Do IDers overvalue sketching/drawing?

I had an impromptu meeting on Friday that set me wondering if Industrial Desingers place too high a value on the skill of sketching and rendering.

Before you flip, hear me out.

I was working on a bunch of sketches for a client. That same client dropped by unexpectedly to drop off some parts that were needed for completing the project. Needless to say he wanted to see the progress that was being made. I had a small pile of sketches laid out all over my drawing board. Most of them rough, thumbnail style sketches. No refined sketches, no renderings, or slick inDesign presentation. Just a bunch of right out of my head pencil sketches.

The reaction from the client was bordering on overwhelming. He loved what he saw. I was bordering on embarrassed to even show him what was on the table because it was so raw. What he saw, though, was the translation of his idea into something that was achievable. His baby was learning to crawl.

Now, where I wonder where the inflated value might come from is the focus on a hot sketch. Making sure the perspective is perfect. Spending hours on tightening, and refining, and polishing a sketch just to be presented.

Where the value IS there is the quick nature of a sketch. How I was able to sit for a few hours pondering ideas, drinking some coffee, sketching, and gazing out the window to realize someone else’s idea rather than a couple days in front of Rhino or Illustrator.

Curious what everyone’s thoughts/experiences are here.

That’s generally how I work. I rarely find clients that actually request a lot polished renderings (or any). They just want to see ideas. You want to freak your client out even more? Do that right in front of them, as they’re waving their hands in the air and trying to describe something, but can’t find the words or napkin doodles to express those vague ideas… you’re working out those shapes and details right in front of them. It’s like you just pulled a rabbit out of a hat… it’s magic to them.

Polished renderings have their place, but so many of my clients are in such a hurry to “get to the answer”, I’d rather spend time on these rough sketches trying to figure out little details then to worry if I shaded something just right.

But then again, flashy renderings aren’t really my strong suit anyway. I spend more time hammering out the details and thinking of how everything fits and works together with the form. God is in those details, not a flashy rendering.

Oh, and one more thing: I’ve seen clients fall in love with a flashy sketched rendering all to find out later that the perspective wasn’t exactly correct and the proportions had to change to accommodate the innards once we moved to 3D. In some ways I’d prefer them to see some of the rough sketches so they can understand the fluid nature of that early stage and not fall in love with the first snazzy rendering they see. That final form will most likely be developed in 3D with the actual internals modeled inside to show that everything actually fits and that all the mechanical details have been addressed right along with the lovely external shapes.

Good topic…

Usually I keep the thumbnails to myself. In my limited experience, it really comes down to the ability of the client to comprehend and imagine the final product from your sketches. You could hold some great line drawings and material samples in front of a client, but until they see it all put together in a polished render, they may nod their head… but really don’t GET it.

Also, its great if you are dealing with the client directly, but if your sketches end up on someones desk without you there to fill in the blanks, again they will not understand the intricacies and detail of thought behind your pen strokes. I totally agree that god is in the details, but in order to get through the door you really need to sell the concept. Again, totally dependent on your audience and the complexity/detail of the project.

Have you been able to go straight from thumbnail sketch to PO/3D model on a regular basis?

Who? Me or IP?

If that’s directed at me, it’s not like I’m going directly to a final design right after I do a thumbnail. My ideation takes place on both a stack of printer paper and a pencil as well as in the 3D model. I’ll draw out something and then verify it in the model. I go back and forth, but I’m also feeding images/models back to the client (when appropriate).


Sorry Warren, It was originally directed at you, but it would be interesting to get others experience on the process. I do understand you would not be going ‘directly’ to the final model. I was wondering more if you just use the thumbnail sketch to “sell” the concept (The client says: “yeah thats great, go with that”) and then you continue your design process from there? If so, how often would this happen compared to having to give that polished render?

Hey, i’m new on these forums and by no means a ‘professional’ working designer, currently a student on an internship. But this topic is one that I am interested in greatly.

I think Yes and No, to your question if IDers overvalue sketching. To me sketching is a great and important part of the design process, to visualize concepts, help get my head around design problems and construction, while exploring form features and even colour and texture. These have to be well executed in a communicative way that ‘sells’ your idea… not only to yourself, but to yours peers or even a client that will see the sketches. To me sketching forms the design process and the more detail and thought that is put into the ‘front end stages’ the more value the end result will have.

But in ‘design culture’ I do think it can be overvalued. There are greater skills for a designer to have… Sure designers have to be able to draw and communicate ideas in their head onto paper, but to what level? So the viewer can understand what’s going on, on the paper? Or they are blown away by your photorealistic drawing skills that sells your idea!?

If I was showing concept renderings to a client I would make sure they were the best I’ve ever done, as it sells my image and skills as a designer. If they were terrible drawings… I don’t think the client would have much faith in me.
Raising the question… Is the importance of sketching selling your image and skill of being designer?

I think this very much depends on the project at hand.

For trans or footwear, I can see a well executed hand render to be very important.
I work a lot in furniture, accessories and the like where a 3D model is easily drawn, can be exploded in front of the client and in real time changed, such as materials and scale.
Coming in with a stack of paper instead of models and CAD is just crippling. That being said, for the ideation phase within the team and personal, sketching is essential.
I like to go into CAD quickly though after the initial idea. It puts constraints on you that sketches do not have and makes you structure your design. I for one easily drift of into ether blue-sky-land or just keep drawing what I draw best.

It depends on the client and my relationship Some are accustomed to a rougher form of sketching and don;t expect (or want) any thing highly polished in terms of hand renderings. All of this takes time and time is money. Some would rather me spend time on working out the details in 3D after quick concept sketches. Others need something flashier to sell to their superiors.


I also think yes and no. In my situations, it all matters on who the end audience is. If I am working with people in my group or the visual team, rough thumbnails are acceptable. However, if it is going to be seen by some of the merchants, I have to do it in Rhino. Even worse, there are some that EVERYTHING has to be perfect before they understand it. I cant tell you how many times I have tried to explain that the color of a render is arbitrary, and we can do the product in any color. Also, these people have a hard time understanding that our laser printer will not do orange well, and it will never match the cloth pantone swatch they are holding.

I may be wrong here, but I feel like ID has really came to a point of abundance as far as the ideation process goes. From my observations, we have seemingly lost track of the finish line. Is it just me, or does it now feel like there are ‘must haves’ in order to have a complete project? Sketches, sketches, sketches, renders, ect… I feel like sometimes we lose sight that the client cares about the IDEA, not the sketch. Use whatever means necessary for them to UNDERSTAND the idea.

It depends on the client - one of my clients is a footwear buyer that I have worked with for years, at more than one company. We totally get each other. We have a huge volume of footwear to develop and a budget, so I show thumbs to her - we do cads for the factory, but we need to make a huge volume of thumbs in order to get to that stage. I don’t show rough work like this to anyone else.

Likewise, although storyboards are an important tool to use when trend forecasting (a very big part of my work), not all clients understand them, some just want the finished tech packs, they’re not interested in how you got there.

the best of both worlds seems to be the ability to very quickly draw polished sketches without wasting a lot of time… making the “thumbnails” in a high quality sketch with good proportion

I tend to agree with the conversation going here. I find that rougher / loose sketches and drawings are fine for the conversational review or in progress meeting. I’ve gotten into trouble a few times where my hand renderings were assumed to be CAD. When I had no CAD to “send over” even though that wasn’t in the deliverables or the proposal, there was disappointment and frustration.


Whenever a concept illustration (whether it is a polished photoshop render or CAD model) is “traveling the world,” it needs to be detailed and precise. If engineers, marketers, ceos and foreign suppliers will all be looking at at, sometimes when I’m not even there (which is an entire issue unto itself) I can’t risk mis-interpretation, and try my best to represent three-dimensional space in two-dimensions. EDIT: And remember that not everyone can “read” a thumbnail sketch like a designer. It’s hard to imagine not being able to see a line drawing in color or with certain details, but that’s why I do color studies.

With that said, while a hot sketch isn’t always necessary, it can help grease the wheels and get clients excited for a new product concept, especially when they’ve seen piles of pencil drawings already.

IP, Do you think Andrew Kim would get the exposure he does if he stopped at hand drawings? How does this fit into the conversation? (I know it’s not exactly the same, as he is a student promoting himself)

But to masticate drawings for the sake of mastication, well that’s only fun for the designer.

I have had similar trains of thought regarding the various stylistic levels of sketching. There is a range of skill and talent and beauty in what various designers are able to pull off in terms of sketches. My personal range falls short of hot and polished! I am respectful, even envious of some of the skills and sketches that I see in these boards and on designer’s sites. The kinds of sketches I use day to day are almost style and arrangement diagrams, often overlaid on a rough CAD construction basis to keep proportions accurate. (Since I am usually the one seeing the design through the process, I like to have as clear a translation as possible between the steps.) The products morphology are familiar to everyone in the decision chain, the graphics are always being a secondary process, so diagrammatic representations do the trick.

For the people that I deal with, this is what is needed to express the possibilities, choose then move to the next step, a bit of back and forth between CAD and over-sketching, a clay or other physical rough model, then into CAD. Since my physical modeling ability, and CAD surfacing make up for my lack of sketch sleekness, render stage tends to be where the polished presentation to the wider world takes place.

I think that expresses it very well, the excitement that can be communicated by a very well executed sketch by a talented designer.

One thing I learned is that the less detailed the drawings/sketches are, the more the person (client) fills in the blank in their mind of what it could be. This could be good, especially during the developing stages.

One of the biggest value sketching gives IDers is it helps us differentiate from engineers. Sketching is a unique skill we have and that very few other professionals can do. Besides it being a very quick way to show concepts and ideas. These are some reasons why it is so valued to ID.

@bennybtl I think the thread here is getting to the point I expected it to go. That comes down to the audience and what the context of the program centers around. In the case of the program that started this chain of thought for me, my client is a guy with an idea working out of his garage. He’s never worked with ID before, so seeing someone able to realize his ideas with a pencil, no matter how basic I thought they were, was magic for him.

Now, if I am working for a high profile client that has a deep cadre of C-Level execs needing to make a decision on this, then you have to step your game up.

But even that chain of thought makes me think that the idea of highly polished presentations ARE overvalued. Whether it is sketches, rendering, or smoke and mirrors. Rather than focusing one’s time on making the best product, so much time is wasted (in my opinion) on making decision makers feel important.

So, back to your original question…yes, I think Andrew needs to do what he’s doing to garner the attention he is. Because, at the end of the day, he’s figured out his target audience.

yes, IDers over value sketching. Sketching is important you need to be able to do it well, well enough to convey your idea. In college I found that often people mistook the better sketches as better ideas. I used to think that the better at sketching you are the better designer you are, but its simply not true. As a designer you are only as good as you ideas. You need to be good enough at sketching to quickly convey those ideas. I am in no way trying to down play the importance of sketching. At the end of the day, no one cares about your beautiful idea if you cant sketch well enough to convey it

so much time is wasted (in my opinion) on making decision makers feel important

been there, done that! I think that there are remnants from the high-flying days of yester-year, where the decision makers sit around and are “presented to” after which pointing, hand waving and grumbling leads to more of the same.

Instead, the more contemporary decision maker is interested in collaboration, because they understand what it is like to be knee-deep in the dev process and they enjoy every minute of it, much like your garage inventor. Things are changing for the better, but the skill, as a skill, is still valuable though it may get over-sold?

(Another tangental thought:
There may also be a connection to the common perception that drawing is a talent, not a skill, similar to singing or dancing. There is a certain mystery and magic surrounding it, drawing huge audiences (not literally drawing though, yet- Cut&Paste ) The truth is that these are more of a grey area. Talent+Training makes a great artist,dancer or vocalist. ID’ers may have unconsciously perpetuated this belief for financial gain and professional prestige, understandably. Why do instrumental bands rarely achieve the fame that vocalist led music does? We do so much more, but hot sketches are fast and easy eye candy. )

I do mainly thumbnails. I really haven’t done a polished sketch in years. It starts a discussion. From there I might flush out the proportions and major construction techniques in a B&W drawing, but I also do that in a rough model. Colors and materials are highlighted by images and trends that surround the concept. From there I’ll add in the engineering and specs in the clean model.

I don’t like to show a client a lot of renderings in the beginning. They come to expect this at every iteration after this point.

I design furniture.

I’m right there with you. I think with furniture it’s pretty obvious what the function is, so just seeing sketches of a chair isn’t quite enough to sell it. A physical piece is best, and a render is the next best (and cheaper) alternative. Plus with furniture there are certain ergonomic parameters that need to be considered, so I find that spending time on the CAD model is where the real nitty-gritty work takes place. You want your lines and curves to look hot from every viewing angle while still being functional. Not to mention, if you build a robust parametric model it comes in handy through the process because small tweaks and changes are easy and take no time at all. It’s very time consuming if you try to draw every viewing angle accurately, and by that time my model could be done and I’m on to picking out materials and colors etc.

But this is just my work flow. I don’t have a group of other designers and engineers to share information with, and we don’t show our customers sketches. On average I create way more concepts throughout the year than what we can actually afford to develop into reality, so I can spend a little extra time bringing a concept into a render stage.