Help with Form Development

This has always been my weak point in my portfolio and I know it’s currently hurting my chances at finding a new gig. I’ve pretty much got everything else checked off the list from the feedback I get from employers: good research, diverse set of ideas, informed decision-making, CAD execution etc… That’s not to say my forms are bad, but there’s just not the creative surfacing that some directors look for.

My sketch technique is good, whether it’s digital or marker, but the forms just don’t come to me easily. I draw shit for at least the first 2-3 hours and then my forms slowly become more “mediocre”. I know practice makes perfect, but at some point, I feel like I’m just getting good at drawing bad forms. I reference Pinterest for inspiration but that only gets me so far. Has anyone else had success stories in improving this skill set? What are some specific strategies in exploring form that helps you? :confused:

This is a tough one - understanding form has a lot to do with understanding it in your mind as much as being able to get it out on paper or in a piece of 3D software.

One thing that can help better understand form is to practice a lot of just deconstructing existing things. Sketch cars, people, objects and spend time really understanding how the forms get created on paper. Scott Robertson’s old DVD on perspective drawing is really useful for understanding how certain shapes get constructed.

Looking at a car, breaking down a single panel and thinking “what is the surface, how would I draw it, how might I CAD it, and how would I manipulate it?” Sometimes just trying to reconstruct an existing object in sketch and 3D helps you appreciate what went into building a shape, and that shape now becomes part of your form vocabulary you can use.

Some designers have made entire careers on “simple” forms, and one could argue that the pure form-giving part of ID is the least valued of the remaining skillsets. But if you have an industry you want to go into, you should think about what type of objects that are more complex you can start to design.

I would also not give up on practicing with good old fashioned clay or foam. Building a form with your hands is the purest way of appreciating the sculptural qualities of something.

Thanks Mike. I think you touched on something with your “form library”. Maybe it would be helpful for me to mimic forms I like, just to get my brain thinking about features and profiles that make it what it is. When you look at some of the very talented people on coroflot or pinterest, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed and intimidated. Maybe I’m over-inspiring myself. I was at a company that did have a very simple branded form language that we slapped on the developed products housing. It was easy to execute mainly because it was such a clean brand language and looks nice with minimal elements. That does give me some confidence that if I can expand on that library of sorts, I can combine or manipulate them subtly to create something new.

Hi Gazoo,
You may be thinking too linear if your forms are based on features and existing geometry. Here are some thoughts/things that may help.

  1. instead of thinking of outlines think of main form characteristics. Maybe a character line or one main detail that drives the overall look. Maybe sketch out with markers very loosely so that you are not confined to the “outline” of the product.
  2. don’t work with templates at first. This will free your mind and really draw the shapes you like. after you have an aesthetic direction you like then you can introduce the templates so that you tweak your design to fit the product.
  3. start building a library of forms (pinterest boards). Maybe re-sketch or trace sketches or products you like and see how they treat the forms and how they come together. Most people with your problem think of primitive shapes first…how to tweak a square, rectangle, sphere. Maybe start with abstract shapes instead. This guy did some cool form studies…Collection of Forms 2011 by George Yoo at
  4. Keep practicing. The more you draw shapes you like the more your mental library will expand and the more ideas you’ll come up with.
    Good luck.

You must unlearn what you have learned.

Forget about features, forget about CAD. Think in pure semantics and emotion.

Go get a giant newsprint pad and some pastels and sketch emotions. Then translate that back into products over a series of steps.

I think you are a bit fixed in your mind when doing explorations. A lot of form design starts with a free mental visualization and your ability to manipulate form in your mind. Picture a sphere or ellipsoid in your mind and start to sculpt it. Experienced designers do this in fractions of seconds and know how to get it to paper. On paper, you can simply start freely drawing lines. Colani always advised to start with freely drawing curves and then evolving them towards 3D forms, eventually making them realizable. I also advise to work with river clay if you are beginning at form development, it greatly stimulates the brain and your creative flow.

I steal.

I see a form I like, I take it. Always have, always will. Lot’s of internet sources, and this old man has these things called books.

What I don’t do is copy.

One thing that might be useful is to post a critique of your own work. Being self critical helps you look for opportunities on where to improve.

Shy of a 4 year art degree in sculpture, everyone has different techniques. Start playing around in ways that intrigue and inspire you.

The Luigi Colani “cigar and a paintbrush” approach just isn’t for me.

I agree with Cyberdemon, it might be helpful for us to see your work.

One way that I have found it helpful for individuals overcome this issue is to challenge yourself to design in the form language of known brands, just to loosen up. What if this product was designed for BMW, Mini, Rigid, Dewalt, Nike, POC, etc.

Yes, a sample of your ideation may help so we can see where you are having trouble with.
Yes, look at cars and their design language. Truly analyze it and find a way to describe it with words. After you have done this exercise then try to apply that design language to a product.
I also remember the first time I learned/used mood/inspiration boards. It’s easier to come up with forms if you have some kind of compass. If you are just trying to create forms aimlessly and in quantity it may be too overwhelming. It’s easier to come up with a few variations per design direction.

As the saying goes, good artists borrow, great artists steal :slight_smile:

A few areas always ripe with inspiration:

  1. modern sculpture: Brancusi, Noguchi, Hannish Kapoor.
  2. modern architecture: from FLW to Koolhaus
  3. nature: go take some hikes
  4. sci fi: Ralph Macquarie, Joe Johnston, Syd Mead

I’ve had a subscription to Sculpture magazine for decades. One of my favorite sources of inspiration.

Wow, thank you everyone for your suggestions. I think I can take a few nuggets from each. For those of you who have links, you have fantastic work. Yo, i’ve been seeing your work posted for the past few years as well so there is definite weight to what each of you say. Is there a separate thread to post my occasional sketch or is here ok?

You are welcome. I find the community here can be really helpful with this kind of advice. We have all hit the wall at one time or another on a skill or thought process. I can move this three over to the sketching forum or you can start a new conversation there. Which would you like?

Yes, you have to think in terms of volumes, how they interrelate, what it communicates and what that means. Then there is the aspect of how it will look right in front of you in real life. This is a very important step and only advanced designers can make that translation well. For example the Renault ZOE Z.E. concept, the Smart roadster, the new Smart, Nissan Juke, Citroen Cactus, were much better as sketches.

Here is a good inspiration page:

This is a fascinating subject, and great pointers from the previous posts. Form finding is almost impossible to teach as a skill, it just needs to be practiced over and over in any medium available.
Shapes not only have to be interesting and eye catching but relevant to the segment and “makeable”.
I find it amazing how some people can see great shapes in their mind but can’t draw if their life depends on it, so they get great at steering other designers in that direction, using crappy detail sketches.

Whenever I approach a new project and what form it’s going to take on, I consider its context. What does the object do, how is it used and how and from what material might it be made from? Is it hand held or does it sit on a surface, who is the user?
From here you can start to deconstruct certain elements that will need to be present in the final design to meet these requirements and then you can begin to sketch loose forms that make sense for the context and end user.
Along with this I consider the brand for which I’m designing which can often give clues to how the details of the product might be treated.
After sketching out loads of different ideas you can choose the ones that speak to you the most and refine them, adding further detail.
I usually get a warm fuzzy feeling inside when I can feel all these elements coming together.
Enjoy exploring!

  1. find images of forms that inspire you and dissect them. Dont trace the outlines fill in the form and create contour lines - shadows and highlights to understand the flow.
  2. find objects in the real world - study them close your eyes and run your hand over the surface - feel how they transition
  3. get a pound of play-do and sculpt the photograph and sketch over.
  4. I also took several classes - and learned many things that are simple but really helped me to excel with form development… sketch from the inside out, use many colors, have fun and let your hand and eys guid you, lightest lights to darkest darks.

If you click on the link you will see a quick video i created to demonstrate. (still can figure out how to embed the videos :frowning:

Thanks all. Yes Yo, please move it over to the sketch forum. I should’ve thought of that previous!

This is a awesome thread. Form development is obviously huge to what we do but it can be a bit esoteric for a lot of discussions and is barely covered by any design blogs in depth, so it’s nice to see it pop up in some more detail here.