any barriers between the thought, the action, and the result.
Pillar number three — Simple set of rules
This is the hardest one to follow, yet the most impactful. When you develop software it is easy to continue adding steps, interactions, features, and additional UI buttons. However, a limited set of interactions can help you understand the rules of the tool, and then as a creative, you can quickly set out to “break” them or adapt them to your creative style allowing you to achieve what you wish to express. A few great examples of this theory are Lego, Etch-a-Sketch, and Minecraft. These tools only have one rule, stacking blocks on top of another, or turn a knob left or right. Anyone can understand these rules, from kids to professional artists, these tools are used to create masterpieces. Two different disciplines can use these seemingly simple tools following the same rules and both create completely uniquely looking prices of art. The key differentiator is the creative intent and execution driven by the creator’s experience with the tool.
Although this is not a formal part of our philosophy, it is a strong rule of thumb. If you remember, we set out to create a tool inspired by spatial thinkers. Humans instinctively read shapes and forms, much faster than words and numbers, it’s in our nature to quickly read a situation visually. Applying words and numerical descriptions is relatively new to the human species. So, this is where the three pillars unite and rely on lived experience and intuition.
A powerful example of this is the common cutlery drawer; if you go to someone’s kitchen and you need a spoon, you know it will likely be inside a drawer, you’ll understand what the drawers look like and what action is needed to open them (physicality). Once opened you recognize the groupings of like-shaped utensils by type (simple set of rules). You reach out and grab a fork and knife (immediacy). This layout gives you instructions on how to return the utensils once you are finished. There is no need for labels or a written explanation. Yes, I know… this is something that we have been doing all of our lives, therefore we don’t need written instructions, but this is the whole point; relying on the pillars we drive intuition, therefore, avoiding the dependency on language … Many of the creatives we’ve observed prefer visuals and often hate reading text descriptions, I definitely do!
Playfulness is a fundamental part of creativity, when we lose that, the process is harmed and creativity is killed.
According to cognitive neuroscientists we use 5% of our conscious brain, the rest goes into our subconscious thoughts. This is key to creating a tool that is truly intuitive and empowers people to be as creative as possible without thinking about it. How is this connected? You might know about the fight or flight response. When we feel frightened or stressed, our sympathetic nervous system gets activated and we stop thinking about anything else besides defending ourselves. So creation is not even an option. When the tools are too challenging stress is generated and this system gets activated, we move away from the activity and default to what is familiar, this response prevents us from expressing ourselves and growing our knowledge base. Bringing a sense of joy to the process generates the opposite response, creating an environment that allows people to follow their instincts and as a consequence feel free to create — it is not rocket science, just basic neuroscience!
So yes, there is a bit of science behind making the digital creation experience fun and we make sure to do so by introducing complexity incrementally as the users become more experienced, just as with many things in life! We’ve created the UX funnel, where we identify where certain features and experiences reside in the user journey. At the top of the funnel, anyone can pick up a controller and create 3D sketches, and at the bottom, users are fine-tuning and manipulating geometry then exporting for further use. Not all users will have to arrive at the bottom of the funnel, but all receive the same experience at the top and are guided through to the appropriate level of functionality they need.