Is sketching important?

Sketching is a way/tool to solve a problem. My experience is that too many ID’ers just start sketching (i.e. problem solving) without truly understanding the problem to begin with… :unamused:

This is a very worrying trend to me as it diminishes the role of ID in product development and innovation.

Other corporate competencies look to us to add something to the PD process they can’t - I STRONGLY believe that that competency is to properly frame the problem in its context - sketching alone DOES NOT help with that.

I personally prefer to abstract or “simulate” the issue to be able to look at it from a different perspective. Crude story-boarding and 3D simulation is key there. Yes, it could be sketching, but it is sketching WITH A THOUGHT OUT purpose, not sketching for sketching’s sake!

nydesign guy: WORD UP!..
it’s the thinking going on in the designer’s mind While sketching, hopefully fueled by some sort of defined problem \ purpose that solves problems…
i feel that.

a lot of good and valid things are being said here.
I don’t have a ton of experience of course but I think that too many young students are tricked into believing that a fancy sketch is the key to success. They spend so much time practising perspective and all the dramatic angles without even thinking about that the most important thing is what they are drawing, not how.

It is always nice to have something that looks good/ dazzles the client or the employer at an interview but ultimately, the client/employer is professional enough to pretty fast determine if the ideas sketched are innovative, realistic and overall impressive. Fellow designers that can’t look beyond a the fancy sketching and are so superficial that they dismiss a designer because his sketches aren’t polished haven’t really understood what it’s about.

You are getting hired for your ideas, not for your sketch skills. Those skills are important to communicate your idea. if there is nothing to communicate, then the quality of the sketch doesn’t matter at all.

I have experienced that sketches help me figure out certain problems but that, if there is time, a 3D 1-minute sketch model, out of whatever material, (almost) always communicates better.
Especially in furniture concepts. A napkin, some toothpicks and two olives helped me once to illustrate an idea in 30 seconds like no 2D sketch would have.

Please, stop this “pissing war” about fancy sketching.
I wrote this in another post already, if somebody can communicate a complex idea with two lines and a circle, then I am truly impressed.

I am a lefty and can draw in perspective… :open_mouth:

The key to sketching is communication. It a fast and powerful tool. I teach rapid concept sketching at a local ID school. Everyone can improve sketching skills. It does not matter how good or bad you are at drawing. All it takes is practice, practice and a few people to crit. you now and then. In my classes there are all levels of drawing comfort. I see it over and over again. A little guidance and practice (lots) goes a long way to raising the communal skill set.

I am a firm believer that everyone can always improve and learn the baseline of the sketch “language” we use.

Don’t forget the following situations:

  1. You are flying to a client and suddenly you have an insight into the project. A napkin sketch will be just the thing to show the client.

  2. You are working out details in a manufacturing plant in Chine (or where ever). Sketching allows the half of the room that does not speek your native toungue to understand exactly what you are tlaking about.

  3. You have a good idea but you want to talk it over with engineering to see if there are any problems. a sketch is less frightening for engineers to draw on top of that a rendering. For some reason they consider renderings to be artwork.

  4. The power is out and you need to work on ideas

I think there needs to be a clarification made here - there’s a difference between: being able to sketch an idea to communicate to yourself or to someone else; and being able to produce presentation quality, hand rendered masterpieces - or for that matter even a simple perspective view of a product.

In my opinion - Sketching = Important , Hand Drawn Presentation Images = Not Necessarily Important. And for some strange reason it always seems to be the latter that people judge your worth as a designer (as brought up by fatkid)

There are plenty of successful designers who can’t produce something they would show a client without the help of a computer. While every designer (nay person) on the planet, has the ability to put pen to paper in a way that means something at least to them.

It all depends on what industry you work in - if you’re in a shoe design, car design or other fashion based field your desk is probably covered in markers, colour chips or material samples and templates. But if you’re in a general product consultancy (unless you’re “the drawing guy”) your desk is probably covered in random pieces if paper covered in chicken scratch, calipers, bits of SLA and a machinist’s handbook.

I was on the road for a few days and too tied up to check in. Glad to see this discussion has taken off:


ahh, spoken like someone who doesn’t know how to sketch. The whole point is just the opposite. A pretty picture is not just a pretty picture. There are great sketchers who are not great designers and the inverse, but in today’s competitive landscape, I want people who are BOTH on my team so we work as efficiently as possible and get the best design possible in the marketplace.

all 5 of those happen all the time. I was just working on a freelance project for a major client in which 1,3, and 5 happened.

I’d have to say sketching (although I do not mean quality of drawing) is important even though my sketches can be pretty much shorthand only I can understand… I do find that to get a full idea across in either sketch form or CAD totally depends on the relationship between the two/many people in the communication and quite often thats between two/many people who are generally not speaking the same (design)language… I think the way you explain the idea while sketching or refering to a sketch or quick piece of CG is far more important that sketching skills alone, the key is getting your idea communicated as efficiently as possible regardless of how you do it wether it be vocabulary, mime, sketching or CG.

Its about getting whats in your head into somebody elses and I dont think you can put it all down to one medium, having said that in most cases a pencil and piece of paper will be an easly accessible tool… but as we all know some “clients” quite often can not see through a full colour rendering let alone a few monotone scratches of carbon across a page.

how many times have people seen this happen…
you and some other designers are tasked with doing some initial concept ideas…a sketch session.

everyone gathers around the table/wall to review (whether is all designers or a mix of disciplines) and the better sketched (not rendered) stuff is more well received.

I’ve had it happen internally with design, engineering and marketing; as well as externally (though less rare as I think its important to be consistent in presenting externally).

its as others have said. its about communication of ideas. You idea is worthless if no one understands it or cares about it. And no we don’t have time to take every idea to CAD (even if you are a Rhino rockstar and can knock out A-sides quickly).

Things that have “disrupted” sketching in the last 15 years:

  1. Powerpoint with clip-art and animation. Now everyone can communicate their ideas regardless of their ability to sketch. And they can email it a lot easier.

  2. CAD as alternative to sketching, embraced by engineers.

  3. “Bits to atoms” transformation of modern products = the sketch has less value than it once did.

  4. Less time sketching in school and in professional life due to new distractions like the Internet, CAD etc.

Design is nothing to do with sketching, CG rendering or model making, its about the understanding of a problem and providing a solution with form and functionality. Ofcourse if you have the latter they will most certainly help!

much in the same way a good mechanic is still a good mechanic without any tools.

I have a whole box full of tools, but I’m far from being a mechanic :wink:

Hi Kinl, I agree to some point with your opinion. I agree that sketching is only a tools but the importance of those tools are a matter of the design direction. For a car designer or somebody mainly concerned about styling, sketching is by far one of the most important tool in his toolbox. To address your example, those people are mechanics, they are specialized in one category.
I think the problem is not only the understanding of sketching but also the understanding of the different subcategories of design itself. To many non designers, design is mainly form-giving/styling and therefor heavenly related to sketching. Since there is no real definition of all the subcategories of design people tend to throw everything in one pot and only look at the surface where they see high quality, appealing sketches. These sketches not only represent the design itself but also a craft quality.
Therefor, sometimes less promising designs are chosen because there are expressed in an more appealing way to a (less experienced) audience.
Sometimes I have the feeling that design still needs to develop a vocabulary which is more accurate. Design is the a broad topic and more precise definitions are needed influence the perception of it’s spectrum. Therefor I think this topic can’t be judged with an generalized answer. It rally depends on the individual designer’s field of activity.

And you can solve that by by sketching the better solutions in a more compelling manner.

Never show an idea you don’t agree with and always sketch your best ideas to the best of your abilities. Having worked on everything from medical equipment for operating rooms to vehicles, it seems to always work as we guide other functions through the creative process.

A pencil is a tool. Sketching isn’t a tool, it is a skill. To use the mechanic analogy from above, you want the mechanic with the most skills. If you are a mechanic, you want your skills to be better than your competitor.

CG hinted at it earlier, but sketching isn’t just pencil to paper. A sketch is something which communicates ideas visually, quickly and effectively. A powerpoint presentation can be a sketch if done with a certain approach as a paper model can be as well as a traditional 2d sketch. The important thing is that we explore, communicate, collaborate, and guide throughout the process.

I agree with what you’re saying (as I think everyone is saying pretty much the same thing) but we’re delving into semantics here, this discussion seems to be more about what the terms “design” and “sketching” include and dont include in their definitions.

as with the very abstract noun “Art” a discussion about its meaning is futile, to a lesser degree so is a discussion about the less abstract noun “Design” but to try and abstract a very descriptive noun as “Sketch” would be a step in the wrong direction, I’d personally clump the two examples above (in the quote) into “Design” or more accurately “Communication” than to blur the definition of “Sketch”.

Theres no doupt that its an interesting discussion, but I think the majority of comments are saying exactly the same thing…

“The important thins is that we explore, communicate, collaborate, and guide through out the process.”

“the key is getting your idea communicated as efficiently as possible regardless of how you do it wether it be vocabulary, mime, sketching or CG.”

“I want people who are BOTH great designers and sketchers on my team so we work as efficiently as possible and get the best design possible in the marketplace.”

“The key to sketching is communication. It a fast and powerful tool.”

I wouldn’t say it is futile. In fact just the opposite, it is paramount. A resolution may not be found (as in your example of the definition of art) but it helps to discuss and further define the boundaries of what we are talking about. Hence pages of discussion… as there is no shortage of artists, art historians, and critics discussing what art is.

I believe that most of the frustrations with sketching comes down to this-

The person who often is in a position of choice (whether that is a job, acceptance to a school, whatever) very often bases (what they think) your abilities as a designer on how well they think you can sketch and render. This can often lead to skilled designers being passed over for opportunities.

I know a few designers who can draw extremely well, but when it comes down to actual design knowledge needed to produce a product (materials, manufacturability, human factors, and so on) they are clueless. Just like YO said, the ability to sketch is a skill and its a skill we must all posses to some degree. But, we, as designers need to do so much more than that. A really well rendered hand sketch of a unmanufacturable, uber-expensive turd, is, well, still a turd.

Sketching does not mean you are a great designer, it means you can sketch.
Being a great designer doesn’t necessarily mean you are great at sketching, but it will help you land a job a lot faster and be more marketable.

Just my thoughts.

A discussion about the meaning of words is most definatly futile in this context, I thought we were discussing the true value of being able with pen and paper quickly communicate a design idea to another party, that is the reasoning behind my comments, I do hope they added to the discussion.

…and art critics shiver

I agree with some of the things said above… they are all rational reasons why sketching of some level is important in design.

I will offer my irrational opinion… if you cant sketch, you aren’t an industrial designer. Sketching is one of the most fundamental elements of creativity and compelling communication.

Without it why even bother.

Are we talking about sketching at all or sketching like a rockstar?

There is a difference. When people say “I can’t sketch” that usually means that they sketch poorly compared to others but can still throw down ideas on paper.

Just out of curiousity does anyone know of any blind or otherwise disadvantaged designers? Is sketching so important that if you can’t do it all, the individual is worthless as a designer? I really wonder about this because I can’t say that I believe it to be completely true.