# sketching types


Recently I’ve noticed some of my students thinking that sketching isn’t an important skill to have for an industrial designer. In a way they are right. Our profession and the way we do it has changed with the introduction of new technologies. Nonetheless sketching will always be important and therefore this post.

First of all sketching is a great and quick tool to communicate and archive/document your ideas.

Therefore the first class of sketches:
IDEATION sketches

These sketches are simple doodels. less than 1min drawings, best done on post-its since this will restrict you going into detail and you can group ideas afterwards. These type of sketches are ideal to sketch ideas very fast during a brainstorm. They aren’t made to be shown to a client. There main purpose is to catalogue ideas. This is a sketching skill anyone should have. Play pictionary with your fellow collegeaus to practice this. This is also a skill that can be quite handy when your in foreign countries and have a communication problem :wink:


The chosen ideas from the ideation-phase are further developed and explored. In this phase you can start thinking about form-variations/styling. Try to create as many variations on a idea as you can. Try to combine ideas. Explore some of the details.
These types of sketches need some more skill. This is where the first form-studies happen. Therefore a correct use of perspective is necessary. These sketches are still quite rough and fast. While doing them you’ll have new ideas, so try not to get caught in the details.


From the previous stage some concepts are chosen. These concepts are again further explored with a focus on: Product-structure, interaction, technical aspects, and other details. These type of sketches take longer to draw since they are more technical and detailed. This is the last phase before the concept is finalised and prepared for presentation. Many designers tend to do this detailed exploration in a 3D-environment. I wouldn’t recommend this since you’ll find yourself sucked in the details to much and putting way to much time in exploring some details. Even in this phase you have to explore several ideas on something as simple as a button or a hinge. You could fill lots of pages just exploring some details.


These sketches are highly artistic and are used to sell an concept/idea to a client. These kind of sketches are the hardest to master and take a lot of skill. Most designers nowadays prefer 3D-presentations over these kind of sketches. I’ve noticed that people have a bit of ‘3d’-fatigue. And that they are re-appreciating a well done drawing of the idea above a computer generated image.
These kind of sketches will definitely get your idea noticed because of the ‘artistic look’. If done correctly (perspective, composition, artistic flair) people will prefer these kind of visualizations above any computer generated image and therefore chose your idea :wink:

Hope this explains and clarifies some misconceptions about sketching in these modern days.
Not everybody needs to be a great sketcher or artist with the markers. But every designer/engineer or anyone involved in the development process should at least be able to draw clear ideation-sketches. Otherwise it’ll be hard and frustrating to communicate ideas in the team.

Please complement and crit.


Nice synopsis of the different way to use rapid visual communications. I think in the last couple of years, there has been a resurgence of interest in analog sketches. In our office, we are definitely seeing more people respond to loose analog sketches than tighter digital work or 3d work at initial stage discussion. They can be more engaging, and conversational when used at the right time for the right reason.

Thanks for the quick explanation. I think this is very helpful for someone like me trying to put together a portfolio to show the whole design process to professors and employers.

This is what is explained in that book :

I would so love to see a sequel of that one, with updated sketches.


This ties in with the conversation I had started of questioning whether Industrial Designers over-value sketching.

The more I dig into it, the more I believe that the essential skill of an industrial designer is the quick, clear sketch the conveys an idea succinctly to the client/viewing party.

Time required on the persuasion sketches (I love that term, btw) is becoming more rare in my view. With 3D CAD or other quick visualization skills, the tight rendering gets to be problematic in most circumstances. As has been alluded to many times around here is the idea that a tight rendering (hand or computer) gives the illusion of completion of an idea.

A tight persuasion sketch tends to be ironclad locked into someones mind. e.g. “your sketch looked much thinner than this product is turning out to be”

A tight 3D rendering has an even deeper psychological impact. e.g. “Wow, that looks great, when can it be ready to ship?”

I’ve seen similar posts in the past, but this is a great sequence to understand sketching applied in design. We use it as a communication tool, which is very different from an illustration/fine art type of drawing.

I think that it comes down to:

  1. know your audience
  2. understand what you want to communicate
  3. use your time and skills wisely
  4. use the tools available to you to best achieve the above

If your design is best executed in a sketch, do it.
If you need the precision and have the time to cad render, do it.
If you can only do one or the other, well, the choice is simple :wink:

I like that I can draw, cad, or build with paper, clay, wood or marshmallows. Students may not need to sketch anymore, but it sure as hell can come in handy. (for instance, oh no! my computer’s video card blew up and I have a client presentation tomorrow! and other exciting moments)

EDIT: I wanted to add that whenever concepts are being shown to CONSUMERS in 2D (in early stages, this does happen) I find that photorealism is much preferred. A “persuasive element” in a sketch can easily be misinterpreted by an untrained eye and throw off the concept completely.

I do agree about the persuasive sketches becoming less important.

But sketching will still be a very viable skill to have. If you can’t sketch/doodle your ideas you won’t be able to communicate them as someone mentioned before.
My clients always prefer the ideation sketches to the persuasive ones. They even put them in frames and hang them in their offices :wink:

I’m really into fast prototyping these days. If I think about it…the persuasive sketches I made in the past where about postponing the inevitable…testing your idea in the real world…and then seeing it fail…yet that is the most important part. You must fail…so you can learn from your failure and then do it right.

I wonder how much of it has to do with the fact 3D Cad models, slick representations, are now ubiquitous and also, to an extent, generic? That is they are often used and tend to have a similar feel and quality.

When we first saw CGI used in films like Jurassic Park, the wow factor was there as something not yet seen or done. Now it’s a case of, ‘oh yes, that’s done on the computer…’

I think Athms said without sketching designers won’t be able to communicate ideas to stakeholders as well. That’s surely the case, but I also wonder how a tendency towards Cad tools influences the designers own understanding and progression of design ideas.

I’ve been doing some research that involved looking at sketching and other design tools during practice. Results seem to suggest a tendency of students to move towards crystallisation and fixation of concept ideas more quickly than experienced designers. And that their preference for design tools, 3D Cad included, may compound this tendency.

It’s not surprise really that limiting the use of one tool over another have implications for design practice. Or those more experienced designers are able to offset these implications through understanding the tool’s character in relation to how they wish to communicate/evolve design ideas. Its not that there is anything wrong with Cad tools - or any other tools - for that matter. The important thing is to have a critical understanding of their affordance and limitations – not be ‘fooled’ by the glossy results…


very true. The old saying “you can’t polish a turd” no longer holds true. You can and do see quite nicely polished turds all around. I think it means that as designers, we need to really pay close attention to what the actual concept is. The same could be said for a lot of tools though, photoshop-illustrator can produce some really nice renderings of junk ideas.

I love CAD tools…and I love Rhino…yet I only use it once the product-idea is fixed. From thereon you must proceed in CAD (after you tested and validated your idea via prototyping off course) I myself also see this tendency of students to use CAD in the concept-phase. I think it’s because it is a skill that is easy to learn. You get fast results without investing years to get to a decent level. The flip-side of this behavior is that they do not explore enough and get stuck in basic form language (cfr Apple) (It’s a lot harder to master surfaces in CAD :wink: So because they do not want to invest in other skills they get stuck in a specific uniform design-language that is all around these days. In other words…nothing special (Jurassic Park was special but the newest FX-fest movies suck most of the time…And the audience is getting aware of this).
A designer must have something that differentiates them from others. The same can be said about Illustrator and those Alias-sketchbook drawings.