Importance of sketching ability. Is it possible to learn?

As a 2nd yr student industrial designer my lecturers have been drilling in the importance of sketching for success as a designer.

I realise sketching is a very important tool, an essential tool to the industrial designer however I am currently having great difficulty with this aspect of design.

Is it possible to develop a great sketching ability through practice over time even if i am quite unskilled right now?
What opportunities are there for people in my situation who can come up with great concepts and are generally good designers however lack the ability in sketching their ideas impressively?

I welcome any commments, thanks.

You should be able to sketch well enough to communicate your concept. If you can’t, get out of ID. Its just practice. You don’t have to be Rembrandt. Take a sketch book with you at all times. Sketch daily and you will get better.

Sorry to say but there are lots of people out there that can come up with great concepts AND communicate them through sketching. They will be the ones who get the opportunities… unless you want to be a model maker.

You will improve over time, so just keep practicing. Meanwhile, you would want to pay attention to others who can sketch well and try to identify what is working. Try to mimic that, and eventually, you will creat your own style.

You will deffinitely get better with practice. Just keep taking classes and of course doing the assignments. Sketching, like anything else, takes practice. The more you do it, the better you will get, keep at it.

I agree with the previous, keep practicing. Another technique is to trace things. Comic books are good in mho to trace figures, and generally they will look good because they are also quick drawings. Trace people and products out of magazines. Trace renderings that are in Innovation or other design books. This all may sound a bit weird, but take a look at the arts. In painting, students often copy classis works, in music students always start off playing previous music. Design sketching is no different, and tracing or copying existing work will teach your hand and brain to coordinate to draw your own great concepts.

Lastly, I’ve met designers who drew just ok. It takes a genius to sit down and draw something beautiful without taking the time to use all kinds of underlays and drawing tools. Don’t worry though, there are more design positions than geniuses.

Remember when you where learning to talk? Probably not, but if you’ve been around a todler you know they start off with just making sounds, slowly they build the sounds into words. Over time the words are strung into sentences, the sentences into complete thoughts. Only after years of practice is the child able to develop complete ideas and embellish them with a bit of slang.

Sketching is like that, it’s a language of communication. If you don’t speak it every day, you loose the fluency. It you are not willing to practice everyday, you’ll never quite get it. It you are willing, you’ll soon realize it is a skill, those that are better than you simply have more time in.

Just like learning Italian, it helps to be around people who are learning it at your level, as well as around people who are far more advanced. Check out some of these sites for some inspiration…

best of luck

Where I went to school, top-rate hand-drawing abilities were required on your admission portfolio, let alone make it through even the first year of the program.

Still, laureng, you’re too harsh. Design is an exercise of the mind much more than the hand. Granted, visually communicating ideas quickly and efficiently is a must for any designer, but the method and style can (and should) vary with the individual, especialy in the age of photorealistic CAD renderings. I have yet to see any designer sell million-dollar product concepts to a client or management based on hand sketches or marker renderings. Proven working concepts make a sale, not paper ideas.

Sketching is a more of a personal outlet for creativity, useful as initial validation for a quick succession of ideas, and good indeed for bringing green ideas to maturity, i.e. the level at which you at least have something palpable to present.

Some of the most respected designers and architects today only draw doodles perfectly unintelligible to others but central to their own concept development. It all comes down to what real-life use you make of this skill. If you plan on selling your value to an employer this way, then definitely learn to draw like Michelangelo. If quick sketches are only an occasional communication tool with your own consciousness, colleagues and immediate superior, focus on WHAT you draw more than HOW well you do, otherwise you’ll get labeled an illustrator.

There are, like laureng says, lots of people who can come up with great concepts, but that’s exactly how they finish - as concepts. There are, proportionally speaking, far fewer designers that come up with great WORKING concepts that can be both made and sold at a profit. You want to make sure you belong to this second group to survive the long-term.

Practice your drawing skills but remember eventually you’ll be hired to make a difference on someone’s bottom line. How you do that is up to you really.

I love how everyone is always talking about designers envisioning these wonderful concepts. Total blue sky thinking. That’s fine and wonderful for the design magazine pin-ups. I always love reading interviews with such “great” designers in these magazines. Always wearing black and thinking they are the out to change the world. Yes, sketching is great to have, and as LaurenG mentioned, you don’t need to be a Rembrandt. Enough to make an easily understandable drawing. Maybe I am being too cynical towards industrial design, but screw the whole concept thing. Do you honestly think the buyer at Walmart (not the consumer, the god, er, buyer) gives a crap about concept? Nope, not in the least. They want what they had last year, with more features, but for less. Unfortunately, that’s today’s design. I love how everyone thinks the Ipod is a great design. Come on, it’s a square with fillets. It’s what’s inside that is great. The user-interface completely sucks, especially if you are an athlete.

Since Walmart and other mass-merchandisers drive design in this country, conceptual development of products is forgotten. Industrial Design is losing it’s relevance since we are seen simply as stylists, rather than developers and thinkers.

Get decent with your sketching. Just sketch everyday and it will come naturally. Focus more on manufacturing knowledge and learn one of the Big 3 CAD programs. In my opinion, that will do the most for you in today’s design industry. If you want to do real conceptual stuff that will get you on glossy magazine paper, go to a design firm, work 80+ hours a week for peanuts.

Contrary to what a few people in here have said, sketching and concept generation is undoubtedly the most important aspect of industrial design, getting your foot in the door at least. You are useless if you can’t come up with tons of understandable ideas everyday.

In regards to getting a first job or internship, companies will hire a good sketcher over a great designer with average sketching. I’ve seen it happen plenty of times. That all changes a few years down the road, but it is the most important aspect to focus on in school.

Sketching isn’t just drawing pretty, its communicating the idea, showing how it works, and making it look inviting.

Your attitude sucks, 6ix. From what I can tell from your past posts, you are an embittered designer stranded in a no-name town who is getting more than a little anxious to get out and more than a little jaded and cynical at the same time. Yes, Wal-Mart plays a large role in mainstream consumer products in the US, but they don’t sell everything. (and certainly don’t drive the design industry as a whole!) Your negative attitude is really making you look like you’re burning out. If you hate the “black-tutleneck”(?) consulting crowd AND you hate the bottom-barrel Wal-Mart crowd… what do you stand for? Are you willing to fight to keep ID’s relevance or are you going to curse the whole industry as doomed?

Please disregard my earlier post. I was ranting and in a bad mood. Flat out, I still love this profession. There is always room for better design and more conceptual work. After all, that’s what opens minds.

On a side note, I was starting to think the Core threads were dead. But after reading a few popular ones, it’s clearly evident that there is some growing steam, and it’s not just air. Most of the posts are backed by extensive experience and knowledge of the field of industrial design.

Egg’s posts usually knock the wind out of me. Kinda like falling off the swing-set! But then I stand back, think about it, and generally agree. He just says it more eloquently.

Here’s a gross-generalization of today’s good (I said GOOD) product development team…and you’ll likely be part of a team in your professional career.

The marketing people can think creatively, might even be visionary. They can produce a demographic breakdown, performance targets and research plans, maybe a week after the first team meeting.

The engineering folk are open minded, keen to tackle design challenges, want to change the world just like designers. They’ll gladly produce an optimized bill of materials, rationalize the impact of production volumes on current processes, blah, blah, blah. But that’ll take a month.

The designer is probably just as creative and open-minded as the marketing and engineering folks, maybe not even more creative (remember, i said this was a GOOD team). If you can rapidly visualize abstract concepts quickly (that’s sketching), your entire team will appreciate your near-instantaneous contributions because you may have:

  • run the first concept up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes
  • given the team that first, tantalizingly tangible goal to march towards
  • formalized (however preliminarily) a concept for the team to react to, which can be built upon.

This is a wildly incomplete list, but the ability to deliver any of these things (in 5 minutes worth of sketching) is INVALUABLE. Don’t let anybody tell you different. It’s not the only thing you do as a designer…but it may be the biggest differentiator you have (on a GOOD team).

If you don’t believe it, try standing in a room with a Chinese vendor, an Israeli engineer, an Indian finance guy and an American marketing manager. Your ability to illustrate something that can be understand without misinterpretation will make the other folks in the room green with envy.

It’s the equivalent of speaking a language that everybody can understand. Do not underestimate this talent…or the power that comes with it…which of course can be used for good OR evil.

Nuswank has his finger on the pulse here. Anyone here who says that sketching can be replaced with other phases of the design process like CAD or Photoshop does not use sketching as it should be. No software on the market at this point can replace the ease with which a good sketcher can generate concepts. Nuswank is spot on in saying that visual communication of a concept can propel a program along very quickly.

Sketching is learned- but you need to constantyl evaluate yourself to the pack. I have seen too many students that have crap sketches and have not been pushed to create real innovative solutions that have real constraints

I Agree with the Pro-Sketching crowd. I too am a student and at this point am not entirely pleased with my sketching abilities, however they are much better than they were just a short time ago. A couple of suggestions: I had a professor who suggested that we sketch in pen (at least in the beggining ), it makes you consentrate harder on drawing the line correctly the first time instead of erasing. Also put your pen on the paper, look at where you want it to go and draw. Another thing I personaly think is important is to sketch things that are non-ID as well. Instead of constantly sketching designs give your self a break and go sit in a park and sketch some cute girl ( or guy); human forms are lots of fun to draw. And for those times when your hand just wont seem to obey, don’t fight it relax and let your pen wonder, doodle, or if your angry draw your frustration. The most important thing to remember is try to enjoy yourself if your haveing a good time you’ll practice longer. Also working in other mediums ( paints, inks, digital 2d & 3D, modeling ) all create insights that will improve your sketching skills.

This is a tangent here: The profs that i have met who are anal about line quality usually have not practised in years. in fact worrying about line quality for ideation sketches should be the last thing on your mind. Initial sketches should be rough, and an exercise in expressing your flow of consciousness. Your sketches are a device to help you reach many potential design solutions. Ideas first and foremost. this means that you are sketching much more quantity.
Quantity of sketches is also really important in form development. In my experience there is usually a sticking point till I fully understand what the surfaces of a form are doing. The more views of the product I can sketch the quicker I can understand and refine the form.
I dont know how much time and perfectly good paper I wasted trying to get the perfect line. Sketch out a rough form and then use overlays to clean up your lines for presentation.

This is my form development workflow:
Try to be judicious with perspectives for form development. Start sketching with the most descriptive view. Many times these are the orthographic views- top, right/left & front . These sketches can communicate a bulk of information very quickly. Switch to onepoint perspectives after this to resolve surface transitions that are ambiguous in orthos. If these sketches are still not informative enough then try two point perspectives.

Of course this is bread and butter development sketches to undertand form. After you understand the product in your mind you can always tweak your prespectives for dramatic effect

The prob here is that i almost agree with all of you more or less but what i have realized is that what counts is the IDEA. If you are capable in sketch then it is good for you but i guess it is not of paramount importance once cad software can creat more impressive images.

I agree with previous posts that skecthing ability is critical (I personally would not hire a designer who didn’t show good sketches in his/her portfolio) and practice practice practice.

I would highly recommend figure drawing… take an elective at your school or find a class locally. Draw big and loose, charcoal on cheap paper, it’ll get you in the right frame of mind.

spelling, not so important apparently.

that would be sketching

I have a question for the more experienced folks here.

Everyone says that sketching at first should be fairly rough, concentrating on the idea rather than the aesthetics of the sketch


On EVERY interview (at consultancies) and at many reviews that I have been to, the people seem to only focus on the quality of the sketches. They want to see sketches that blow them away with aesthetics and quality. Its like you have to be able to draw better than them.


What do hiring designers really want to see, professional level illustration or idea development through thumbnails? Or both? Or what?

Understand that saying “you need to have good sketching skills” is not really helpful advice. Good compared to what/who? I would say my drawing skills were in the top 25% in my school. However, I don’t really draw like Doug Chiang or Joe Johnston…

On a side note, I have noticed that it is infinitely easier to impress non-designers (hiring at corporations, etc…) and it is almost impossible to impress a hiring designer at a consultant firm. They have seen everything. Its not good enough to be good at sketching, rendering, have knowledge of manufacturing/engineering, be able to commnicate with people, etc…they want people who are outstanding at all of that. At least that is my experience. Has it always been like that or is it just because the job market is flooded with unemployed entry level designers, with hundreds more joining the workforce every spring?

This topic just won’t die …

A good rule of thumb is to “adjust” your sketching prowess as a function of the interviewer. Remember design consultancies, for the most part, live off selling their clients concept proposals, and many of them! Conclusion: you must excel at finished presentation-level renderings in all media to be hired. In my (early) experience interviewing at design offices they all talk endlessly about the importance of concept development sketches showing process but still end up hiring based on flash, and less on substance.

Things change dramatically in corporate design offices and manufacturing where, believe it or not, they actually expect to make and sell the fruits of your passionate sketches. What primarily matters here is that one elusive concept their clients will buy. Whether it’s experienced designers, engineers or corporate types peeking at your worth, solid ideas translateable into sales take front stage. Sketching is seen as a PERSONAL skill for refining your own thought process and output, but it’s not like the VP of Operations, Accounting or the mold technicians give a s–t about the framed renderings on your office walls. End results count above how you got there.

Design consulting firms in some ways (unfortunately) pursue on the design school approach of emphasizing the craft of good design over its more pragmatic, less glamorous market impact. Certainly, if they make a living at volume-selling paper concepts, you’re expected to draw like the Old Masters from the moment your pen hits the paper, that is from the most basic sketch to final renderings. It’s what their own clients BUY.

I for one, am more interested in a designer’s sensibility and intelect, less so sketch, modeling or other craft skills. These are a bonus, but where I work, never a necessity affecting a project’s final outcome.

Don’t get too precious and self-conscious about any form of hand drawing, that is immediately visible to an experienced eye and can really sink an interview. It remains up to you to decide on which particular skills you’ll be selling yourself on. Leonardo Da Vinci-types are usually one every several hundred years or so. Don’t make claims you cannot support.

If so many firms hire on sketching skills it may be they are themselves short on real-life hiring criteria that count, not to mention short on ideas in general. Asking new graduates to shine in all categories is not only unrealistic, but downright abusive. I’d always hire a professional product illustrator (an artist) separately from a designer.

But then, some people would rather keep squeezing a dry lemon than buying a new one. For years now, the oversupply of ID graduates has made sure these hiring practices will not change anytime soon.