There are plenty of books and tutorials out there that describe how to draw things well. We spent a lot of time in school learning how to draw things beautifully, in all sorts of photorealistic ways. This is considered a hard skill and in many cases a cost of entry for being a commercial artist.
So please excuse the rudimentary nature of this post. I suck at drawing with a pencil. But that has never gotten in the way of putting out solid design work and sketching ideas for buy-in by my peers.
The quality of your sketch can never hide a weak idea. Spending too much time making your sketches look perfect can eat up time spent coming up with stronger ideas. As designers, we only need to draw things well enough, since we're usually executing our ideas in the computer or in tandem with a creative partner. (Photographer, illustrator, etc.) If we are on the hook for executing the final designs with illustrated assets born from our hands, then it's an added bonus that we can make the final artwork.
Most designers use a repertoire of symbols and marks that they use to convey an idea for a visual design. Here's a bunch of them from my repertoire, and how they can cohere into an idea fast. Most working designers already have these in their deck, but they're worth going over to make sure you've got them all in your arsenal. Also, if you're working through a collaborative brainstorm, doing these rudimentary sketches along the way will help you pin down ideas more quickly and start to iterate possibilities out of how they exist on the page -- a.k.a. make them better sketches for internal or client review.
Creating a Page Boundary
Sounds obvious, but rapidly defining different boundary shapes can suggest a wide range of results for your design idea. Just starting with simple boundary variations can spark ideas fast.
Setting Up a Page Grid
If you're crafting a long-form layout, sometimes it helps to sketch out a bunch of different grid types. Adding in a grid after you've got a concept direction going can help shape the layout / try out different page formats independent of content. If you're going for pure speed, this can help you iterate through the options quicker.
Using various scribble densities and sizes, you can quickly imply visual hierarchy, from headline down to body copy and beyond.
Using Photo Boxes
If you don't know what art you're using on the page, just fake it with a big X. When you know what's going to in the box, erase the X. Easy peasy.
I used to think drawing people was difficult. Then my art director told me to stop drawing "real people" all the time and start drawing keyhole people. Suddenly, things got much easier. Treat the keyhole-like shape as a paper doll, where you can add and subtract elements as necessary.
Yes, these are just like in comic books, anime, etc. Surprise, confusion, and so on.
If you're doing storyboards for Flash, motion graphics, TV, and so on, indicating motion is likely. Simple arrows do the trick for rotation or sizing in/out of objects. If you're going to zoom in or out of the layout, then you'll need to "take over" the box with them, as noted in the illustration.
Mingle these elements with detailed type and other simple page elements, and you should be able to convey pretty much any kind of idea really fast...
After a few years of working with the same people over a period of time, you usually begin to have an interchangeable shorthand that get used teamwide. Not consciously, mind you... it evolves.
Simple sketching methods are gaining a lot of traction both in the design community -- in the form of interaction sketching -- and in the business world. Dan Roam's The Back of the Napkin has been a recent bestseller and promotes some great ways to think about extending this sketching language into communicating business concepts. His Web site has a number of great tools to draw from. (Ooooh, that was an unintentional bad pun.)
Here's another good recent article about sketching: "The Role of Sketching in the Design Process" by Sean Hodge.
In the next few weeks, we'll talk about interaction sketching. That's a bit more complicated, but very rewarding.