Why is sketching such an important aspect of design?

In college, my design professors encouraged me to sketch, but I didn’t want to listen.

Why would I want to sketch in a silly little book when I have this computer, with all design software imaginable and more fonts than I could possibly know what do with?

For years I fought the idea. Whenever a new design project came along, I’d get out my sketchbook, hunt for the perfect pen, and go through the motions of sketching. The result was usually one partially drawn sketch and then countless hours on the computer refining that one idea.

In my rush to get to the computer and start refining, I missed out on the opportunities sketching provides.

Over time, I slowly began to open up more and more to the idea. No one forced me. I gained a deeper appreciation for it by realizing how much time I was wasting fleshing out my ideas on the computer. Today, sketching is a valuable part of my job, not only for clients, but also for myself. Better designs now come sooner.

Sketch book

Why sketching is great:

Your first idea is rarely your best.

You have a project idea that feels right. This is the beginning. Sketch it out! It only takes a few seconds, and it gets the idea out of your head. Now sketch some more ideas. You won’t know whether your first idea is the best until you explore others. If you find something you like more, you’ll feel a rush of gratitude that you didn’t waste 5 hours in Illustrator, with something like adjusting the letter spacing on a bad logo.

Sketching is fast, rough, and dirty.

Learn to embrace your pen and paper, and you’ll be thrilled at your speed of ideas. You’ll wonder why you ever fought it. By giving yourself the freedom to scrawl out rough ideas, you’ll get to creative places you could never have imagined.

You’ll save time.

At Forty, we involve the client in all of the steps of the design. We don’t like the “big reveal” because when the process is kept a mystery, the end result is often a disappointment. We show clients a lot of sketches to show our intent. When a course correction is needed, we spend a few seconds sketching a revision, rather than taking hours to move pieces around in Photoshop.

It separates concepts from details.

It’s natural for people to focus on the wrong details when you first present a concept. If you take your idea straight to a design program, clients tend to zero in on that single blue color, or the first style of typography presented. This creates road blocks for communication when all you simply need is to know is, “Are we heading in the right direction?”

Sketching is for everyone.

I often hear people fret about sketching based on their lack of confidence in their drawing ability. Don’t worry! A good book to check out is “The Back of the Napkin” by Dan Roam. Basic shapes (circles, squares, rectangles), lines, arrows, and stick figures are enough to get your ideas out for others. Sketching with your team or client is helpful because you can talk about your ideas as you sketch, allowing you to control the focus of the group effort.

For some inspiration, check out Visual Note-Taking 101 from SXSW 2010. For just the pictures, skip to slide 27, and marvel at how much more interesting the shadows make the drawings.

Lastly, sketching is fun!

When you stop worrying and allow your ideas to evolve, you’ll discover how enjoyable it is to sketch. Especially when you find your perfect pen and paper combo! Mine’s the black Pilot Precise V7 on the gridded Moleskine.

Here’s my challenge to you: The next time you’re given any sort of communication task, whether it’s a logo, a brand concept, or even a map with directions to your favorite coffee shop, try your hand at sketching. By incorporating sketching into your everyday tasks, you’ll find it makes an appearance in your professional routine as well.

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Why is sketching such an important aspect of design?
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The simple act of sketching helps communicate more ideas, faster.
Amy wants to make the world a better place through design and she lives and breathes that mission in all areas of her life, including her role as Design Director at Forty.