Sharing Sketches Remotely

Over the past few years, EightShapes has embedded sketching into workflow to quickly generate ideas. Whether with our clients using formal scenarios, or internally to work through ideas ad-hoc, sketching is now part of our DNA, and reinforces our core value of “show, don’t tell.”

Sketching Remotely is Harder

EightShapes is a distributed team. We often rely on connecting via an IM session, Skype call, or GoToMeeting to share ideas. When we’ve used these tools for sketching, suddenly the spirit of a design studio – rapid idea exchange –  is destroyed. Instead, the team is confronted by a tedious game of snapping photos of sketches with smartphones, and emailing or dropboxing them for someone else to open up after the image moves through the cloud. The drudgery of moving files around disrupts of fluid communication and creativity. It feels wrong.

This issue is exasperated by a “lone wolf” – one remote designer trying to contribute to a session with the 5 other designers all in the same room together. Once one person is remote, EVERYONE is photographing sketches and sending emails to everybody else, and a round of presentations and critiques grinds to a halt for 5 minutes of people futzing with smartphones and Gmail. Such a hurdle inhibits our instincts to be inclusive and empathetic.

iPhone & Facetime Was a Temporary Solution

One day I was looking around my office and realized I had a tripod, a tripod extension arm, and an iPhone that could be used to capture live video of me sketching at my desk.

By making a call from my iPhone to my desktop’s Facetime app, I could broadcast the video image from my phone through my desktop to a Skype or GoToMeeting’s shared session.

I immediately rigged it up and gave it a go. After a few successful rounds, I found a plastic iPhone mount that connects to standard tripods to secure the iPhone (as opposed to the Velcro wrap I was using that always had the iPhone on the precipice of tipping over or rotating out of alignment).

Results were promising, and I was communicating more, faster. However, Facetime unpredictably dropped calls. Grainy video image quality was also eroded by an uncontrollable auto-focus going haywire every few seconds.

It was good enough for what I needed, but it fell short of motivating me to go online and buy tripods, extension arms, and mounts for the entire EightShapes crew – especially for the minority of those holding firm with their Android phones.

Enter IPEVO!

Recently, I came across the IPEVO Point 2 View USB camera, reasonably priced at around $70.

It’s perfect for what we need, solving many challenging aspects of sharing sketches in real time with a:

  • 2 Megapixel camera for high-quality, close up shots
  • Non-continuous focus mode, enabling you to set the proper focus distance and no longer worry about it
  • Multi-jointed stand and weighted base that tucks neatly behind the monitor when not in use
  • Desktop P2V application that broadcasts the live image and lets you configure your horizontal and vertical alignment and optimize brightness, contrast and other settings
  • Lightweight portability when I need to be on the move to facilitate a sketching studio with remote participants

The camera works great for 2-3 designers sketching at their real desks on an ad-hoc basis. Just as well, the camera is perfect for the head of a conference room table so a  larger group of 5 to 10 people can take turns projecting their sketches onto the wall locally while also beaming the same image through a GoToMeeting or Skype session remotely. Suddenly, those remote participants don’t feel left out, and have an equal platform to share their work too!

Here’s my desktop, with the IPEVO & sketching in the middle, but sustaining my ability to otherwise work my keyboard and mouse when necessary. Note too the nice stack of clean sheets to the left.

So far, we’ve rolled out the IPEVO to four designers, and pending continued success, the rest of the staff may anticipate having their own fairly soon.

Helpful Tips

After a few rounds of sketching, we learned some really useful lessons including:

  • Share & Share Alike, Simultaneously!

    When brainstorming with just one teammate, utilize Skype’s great feature of dual, simultaneous shared desktops. A teammate and I had our shared desktops on display to each other for over an hour as we sketched and shared constantly. Sure, we had some odd pauses for stretches of minutes as we sketched away, but bantered ideas continuously back and forth for stretches too.

  • Put Your Teammate(s) Shared Desktop Front and Center

    If you have two monitors and you are sitting for the entire session, display the remote feed (your partner(s) sketch) on your main monitor, and relegate your P2V app and shared portion of your screen to the secondary monitor.

  • Orient Your Stand & Display Configuration

    Situate the stand on the side opposite of your drawing hand, and configure the camera and broadcast settings to mimic what you see looking down. This also gets the stand out of the way of moving the sketch up and down so that you can emulate a vertically scroll.

  • Rotate the Stand with Your Paper
    If you rotate your paper 20-30% when you draw, then rotate the stand the same amount (instead of arbitrarily forcing your sheet of paper to be vertically oriented, resulting in an awkward posture).

  • Minimize Clutter and Keep Blank Sheets Within Reach
    Make room on your desktop for stacking your compositions and also an always-free stack of blank paper. I found myself rustling papers around too much as composed sketches got in the way of a new blank piece of paper. Get organized!

Demonstrating a Device

{added to blog post based on comment from John F Croston}

I often throw a device (notably, my iPhone or iPad) under the IPEVO camera to demonstrate an experience with actual gestures, responsiveness and more, which feels more real that using an application like iOS Simulator on the Mac.

The image quality can be fairly good, but may require some adjustment based on the types and strength of the ambient light in the room and near the camera. Below are three images that position the iPhone adjacent to an index card with a few words written by a Sharpie pen. As you can see, based on my own lighting conditions, I found that the optimal visibility of the iPhone screen was achieved by setting the iPhone brightness to around 40%.


Low Brightness (0%)


Moderate Brightness (~40%)


Higher Brightness (60%)