Do I have to be able to draw well to be a good designer?
This by far, is one of the most frequent questions designers always ask of me. Furthermore, “I can’t be a designer cos I can’t draw” is also one of the most frequent reasons people give for not being a designer or any type.
I myself had to deal with this when I started my career in design as my sketching skills at that time were very poor. However after almost 10 years in this business I like to give my take on this perennial question.
What is pretty unbelievable is that I have seen famous designers (who shall remain nameless!) create terrible sketches but end up with great designs, and great sketchers that are hopeless designers.
Therefore my answer to this question really is “Yes” and “No”.
Picture removed. Apologies to all parties involved.
Essentially you would only need to draw or sketch well enough to communicate your concept on paper without you having to explain what it is. You don’t have to win the beauty contest, but you WILL have to do well enough so that a fellow designer (or if you want it to be tougher on yourself, a non-designer) can understand what you are attempting to communicate.
Notice the key word here? It’s not drawing, draw, design, or sketch, it’s communicate. A good sketch communicates an idea clearly and succinctly.
Sketching is also one part of the design process that makes up a successful design. Strong understanding in proportions, colors, and manufacturing processes are other important elements that can make or break a design. So don’t despair if your sketching ability, at this time, is not up to par, as you will have a chance to refine it in the downstream design process.
Before we go on lets take a look at the different kinds of sketches so as to not confuse yourself when you go crazy over somebody’s apparently great work.
Thumbnail or Napkin sketch
A thumbnail sketch is a very basic sketch that has an almost child like quality to it. This type of sketch is mainly about getting your ideas down on paper as quickly as possible without too much care about proportions and beauty. Its often pretty rough focusing only on the key “big” idea. Thumbnails sketches are often the most frequently used sketch technique used to communicate ideas.
You can learn more about the importance of thumbnail sketches here at Steelcase’s 360 E-Zine.
Emotional sketches are the main source of what I like to call “sketch discouragement”! These are the sketches people go ga-ga over and a main source of a designer’s spine tingling sensation as well as frustration. Also called Inspirational sketches, such sketches are often use to set the tone of a design, brand language or product range.
Emotional sketches are also very difficult to do. Simply because an emotional sketch is extremely form orientated, and used as a means to communicate emotion. Hence the designers who create emotional or inspirational sketches are often called “form monsters” and have the uncanny ability to turn an emotion or expression keyword into a line, form or silhouette.
However one if you look closely into such sketching style you would realize such sketches don’t actually communicate a lot of information. If you look at the example above, can you ask yourself how does the door open? Where is the door handle? The side mirrors?
Its because such sketches are meant to convey just the look or feel of a product and nothing more. It intentionally or unintentionally leaves out things like mechanical fixtures, part lines, or assembly information etc. The best emotional sketch designers are actually able to convert their sketches into great products, but unfortunately you be also surprised to know most cannot and remain in just form or concept development.
The information sketch is perhaps the level at which what most designers, whom are worried about their sketching ability, should aspire to. It’s the minimum type of sketch level that would allow other designers to understand what you are trying to draw.
I drew this to describe to my client’s engineering department, how the design’s different parts all came together.
Carl does probably some of the best informational sketches I have seen. Waaay better then mine! Source
There are a lot of tangent lines, exploded views, transparent layering, a little color here and there, but all in all you can easily tell almost right away what is going on.
Right now so how do we do it? How to we get to the level we are satisfied with? Or how do we just improve our sketching ability?
No gentle reader I will not leave you high and dry! Tomorrow, in part 2, I will list 10 tips that has helped me improve my sketching ability! So do stay tuned and please keep in touch!
Brian Ling (Design Sojourn)
Brian is a multidisciplinary Design Leader with more than 18 years of experience leading strategic design programs that drives successful Brands and Fortune 500 businesses such as GE, Philips, Nakamichi, Flextronics, Ericsson, Hannspree, and HP. His passion is in helping organisations leverage on Design Driven Innovation to make people’s lives better.