As a graphic designer, I pretty much live inside the Adobe Creative Suite on my Mac. Despite my reliance on the computer to execute my work, I always have a sketchbook and pencil at my side.
Believe it or not, sketching preceeds computer execution to some degree on every project that comes through our door. A designer’s noggin swarms with creative ideas and visuals. To focus and direct these ideas we need a pencil, like a wizard with his wand or X Men’s Cyclops with his ruby-lens visor. Sure, those characters could attempt to use their powers without those tools, but the results may prove disastrous.
In my creative agency experience, I have observed there to be distinctly different ways of sketching for different purposes or tasks. I have narrowed them down into the following five categories:
Mental sketching: the concept maker
I may look a tad mental when I am hunched over my sketchbook scratching away, but that’s not why I chose the name. Mental sketching is all about submerging oneself in a design challenge, in search of concepts that will drive everything forward. It is less about what the sketches look like and more about the free flow of ideas onto the page. Nothing is wrong and everything is worth considering. I most often utilize this method of sketching in the early stages of logo design. After research has been made and creative briefs laid out, sketching is the incubator that turns that input into something more solid. In order to explore as many solutions as possible, this is not the time to fuss over details. Instead, quantity and variation are key. By the end of a session of mental sketching, multiple pages of sketchbook paper will be littered with small loosely drawn concepts.
Proof Sketching: the money saver
Would you start constructing a building before the blueprints have been approved? True, we aren’t dealing with steel and concrete, but hours digitizing a design that may be scrapped is a misuse of a designer’s time, and could delay the production schedule. This is where proof sketching comes in. These are the more detailed or cleaned up versions of selected concepts that come from the mental sketching process. When these sketches are presented to the client, it allows them to choose which concept satisfies their needs. In the event that none of concepts work for the client, we have the chance to find the right solution prior investing time and labor on the computer.
Structural Sketching: the time saver
Unlike the previous, these are sketches I might never show a client, nor do they particularly need to see them. These sketches involve boxes, lines, and squiggles galore that may seem trivial at a glance, but are quite important to the design process. These are the sketches most commonly associated with collateral design. That could be anything from brochures, to flyers, to stationery, to e-blasts, etc. These sketches explore different layouts, folds, and formats. Essentially, they establish a framework for the design, and allow us to test multiple design avenues before committing to one.
Pre-Wireframe Sketching: the pre-plan for web design
Closely related, to the former, these sketches are also meant to set a framework. These differ in that they are the precursor to wireframes for web design. There are many different possibilities when it comes to the way a website can look and function. This rough sketching method provides a quick, flexible way to explore options. These pre-wireframes are reviewed internally before being adapted to a digital wireframe format. The digital wireframes are what the client is given to show the basic architecture of the site and clearly communicate functionality.
Illustrative Sketching: the view-finder
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If a design is going to utilize illustrative elements, this is the kind of sketching that occurs. It is what the layman would call drawing… because that’s what it is. These sketches are the basis of what the intended illustration will look like. The sketch establishes elements of composition and shows a preview of what to aim for. It acts as framework upon which the design is built, and often is a concept that is scanned and digitally traced over.
All these different forms of sketching play an important role in the design process in their own unique ways. Overall, the practice of pushing the pencil allows the designer to pave out a well directed path to the completion of a design. With hands unshackled from the mouse, ideas flow freely. Oh yes, and there is also that part about saving time and money. If you want to see more real sketches in action, check out our case studies here.