How design works: sketching is performing magic

I want to pay tribute to a wonderful craft you encounter from time to time in the design process: the art of sketching. It’s pretty rare nowadays, so when you come across it, you are struck by the power of this styling technique. It’s communication in its purest form, with many advantages over our exact, metric, digital-driven design world.

Don’t get me wrong: computer-aided design is a great development that has been a real catalyst for the design sector over the past decades. But it’s so damned precise!

In comes some old-school sketching, with its vague, airy qualities. It boosts the imagination of everyone around the table. Sketches can show what hasn’t yet been defined. They can simulate styling and design before they’ve been decided. They can visualise details that haven’t been pinned down. In digital times, this is very important – the lack of detail or the focus on some well-chosen details guides the viewer’s perspective. And sketches humanise products, because you can see and feel the human involvement.

In detailed early-stage computer renderings or visualisations, everything is defined. Everything is absolute. Nothing is left for the observer’s imagination to conjure up.

There are different levels of sketching, depending on the communication needs:

  • Functional drawing – rough form and dimensions
  • Poetic drawing – suggesting colour and materials
  • Visualisation – the total look with details.

8_Sketching_Is_Performing_Magic_cropIt’s obvious that you need the right type of communication for where you are in the development. It is the ultimate storytelling tool. Is the quality important? Absolutely. But it is always better to visualise in an okay (but not perfect) way, than not to visualise at all.

For the designer, there’s another big advantage to sketching. Doing so allows you to empty your head. Yes, there are world-famous designers who can create a complete design in their head and just make final drawings before realisation. But they are very rare. Most of the designers I know will chew over variations of the same ideas. You go to sleep and wake up with the same idea. You update it, try to improve it. You can keep approximately three different ideas in your head.

But if you are looking for quantity in the early design phases, three ideas is just not enough. So, you need a language that can help you gather them quickly. Sketching frees your mind and makes room for new ideas. Your empty mind generates the stream, and you can evaluate the quality afterwards.

Tribute to the craftsmanship (and Claudio’s great talent).