Sketching Is For The Weak: The Start of My Design Process

I say sketching is for the weak because the more you do it, the stronger you get. It’s like pushups for your creative thinking. I say this now, however, this was not always the case when I first started down the design career path.

Sketching before starting a project was stressed heavily throughout design school and I was always reluctant to do it. For one reason, I thought it was a waste of time. “Why not just skip that step and get to the fun stuff?,” I thought. Working directly on the computer gives instant gratification of seeing finished work come alive right before your eyes. I didn’t need a process if I let the computer do all the creating for me. Sketching was just going to slow me down from getting to the end result, which was all that mattered in the end anyway, right?

The other reason was that I didn’t feel confident in my illustration abilities. I felt I needed to brush up on my drawing skills before I could even start to sketch. It had been a long time since I actually drew something well. It was probably going to take me a lot longer to get good at it again. So sketching would have to wait. Until then I had the computer to make me look good and hide the fact that I wasn’t a great illustrator.

I eventually came to realize that I was wrong on both counts. My third year of college was when I began to take sketching more seriously. Around that time I found the assignments much more challenging. Instead of just restyling an existing design as was done in earlier classes, I actually had to come up with my own design projects based on specific criteria. That meant they had to be unique to me and no one else. What it really meant was that I had to have an idea. But I didn’t need just any idea, I needed a good idea. I needed an idea that was going to work and make me (and my professor) happy about the end result.

So I begrudgingly opened my unused sketch book and attempted to put pencil to paper. I figured if this is what the pros do then I should at least try it out to see if anything comes from it. After a while those first sketches did help me get through some conceptual thinking into an idea that I was satisfied with. I still may not have been happy with my illustration skills but it did help me get to somewhere I didn’t think I would.

That’s the importance of sketching. It really helps you work through your thoughts much more quickly. It’s a great way to work out the kinks, weed through the bad ideas and whittle them down to the good ones. It’s definitely not a waste of time as I had once thought. In fact, it has become one of the most important steps to my process. One that I have never skipped since. And as it turns out, you don’t need to be all that good at illustrating either. You can make lists of words or draw basic shapes. And yes, you can even sketch on the computer.

Sketching, no matter how it’s done, is the best way to capture your thoughts and ideas quickly before they go public. You’re not aiming to perfectly execute a finished piece with every sketch. It’s all about drafting and re-drafting your ideas until you feel like they’re in a good spot to start working them towards the final outcome. And even then you may have to go back and re-sketch. For a designer, sketching is like a writer’s draft to help get through the bad stuff to find the good.

For me, my process includes drawing on paper, list making and/or creating on the computer. Sometimes it really helps me to see how my idea is going to look as a finished piece or to be able to try out different color combinations quickly. That’s where the computer comes in handy. On paper I can get rough ideas out much quicker because initially I’m not worried about the final outcome. I’m not distracted by colors, finding the right font or perfectly straight lines. When sketching on the computer I find myself constantly tweaking and refining in small increments trying to finalize things before I’m ready, which tends to slow me down. Remember: computers don’t have ideas, people do.

Overall, the important thing is to have an idea and then get it out of your head as quickly as it came in. Then you have another idea and another and another. The more ideas you get out of your head, the more chances you have to finding a few good ones that you can use toward the final project. Too much refining too soon can kill a great idea. Clean up is the last part.

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