Sketch It

August 1, 2011

By Tad Fry

Too often we fall victim to designer’s block when trying to solve problems at the keyboard. The programs we use to craft our work can limit us because we “think” with only the functions the programs provide. We need to first take the appropriate amount of time to develop and sketch our ideas; we need to unplug and get back to pencil and paper.

Before you embark on your quest of problem solving like no other, you’ll need some materials. Brace yourself, these are extremely rare items to find: pencil and paper. Unless you’re already a sketch master, you’ll discover these are difficult to find around your office and home. When I first started sketching, I had to buy a pencil because all I could find were pens! Yes, you could use a pen, but shading is much easier with a pencil.

With your new-found weapons in hand, let’s get down to business. Don’t worry how great your sketches look, just sketch. Press that pencil to the paper and try to solve your problem. Don’t edit your sketch while you’re creating because it might slow you down. You’ll see the sketch will lead to a new idea if you keep sketching instead of weighing your thinking down with edits. I’ve found that generating quick iterations of sketches can help reach your solution faster and spark new ideas.

You can sketch any problem, whether it be design shapes or text. Sketching shapes into text can help, as well as sketching text into shapes. It helps you see your problems at different angles, which offers new ways to arrive to a solution. Relationships among your design elements begin to emerge that might have gone unnoticed had you tried solving your problem with just your computer.

Now that you’ve sketched and conquered the world’s problems, what’s next? As with the programs we use, get materials that keep sketching interesting and fun. I enjoy going old-school with a No. 2 pencil, and trust my sketch-work to the awesome-idea holder known as Field Notes. Many designers want to be buried with their Moleskines. Crayons and sidewalk chalk are also great. Using a variety of sketching tools offers different constraints to help you solve problems.

There’s no excuse now… you have all the knowledge you need to be a Grand Master Sketch Machine. Go away from your computer, go outside, sketch at lunch; it gives your brain a break from the monotony. If you can’t make the design clear with pencil and paper, then how effective will it be in its final medium?