Question of the week: How to move from Drawing to Designing?

This week’s question is from David, and avid 11 grader looking to get into a career in design. Wow they start young these days don’t they?
He writes:

I stumbled upon this blog by accident. I was actually typing in Google: “Sketching Tips” and found your article on the 11 tips. I’m still trying to work on my sketching skills.
Sorry before I continue, I should tell you a little a bit about myself. I’m a year 11 student, recently an Industrial Designer came into our Visual Communication class and introduced us to ID techniques. He basically taught us how to render with markers, ink wash and using Adobe Illustrator. I got a feel for it and I am loving it.
I have loved drawing since I was a kid. I’m good at copying a drawing really well. Yet this is going to sound contradictory, but sometimes I make up details without sticking to what is there. Haha.
Sorry I’m am getting side tracked, the reason I wanted to contact you was to get some advice. Right now, I am trying to develop my sketching skills AS WELL AS my design skills. Unfortunately, I have not been able to tap into the thinking outside the box bit.
I have tried some of your tips. Like Drawing with pen and such. I am making progress, but my drawings tend to look really flat and well, doesn’t have any punch when you look at it. Guess you will understand if I send you some of them. I hope to hear from you if possible. It would be great to learn from someone as great at design as you.

First of all, thanks for the great compliments.
You have now touched on an amazing point and one of the reasons why someone that can draw does not necessary make a good designer. Drawing is a technical skill that essentially reproduces on paper what the eye sees. It is to a certain extent sort of a biological photocopier if you would like. Of cause there is that interpretation element, but at the end of the day if you focus too much on drawing what will result is that you will have the ability to draw what you see, but not what you think.
To switch into designer mode, what you should be doing is now thinking of a shape or form and then using your technical skill of drawing to visualise it on paper. Have I lost you so far? Thus with this in mind, I continue to argue that you don’t have to have amazing drawing skills to be a great designer. Your drawing skills needs to be good enough to communicate what you have though up in your mind.
From your comments, the fact you are finishing up your sketches by making up details is a great start. This means you are starting to put in your own design thought into the drawing. Going forward what you now need to do is to improve your design sense or what elements make up a good design. This can be done in concurrent with your drawing ability.
1) Look for some books that describe design fundamentals or basic elements of design. It will talk about how a point, line, shape, volume, composition, proportion etc. all work together to make a great design.
2) After that take a conscious effort to not just look at objects around you, but to see it in its elements. Ask yourself when you see a beautiful object what sort of elements (line, shape, composition etc.) makes it a beautiful object. When you look at an ugly object, you ask yourself the opposite, what elements don’t work on this design.
3) Practice what you have observed by taking these objects you find that have poor design, and improve on it by drawing or sketching your designs on paper. Consider if you had to design a similar product, how would you do it.
4) Continue to read, look and see constantly. Design books and magazines as well as the internet all make great sources to inspire you as well as fill up that “design memory bank” in you head. I assume, as you read blogs, you would be computer savvy. So what you should now do is start a photo collection that can contain objects, architecture, environments, textures etc. that will make great source of inspiration in your future designs.
I hope these tips do help, and like anything, keep practising as you bound to get better in time. Also don’t be too hard on yourself, you still have another year to go in high school. But if you keep this up, by the time you get into design school you will be far ahead or any first year designer I have ever seen. Good Luck!
Update: Here are some great links to resources and books that were mentioned in this post.
1) Good books on Design Sketching
2) Do I have to be able to draw well to be a good designer?
3) Tips on how to improve your drawing ability.

  • DT

    October 14, 2007 at 3:21 pm Reply

    Hi Mish,
    Thanks for the link, and yes that is a good book with plenty of great examples.
    I’ve updated this post with some other links to sketching posts that we have written including recommendations to other books. Do check it out?

  • Mish

    October 13, 2007 at 11:13 pm Reply

    A really good design sketching book that a lot of Universities use is “Design Sketching” by Erik Olofsson and Klara Sjolen.

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