A student sent me the following email. Below is my response, but I thought it would be cool to see what you all thought.
I am a student from XXXXXXX writing a placement dissertation. My dissertation is based on whether or not a strong sketching skill set is required in a professional design practice. I enjoy sketching and personally think it is an invaluable skill to have, however the company I am at does not do any presentational sketch work to clients or any internal sketching. This made me ask the question is a strong sketching ability required in a professional design practice? I am trying to weigh up the value of a strong sketching ability against other development tools such as model making, prototyping and CAD work.
I know from your website and your involvement in Core77 that you have an exceptionally strong sketching ability. It would be fantastic if you could provide your thoughts and insights into this subject matter i.e. What do you as a professional class as a strong sketching ability? Do you find that designers that can sketch to a high standard are better designers than those that canâ€™t? Compared to other forms of development does a strong sketching skill set take second place?
As a professional designer I know that you are very busy so any feedback, comments, suggestions or examples that you have to offer I would be extremely grateful for.
Thanks for your email and the compliment.
Sketching is extremely important in the professional world for several reasons. The most obvious reason is efficiency of communication. Ideas tend to be visual. As someone explains an idea to you, you get a mental picture. That picture is subjective based on how you interpret words. A sketch visualizes the idea for the viewer, providing a shared visual experience that can be discussed, debated and refined.
You might say a 3d computer model does this as well, and you would be right. However, in the time it would take you to create one computer model of one idea, you could flush out 50 concept sketches, meet with a group, refine the ideas, and do another round of finished concepts. A sketch is fluid. It implies to viewers that this is still a work in process, and they are freer to have input, brainstorm, and share ideas. A sketch has that perfect amount of communication and interpretation. When the concept reaches an optimal state, then I feel confident going to 3d. If I am going to have one of my modelers spend 60 hours making a design, I want to make sure it is the RIGHT design, and the best thing we could possibly make. I don’t do 3d myself because I don’t want to design what I know I can build. My modelers are extremely talented, and speak that language fluently.
Beyond communication, sketching is a way of thinking. Throwing lines down, doodling through a problem, we find new solutions. Through documenting that thinking in drawings we go through the act of evaluating and building on thoughts until they are complete. We push beyond the obvious into the realm of the uncomfortable, where all good things tend to come from.
On a more minor level, it is one of the things in the product creation process that only we can do. It gains us respect, and elevates us from mere technicians to creatives. Spin a model around on screen and people are mildly impressed. Tear off a sheet of paper and throw down a beautiful sketch, and they are blow away, captivated, they feel they have witnessed something special. In our desire to integrate into the product process designers have learned how to speak the languages of business and engineering. It is paramount that we not forget out own language, the language of creativity and imagination.
It is these things that have gotten me into board room discussions and corporate planning meetings. Not my ability to read a spread sheet or revise a blueprint (though I do both). For these reasons I would never consider hiring someone who didn’t enjoy sketching.
Good luck with the paper.