Thinking with an iPad

I use a MacBook Pro and iPad every single day for work. Both devices have become critical to what I do as a designer and creative person. Several years ago I tried to make the iPad my primary device for everything design related. It didn’t work. It forced me to make too many tradeoffs and find workarounds for simple tasks. 

Things have settled though, and I now have a workflow that feels about as perfect as I could imagine. I work on a laptop for communication, high-fidelity design work, and just about everything else. 

But when it comes time to think, where I need to process the user experience of an app, think through a tough visual challenge, for connect chaotic pieces together, I always turn to the iPad. 

Over the years I’ve written about the various iPad apps for sketching: Miro, Paper, Linea Sketch, Adobe’s products, Procreate, etc. Each have their uses, and I’ve tried all of them and a dozen other options. With each app I’m looking for the closest thing to a piece of paper and pencil. Now, in the last year, Freeform has become my favorite app by far. Despite some [challenges] I’ve had with it, I can’t imagine using anything else now.

Thinking, for me, doesn’t happen in an app like Figma. Instead, I have to use my hand and a stylus to process through something. An iPad with Freeform is a perfect expression of that. After I’ve figured out the actual layout of something, I can then open an app like Figma and fuss with interface elements.

To go along with that I’ve also wrestled with iPad sizes. I currently own an iPad Pro 12.9″ and an iPad mini. While I bought the mini for travel, and setup the larger iPad on an Elevation Lab stand for my desk, I turned more and more to the mini. Now I’m 100% on the mini. There’s just something special about holding a tiny tablet in one hand and sketching with the other. It’s as close to a notepad as I could imagine, and it’s perfect. 

If you haven’t experimented with this, I highly recommend it. Any iPad will do, but training myself to think first by hand has helped me become a better designer.