Last week, I posted a series of posts summarizing the chapter titled A brief history of drawing from Alan Pipes’ book, Drawing for Designers. For reference here are the posts if you are interested:
Pipes refers to sketches in general as concept sketches. He defines them as “a collection of visual cues sufficient to suggest a design to an informed observer.” Because sketches are very frequently done for the purpose of communication, the observer would be the intended recipient or at least an interested party.
The type of sketching Pipes describes in his book seems mostly related to product and industrial designers and architects. In these disciplines, it seems, there would be a need for clarity and determination in the sketches. Part of the reason is that these designers create something that was not there before. In many cases, there is an inventive element to the sketches. These objects, a toaster, a vacuum cleaner, a hair dryer, a car, a bridge, need to function. These products need not only to function but they also fulfill a desire for beauty in both the user and the designer.
I believe, all of us designers create things that, hopefully, were not there before or are a significant enhancement of something previous. However, sketches done by a graphic designer tend to look different than those from an industrial designer. One significant aspect is that for instance, we, graphic designers rarely would create sketches with watercolors or colored markers. Usually, for the most part, our sketches for a website, logo, poster, are done in pencil. I suspect that part of the reason is that our sketches go to the computer where we find a more streamline method of creating possible variations.
Regardless of these differences, there are two general types of concept sketches, according to Pipes: free “theme” sketches and schematic sketches.
The free theme sketch is those first ideas drawn freely. It is a type of loose sketch. In contrast, the schematic sketch would be more precise, maybe even to scale for the understanding of proportions, and it should allow the observer to infer the final product.
However, these differences in the type of sketches do not seem to be the most important aspect of sketching. It is understood, I think, by the majority of us designers, that sketching is a way of thinking or having a conversation with the tool we are using. Pipes states that “the very act of drawing can be a means of crystallizing a vague inkling that may or may not be pursuing.” And Bryan Lawson states that sketches also act as a external memory.
Lawson is not alone on thinking that sketching serves as an external memory. Jackie Andrade, a professor of psychology at the University of Plymouth, wrote an article titled What Does Doodling Do? in which she details a study she conducted with 40 participants. Twenty of them were to make simple marks on paper while collecting RSVP information on a phone call and the other twenty did not. Those who doodled or made simple marks, remembered almost 30% more information.
You might have noticed that I introduced yet another term, doodling. And for some of you readers, this may throw you off. However, if we consider that idea of free theme sketching that Pipes was presenting in his book, we can see a link between free theme sketching, which is a loose ideas and doodling. Some may even press by stating that doodling is making aimless marks on paper. And this is true, sometimes doodling is making aimless marks on paper.
But I have a theory or a metaphor about sketching that I borrowed from Carol-Lynne Moore and Kaoru Yamamoto in their book Beyond Words: Movement Observation and Analysis. Moore and Yamamoto state that there are three languages to movement: universal, foreign (for which you need to understand the code or codes), and private.
I think that sketching as a visual language can be seen in the same manner: universal (we don’t need explanations, these sketches are clear and understood by all), foreign (sketches done by architects for example or a very specialized form of design which we need to understand and study to decode the language), and private (those sketches that function as a externalization of our thoughts, a visualization of our thought process, a working out of personal issues perhaps).
Some designers are very methodical about their sketching process or sketching habits. These designers tend to work these sketches out on a sketchbook. Others sketch wherever, an envelope, a napkin, any surface. Personally I tend to vary my approach but it is something I have been thinking about more lately. The beauty of the sketches is that regardless of where they are kept, their function remain the same.
To summarize, there are several types of conceptual sketches: free theme, schematic, externalization of thoughts, memory keepers, and lastly a visual language that can be understood in three forms: universally, foreign, and private.
To be continued…