Sketch Everywhere & Sketch Often

Hey guys, my name’s Johnny Nguyen and I finally got around to making an account. I can’t wait to be apart of the community!

So something I’ve discussed with so many designers:

I was the president of my school’s IDSA club last year, and majority of our discussions and meetings would include activities that would encourage students to sketch more. From talking to underclassmen and even my peers I found that some of them saw sketching as a chore… something the class required, and would spend hours upon hours on a few concepts. I’m not saying it’s wrong to spend so much time, but wouldn’t it be better to actually enjoy the task, and perhaps get faster / more confident at it?

My early background is in art, so drawing and sketching has become sort of a good habit. I would sketch during lectures, in my notes, on my arms, the list goes on! My suggestions to students have been to try sketching things they haven’t before, make it FUN and enjoyable -so it’s not just practice, but a hobby or something to include in daily life. Why encourage students to practice sketching blenders and toasters (unless they love toast, of course) when they can be learning line weights, textures, shading, and complex rendering through spaceships, monsters, robots, etc.?

What do you guys (and gals) think about helping students improve / enjoy sketching?

Also, sorry for the long post, here is my illustration page @ Illustration by Johnny Nguyen at

I think anyone who sees sketching a s a chore is doing it wrong. Instead of sketching for hours for a class, you could be doing calculous for hours for a class. People can be so whiny. I hate to be new age, but “follow your bliss”. If you don’t like doing the activities that are required of a designer, maybe it is not the right choice.

If you don’t like doing the activities that are required of a designer, maybe it is not the right choice.

Well said.

I agree, and you sort of took the words out of my head. Thanks for being honest.


Kudos for helping to motivate your peers. A valuable skill in itself. Agree with the point by Yo. I feel very lucky to have found this career. Sketching is a joy, and it is a privalige to do it at work for a paycheck. A few additional points to add.

1-Desigers tend to have a little (or a lot) of procrastinator in them. Waiting to sketch on a project as a student is not a good plan.
2-In general, there is a fear of what you don’t know. If someone is not confident in general sketching skills, it pushes them into what they know. As you mentioned, they spend too much time on a small handful of concepts. Being able to expand on core sketching skills and build a diverse “geometry library” in your head is how you begin to turn on the light switch for lots of ideas on paper (or screen).
3-I am a believer in making yourself draw in pen. It is a great training tool and forces you to trace your work again (therefor drawing more). If you commit to it, it makes other media that is less permanent seem much easier.

Hope this helps you to keep pushing your team, err peers.

Thanks Blaster! Really great advice. I’ve always considered starting with pen to help make your strokes more decisive and carefully, but never thought of it as a way to do more underlays / overlays -very smart.

Another point I’d like to make is that a lot of the same students who don’t enjoy sketching aren’t exactly bad designers or students, but lean a lot more towards the 3d modeling side -‘sketching’ on Solidworks rather than on paper. A Keyshot rendering is simple to create and offers a lot of information… but I’ve always seen 3d as the final part of the process, not the ideation phase. It’s changing in a way that it’s not so much that they hate sketching, but that they don’t see the value of it -convinced that 3d is the future…and sketching is old school. A lot of possible good ideas are failing to see the light of day because a student can’t sketch, and even less ideation is shown through 3d modeling.

I know that companies like to see sketching + ideation in portfolios, but how much sketching is still done after you get hired? (Realizing that it depends on the industry, let’s just say a consultancy)

How much sketching happens at a consultancy depends on the consultancy, their process and internal style, and who their clients and projects are.

I’m running an in house team and we tend to sketch in pretty explosive bursts. 3-5 designers sketching on a project for about a 2 week period. After research insights have been identified and a very high level product archetypes have been explored, sketched out and agreed upon by engineering and sales we will pull all or most of the design team together to sketch on what the product archetypes could manifest as. After a few weeks of sketching 50-100 directions, discussing, critiquing, refining, and overlaying, we will internally down select to 3-5 directions to work up in CAD with some notional internals and share with engineering and sales for input and to begin working collaboratively on product development… and then starts a months of CAD, CMF specifications, BOM negotiations, high fidelity model making, design refinements, sample reviews… by this point we are typically ready to kick off another batch of products.

So, we sketch a lot, but mainly in intense bursts, and in groups. It is important to be able to turn it on at a moment’s notice (ie you may be asked to participate in a sketch burst on someone else’s project to help them refine an aspect) and it is important for you to feel comfortable and confident enough to sketch in front of your peers and take their immediate feedback, input, and critique, work with it, play with it, push on to new ideas. It is a type of mental agility that is usually very apparent in someone’s sketching. Can they diverge and explore 100 different things in 2 days, can they see the themes, the poolings of ideas and converge those 100 sketches into 5 concepts, can they refine those five concepts into a single direction?

It takes an interesting balance of playfulness and determination, an embrace of chaos with a drive toward an answer, and a comfort with ambiguity with a pull toward resolution. Somehow I think sketching is a big part of this balance.

That was a great insight Yo, something that emphasizes the importance of developing every skill. I always find it interesting how different companies’ processes are, and I especially like the idea of sketch bursts and group sessions, being able to communicate and speak the same language as the team. A lot of people seem to assume sketching is just to impress a client, and while it is true in some cases, I’m glad to see it’s a crucial aspect of it all.

I remember having a conversation with a designer from China who barely spoke English. Instead we communicated through simple sketches, a lot of hand gestures and making funny faces -it was truly a moment I’ll never forget.


Two points in reference to Solidworks (or CAD in general).

1- If you knew how much I use it, you would know how much I value it as a powerful tool. :smiley:
2-I regard hand sketching and 3d modeling as symbiotic partners. The more you sketch and the more diverse the shapes drawn, the more it pushes your CAD skills. The more CAD you build, the better you are at forecasting geometry and intersections in your sketching.

From a business perspective, Yo already outlined where sketching is critical. As the Director at a small firm, let me add another point. It is hard to beat “sketch by the pound”. The time it takes (and minimal overhead) to sketch out a wide variety of concepts, evolve and refine them is much faster than any CAD model.

Man, this changes my perspective immensely Blaster, seriously. I could always go back and forth between the importance of both, but this sort of settles it -changes the process a little, not really a clear 1-2 combo anymore, just 2 things that continuously build upon each other. Thanks!