Sketching – The Designer’s First Step

Sam DeMastrie

August 22, 2013

Children are inherently creative. From a very young age, we are introduced to Crayola’s jumbo crayons, endless jars of Play-Doh, and the ever-popular macaroni art. For a while, we lead very artistic lives peppered with colors and shapes of all kinds. Somewhere along the line though, most kids tend to branch out and seek their own unique hobbies and interests, away from purely creative endeavors. But there are always a select few of us who remain drawn to drawing and sketching.

As a grown-up creative type, I still use my childhood creativity every day at work. For every new project I tackle, I carve out a bit (or a lot) of space in my sketchbook (I prefer Behance’s Dot Grid Book) to begin the process of design and exploring ideas.

It’s not often made visible to the public, but design itself is a process, and sketching is frequently at its heart. It is the point in the process where ideas are born, and not just the gems. In fact, it’s my philosophy that great ideas are often buried beneath terrible ones, meaning that the formation of those not-so-great ideas is actually what gives your brain the extra boost of creative juice it needs to formulate truly great ideas. In other words, sketching allows you to lay all your cards on the table.

Why Sketching is Important

Sketching is purely about ideation. The reason why it is so important is because it allows you to quickly formulate and transcribe any idea that pops into your head. At the same time, the lack of refinement and finishing touches forces the viewer to confront and critique the purity of the concept and the form. Whether you’re crafting a few logo concepts, mapping a new website, or brainstorming the functionality of a mobile app, everyone is capable of producing a few thumbnail sketches for their benefit. Of course, not all sketches need to be the size of your thumbnail, but the point of sketching at a small scale is to quickly focus on the concept and overall form, without getting caught up in details—those will come later.

How to Sketch

As far as tools go, all you really need is a humble pen and paper. I prefer to use pen over pencil because it’s darker, doesn’t smudge (once dry) and eliminates the temptation to erase. Also, I like a sketchbook with a dot grid because it provides a light structure for taking notes or drawing geometric shapes. If you’re looking for something well-designed that will fit in your back pocket, Field Notes are a great multipurpose memo book.

So the next time you’re presented with a new project, before you dive into your favorite Adobe program, dive into a sketchbook instead. Your process will run a lot smoother.