Join Kevin Henry for an in-depth discussion in this video Exploring why designers sketch, part of Sketching for Product Design and AEC.
- Many people wonder why designers continue to use simple tools like pen and paper to sketch when more sophisticated alternatives exist such as computerated design software or graphic illustration programs. For that matter, why don't product designers and architects just make a quick physical model of their idea so they can actually touch and interact directly with them? Over the next few movies, we'll explore these questions because they provide a much broader context for thinking about both the how and the why of sketching.
So to begin, let's define sketching a bit. It's very likely that you've had to make a sketch to help explain something. You might say "no, that's not true. "I can't draw a straight line." Well, I can't draw a straight line either but I've sketched plenty of quick little maps full of straight and curving roads intended to help a friend or a stranger get to where they needed to go. My guess is that you've done so too. In order for me to sketch a map, several things had to happen first. Most likely, I thought a little bit about the current location, where they were standing, as well as the desired endpoint, where they were headed.
And also, the best and fastest way to get there. In other words, I connected two points together along a line or a curving path. I sketched a street. Then I started to consider more the details around the path such as cross streets, easy to recognize landmarks like a building or a very large tree to provide additional context. I probably added a few names to my map for main streets or landmarks and so on. In other words, as I drew, I reconstructed the mental map as I saw it in my mind's eye including those details I could immediately recall that I thought might be useful.
I didn't include too much detail but try to add just enough to clearly communicate the trip. Now, as I sketched this napkin map, I was beginning to picture the trip I was sending my friend or the stranger on and I was able to add details because I could, in fact, picture the scene better with each additional mark I made. The sketch, in other words, was generated in part from memory but also partly in response to what I put down on the scrap of paper or napkin as a kind of prompt.
Sketching on paper like this is fast, immediate, and cheap. It doesn't require a computer or expensive tools to create so it's no wonder why designers continue to sketch. But that's not the most important thing. What really makes sketching powerful is the fact that it aids in the process of imagining, of thinking on paper. With each additional line that I added to my scrappy little map, a more detailed world begins to emerge that I could continue to respond to.
I make additions. I might add a dotted line to suggest an alternative path. I might darken a line to suggest a boulevard. I might even hatch in an area to suggest a river and so on. The sketching process, mere marks on paper, helps me imagine the route that someone needs in order to navigate their journey. Designers don't sit and think about a concept until it's absolutely clear in the mind's eye and then sketch it. We sketch what we know and quickly respond to those marks to construct, what hopefully, we've never seen before.
And sketching is not just about representing something we know, such as the directions to a specific location. It's also an ideal skill for capturing something that's fleeting. Psychologists refer to this as off-loading, that is getting an idea or thought, no matter how vague it might be, onto paper before it completely vanishes. This is why writers and artists carry around notebooks and sketch pads to jot down those ideas before they're gone. Some authors have said they don't know what they think until they write it down.
I can certainly relate to that. I use sketching to explore problems and to generate new solutions that were previously unknown to me. And because I'm able to construct form while sketching, I can generate product concepts that are completely new or novel. For this reason alone, sketching is faster and more direct than making a physical model and more useful for getting a lot of ideas out for further exploration and refinement. Sketching, in other words, really is visual thinking.
Kevin Henry, a product designer and educator responsible for the influential book Drawing for Product Designers, teaches beginning and intermediate students how to visualize ideas for small-scale and mass production with just a pen and paper. He combines explanation, illustration, animation, and hands-on demonstrations of concepts such as sketching basic shapes as well as more complex forms, creating planes, the mechanics and methods of two-point perspective, projection principles, and creating the illusion of shade and casting shadows. The goal is to get students generating ideas, and sketching them as accurately as possible without inhibiting the creative process. At the end of the course, Kevin explains not just how designers sketch products, but also why. When you're done, check out the rest of our product design courses, which expand on advanced methods of sketching and visualization, including prototyping and computer-aided design (CAD).
- Exploring the relationship between analog sketching and computer modeling
- Creating the illusion of form
- Using different systems of drawing
- Sketching 2D shapes and 3D forms
- Creating orthographic projections
- Sketching in one-point and two-point perspective
- Creating curved surfaces
- Projecting shadows and other visual touches
- Sketching example product design concepts