Is it still important to be able to draw and sketch as a designer?

Is it still important to be able to draw and sketch as a designer, when there are so many computer tools as alternatives?

Jenny Theolin

‘It’s not imperative you need to be able to draw to be a designer, but I think it depends on experience. I always encourage the younger designers I work with to draw as a way of thinking and planning. I tend to think as much as possible, drawing up my solutions in my head; only then do I sketch out a rough plan on paper. Having said that, I think we are de-skilling ourselves in the rush to produce everything digitally. The process from brain to pen to paper is invaluable, so let’s not completely lose it to digital alternatives.’

Jenny Theolin, director, Soapbox & Sons

David Azurdia

‘It’s easy to write off sketching as a simple parlour trick, old-fashioned and limited. Rolled out on occasion, but generally regarded as a bit of a curiosity. To me though, it’s undeniably impressive. Magic even. I’m always happy to see sketches from our designers. There’s often something in the nuance of a drawing that conveys more than an appropriated image ever could. It’s more generous as a medium, open to conversation about potential art direction and execution. The language of sketches is in suggestion and possibilities rather than definitives and closed doors. There’s romance in a pencil that you just don’t find in a mouse.’

David Azurdia, creative director, Magpie Studio

Sarah Hyndman

‘Yes I think it’s vitally important. The sensory experience of sketching engages creative thinking and exploration—the paper texture, turning pages, scale, physical movement, sound of the pencil, the unexpected happy accidents. It’s also easier to see the development stages of an idea across the paper, instead of deleting and reworking. In my opinion we think less creatively in front of a screen, as it’s too easy to leap ahead to polishing a final outcome and to miss out on the risk-taking and discovery stages.’

Sarah Hyndman, graphic designer and founder of Type Tasting

Adrian Carroll

‘It’s useful but not essential. As long as you can communicate your ideas effectively the means by which you do so are entirely up to you. I sketch and draw at the research stage, but my scrawls are largely unintelligible to anyone but me. One of the nice things about working in our studio is the diverse nature of the people here, there’s more than one way to arrive at the right solution.’

Adrian Carroll, creative director, D8

Patrick and Tristram Fetherstonhaugh

‘Of course it is! To draw is to think, to sketch is to create. There are no computer tools that are as fast, as free, as immediate, as intimate as a piece of paper, a pencil and a bit of peace. Today’s software might mean that the designer no longer has to be able to sketch and certainly they don’t have to be able to produce the sort of hand-made presentation visuals of the past, but for the problem-solving and creative part of the design process nothing beats a sketch.’

Tristram Fetherstonhaugh, co-founder, Fetherstonhaugh Associates

‘Being able to draw and sketch is a gift that would be a useful adjunct to any profession – and for the designer in particular it is an invaluable tool with its ability to convey unrealised, and abstract, concepts quickly. A quick sketch can help the creative process advance without getting bogged down, whilst its immediacy and personal touch will never be matched by a print-out – something useful both for creative thinking and for client relations.’

Patrick Fetherstonhaugh, co-founder, Fetherstonhaugh Associates

Chris Harrison

‘Why would anyone want to use a computer tool as an alternative to a pencil or a fat black marker? A computer cursor, blinking away, says “feed me”. A blank white page says “fill me”. A pencil never needs its software to be upgraded. I wouldn’t say it’s important to be a great draughtsman/woman to be a designer, but the ability to communicate an idea in a sketch ­ even a Pictionary-level sketch ­ is pretty fundamental.’

Chris Harrison, creative director, Harrison 

Jonathan Ford

‘I used to think the answer would always be yes. But now I think the most important thing is to be able to really think. So drawing for me is a good option but to be an idea and problem-solving thinker is baseline mandatory and essential to real design progress. Putting thoughts and ideas together visually is a skill that can go way beyond raditional drawing craft and utilise many other forms of visual expression.’

Jonathan Ford, creative partner, Pearlfisher

Mark Hopkins

‘Yes, it’s still very important. Sketching with a pen is often the quickest, most efficient way to get thoughts noted down and to work through ideas. I find working on a computer straight away a little slow, I’ve often forgotten my next thought by the time I’ve finished working up my first. Drawing is better to work out complex shapes and letterforms rather than spending time fiddling with bezier curves and being distracted by the imperfections that are all the more apparent on a computer screen. It’s also a great tool for communicating with clients. It allows us to share an idea and talk it through at a purer, more conceptual level without getting bogged down in the detail or specifics inherent with a computer generated image. The ability to draw is most essential for Pictionary, a game no graphic designer should ever lose.’

Mark Hopkins, co-founder, BCMH

Matt Baxter

‘While I don’t necessarily think that we need to be brilliant draughtspeople, I do think that it’s really vital that we can communicate an idea quickly with a pen or a pencil. Gesticulating wildly won’t always cut it. If Dom and I are discussing ideas for projects, we always end up with a pile of scribbly drawings in our notebooks and, as a result, a really clear idea of what each other is thinking. It’s a visual shorthand that can help us share thoughts and ideas simply. Similarly, the ability to quickly articulate an idea to a client with a wobbly sketch is equally important, I think. It avoids the pressure of the idea being interpreted as ”the finished thing”, which can often be the result of a more polished Mac visual. So that’s an emphatic “yes” from me. A trickier question might be: should designers be able to write? Or even: should they check what they have written to see if it makes sense? I think vey shud.’

Matt Baxter, creative director, Baxter and Bailey

Hide Comments (7)Show Comments (7)
  • RitaSue Siegel November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Misha Black, RCA: Drawing is thinking through your hands. I believe this is true and encourage designers to hone this skill.

  • Cipher Mak November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Yes hand drawing is very important especially to myself. Though there are lots of software can have sketch effects, but there is no soul in it. Hand sketch is quick, express our ideas quicker and better, with the actual feeling when the pen tocuh on paper and, to touch people’s emotion.

  • Jili Allen November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    100% YES. It shows that you know about composition and creativity rather than clipart. Just look at what’s happened to the Photography industry – everyone who has instagram and a flashy phone is suddenly a photographer – the real skill is seeing those creative shots that don’t need to be filtered but merely enhanced. If you can draw and sketch, you can allow your client to see what you’re thinking during a meeting, explain a concept completely jargon free, and get instant feedback on initial thoughts. Clients surely don’t want a designer that can solely work a computer – otherwise they may as well learn the program themselves – design is an organic process for which drawing is the original language. I for one hope it doesn’t die out.

  • Emmanuel Alouche November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    YES definitely drawing skills are still the foundations of art schools around the World. On one occasion I had to fly abroad for a client meeting and lost my porfolio on the way. Thank god I arrived 2 hours ealier.I found a stationery shop,bought pens and paper and managed to re-draw the entire project from memory and I got the job too…

  • Alexi Komodikis November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    As an artist, I’m heartened by the responses above. To me, sketching feels like a ‘linguistic’ thing. It’s a form of language, or a ‘plug-in’ to language, to help get an idea across. I guess some people are more articulate than others.

  • Von Betelgeuse November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Many students are being accepted on to creativeBAs and they can neither draw nor think.. Drawing is like the ability to write, you can say what you like but if you can’t put it on paper, nobody will care.

  • Alex Nisbett November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    We don’t all need to be artists but drawing and sketching are both super-useful tools in our storytelling armoury. At Livework we’re always having to simplify complexity and represent the abstract, having basic drawing skills makes this so much easier and makes us more convincing.

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