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Is it still important to sketch as a designer?

That was this week’s Voxpop question on Design Week.

I know I could use only a computer and create a workable design, but it’s obviously restricting if too much time is spent looking into a monitor.

And there’s something I find relaxing about sketching. Perhaps because I’m more relaxed I can think of ideas I wouldn’t necessarily come up with when I’m pushing and pulling a mouse around my desk, obsessing over tiny details that aren’t important in a project’s early stages.

ADB logo sketches

I enjoy drawing, and I do better work when it’s enjoyable. So there’s that, too.

Mark Hopkins said in one of the Voxpop answers, “[Sketching is] also a great tool for communicating with clients. It allows us to share an idea and talk it through at a purer, more conceptual level without getting bogged down in the detail or specifics inherent with a computer generated image.”

Absolutely.

I used to share a ton of sketches with clients. Terrible idea. But I’ve found it helps to show four or five solid ideas in sketch form along with a descriptive rationale, for exactly the reasons Mark mentioned. The client and I can then narrow the focus to two or three ideas and create more sketches or take those to the computer.

Read answers from other designers over on Design Week.

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21 comments about “Is it still important to sketch as a designer?”

  1. I always sketch at the beginning of a design project. It gets my juices flowing, ideas down on paper for deliberation and helps me clear out the mental fluff so I can really get started.

    Oh, and as you said, it’s really good fun. And who doesn’t want to have fun?

  2. Sketching is important. Many ideas come when drawing.
    But I’m not doing it for every project.

  3. Great advice! I also highly encourage all designers to begin each logo design, probably every design project, with a pencil and a sketchbook – far away from a computer. I like to head to a quiet corner in a coffee shop and begin the important incubation process there. Here’s to the trusty pencil and paper!

  4. When I was in high school, I never doodled in the corners of my papers or drew just for fun. Primarily, because the things I would draw never looked like that of my peers, so I assumed I was doing it wrong.

    Thinking back on that now makes me laugh!

    It took me a while, but as I took more and more of my design classes, I got into the habit of doodling on any piece of paper I could. My notes for boring gen ed classes are often taken in sketch pads, purely so I can draw around them without lines; all of my design projects begin as sketches. I love it and never want to go back to the days of the blank white pages!

  5. Definitely. I know there are many logos I’ve designed that definitely would not have turned out the same way if I wouldn’t have “played” and sketched before jumping on the computer. I rarely share those with client because I want to see first how they will execute in vector format. (My preference; but if it works for you, go for it!)

  6. There is something about sketching that is uninhibited. Once I take a design from paper to the computer it’s hard not to muck it up by applying too much structure and math. Something about the computer makes you want to have everything perfectly spaced. The freedom of the pencil allows you to make those beautiful mistakes that in the end create that small speck that is unique and amazing.

  7. I have always sketched my entire life whether it’s design related or not. I feel it’s a great way to feel the process in a more natural way, and it helps me make creative decisions on the fly. Though I try and avoid presenting sketches to clients unless it’s a solid idea that I have roughed out a bit more than an initial sketch.

    I have also found on certain projects that I will, in a way, sketch inside my mind. I can see something or be inspired and begin to see the foundational workings of a project. Once I have built upon that enough I will go straight to the computer and begin fleshing that out, skipping the pencil & paper portion entirely.

  8. I completely agree with sketching before committing to a train of thought. I have recently started working out ideas with Procreate & the Wacom Intuos Creative stylus on an Ipad Air… and I’m starting to like it more than my pencil (shh, don’t tell my pencil).

  9. Absolutely it’s still important to sketch as a designer! In fact, in all my design classes, my teachers would never allow us to begin working on the computer *until* we could show them our sketches. Most of us hated it at the time, but now I’m glad we were forced to practice this good habit. Now I sketch for everything, ESPECIALLY when designing logos. Thanks for posting!

  10. Totally agree… very hard to start the ideas flowing without a pencil and paper. So much quicker and easier to get your initial thoughts down.

  11. I’d also have to say that if design students can take drawing classes it’s even more beneficial. I loved sketching/drawing as a kid but taking drawing at NSCAD because it was a prerequisite to our design degree program was invaluable! Drawing/sketching loosens things up and allows you to come up with looser, more imaginative ideas.

  12. I always sketch before doing any type of designing. Because I always go by what Milton Glaser said, “Computers are to designing as a microwave is to cooking,” if I am quoting correctly.

  13. The two most outstanding art directors / graphic designers I’ve worked with over the past 25 years (one of whom I openly regard as a genius) were also excellent draughtsmen. I don’t think that was any coincidence.

  14. Sketching has it’s place for sure. I wouldn’t get snobby about it though. I don’t know anyone who didn’t love to draw as a kid! When designers mention this (loved drawing since they were very young), it makes me nauseous. Every designer has their own process. Whatever works – works. What matters is the concept and how well it is executed. A pencil and paper is the same as a computer to me. Just tools to get the job done.

  15. Great post as always David.

    I agree that sketching is important, to me it keeps my day structured for some reason, making a list of what needs to be done on the computer doesn’t seem to seep in as good as writing it down by hand while doodling some. Same goes for projects, it is just so much easier (at least for me) to get down all good ideas for exploration when sketching than going straight to the computer.

    I wonder how we will look at this in 20-30 years. I wonder if future generations will agree with it, but perhaps it is something generational. Kids growing up today have lifes completely integrated with tablets, pc’s, smartphones – you name it! I don’t think they will feel “inhibited” by sketching on devices but rather free and empowered just like we feel about sketching on paper.

    In contrast I can remember myself sitting with a paint brush and dial-up modem into my early teens.

  16. I always sketch my designs, either properly or in a rough way, but sketch them always. It gives some new ideas to implement and see what can be done with design patterns. The most important part of my workings.

  17. I agree with your method David…I think sending too many sketches to the client overwhelms them. And besides, it makes better sense to send 3 or 4 quality concepts rather than a dozen sketches that include filler.

  18. Sketching on paper gives people the freedom to consider every idea without the fear of making a technical mistake (if you choose to work with PC). Sketching is a repeated process, without focusing on perfection, and ends up creating not only the most work, but the best work. This is the reason why sketching is such an important part of the design process.

  19. I think it’s still a very important part of any project as, like you say, it allows you to draft up and explore ideas quickly without fussing over details. I’ve certainly made far too many discoveries through sketching for me to start missing it out.

    I don’t think it’s just limited to logo / ident design, either. I use it as a fast prototyping tool for page layout and UI design. Fast wireframes and sketches allow for rapid ideation and it allows me to understand how I’ll start to build the design in the browser with minimal code. I find that if I just jump straight into the browser / dev tools then my code becomes bloated as I patch up and refactor bits here and there that I have missed due to lack of sketching and thought.

  20. Guys, I will speak from a typical designer’s client side.

    Sketches are really the most exciting part of communicating a new project for me. On one hand it is great to be interactive – I am not much of an artist, but making a plain sketch of a stick-man with a smiley head had saved me a lot of e-mail explaining many times. And getting something with the slight of hand, or even better – seeing it happen before me – gives me living information to which I can stick to.

    Overall: Yes, sketches play a great role in the designer-client communication because nothing compares to meeting in front of a flipchart!

  21. I never normally sketch when designing unless I am trying to visualise a perspective to layout that I am struggling with.

    I find certain types of music really help my brain get in the right frame of mind for graphics work.

Anything to add?

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