In the modern age of technology and computer driven advancements it’s easy to forget about more humble and basic skills, such as drawing and specifically, the importance it still has in the product development process. Our Industrial Design Lead, Neil shares the importance of the humble pen in the design process.
When I trained as a designer at university, we were given an absurd amount of time to develop a product idea, and for this reason, we found ourselves in the sketching stage for weeks. This promoted the idea that we have to constantly critique our ideas and refine and refine until we arrived at a solution with a resolved outcome. Every detail should be considered from the overall silhouette to the way that 2 components fit together and align. As a professional designer, not much has changed apart from the timescales are reduced and the pressure is a lot higher to get it right.
During the development of any product, you are 1st given the brief and this could be loose or very constrained, depending on many factors, often it starts off loose and then once other parties join the process, it becomes more constrained. You may be the client or the client may be 2 or 3 steps away as an end user for a product you may never use. So it’s all about communication, either from your head to your eyes or from your head to someone else’s eyes, and for early stage ideas there is still no better option than a humble pen and paper…Yes pen (specifically a very modest ‘Bic Fine Ballpoint’ pen in my case). As a designer I don’t really use pencil for quick ideas as it promotes the ability to erase or omit certain details as you go along, details that may become the start of a fantastic idea that would never have been formed if I was to remove it.
Initial ideas are all about dumping shapes and little ideas of elements of the design onto the page, I’m not worried about creating a refined visual impression at this point, just concentrating on getting my initial ideas of how to answer the brief out of my head, so my eyes can assess it. At this point it is better to start off radical as I find it is much easier to bring a silly idea down to ground than it is to add excitement and innovation to a bland, predictable idea.
These ideas are usually not presentable to the client or in the case at CAIR, the development and sales team. To get fair feedback I need to do a little more refinement of these scribbles and form some recognisable and understandable visual sketches. For this I may redo the drawings starting with pencil, adding colour with designers markers and finally going over it with fibre tip pens of various thickness’; a simple process that was taught at Uni and remains with me still.
Sometimes sketches of just one angle don’t provide enough information and I need to show a detail that may be hidden, or too small. These “breakout” sketches are provided as supplements to better illustrate the idea in my head. It’s all about communication and if they can’t see it, they can’t understand it, simple.
Once the sketching stage is “done” and I’ve moved to the computer to generate an accurate representation of the product in CAD, it’s never really “done”, as throughout the CAD stage I still heavily rely on the ability to quickly add a detail without having to create lengthy and constrained CAD features. I often get so far through the CAD and then, run off a print of it (often from several angles) and then sketch over the printout to explore options such as button placement or grill pattern. This is such an important process to me, it is often seen that Product Designers “design” on the computer and this really isn’t true (for most of us), we design using our heads and the computer is simply a tool, much the same way as the pen and paper are. In most cases it is better to explore form with the pen and paper, as it is quick and raw, and as I mentioned before that slip of the pen could result in a brilliant discovery that may be the USP when the product hits the shelves.
For balance, I understand there are a number of screen based pen alternatives now, but I’ve never found a replacement suitable for the initial dump of ideas, however for more beautiful visuals I can see the benefit of the technology alternatives such as the ‘Wacom’ tablets, but for me at that stage, I find it quicker to actually create a 3D CAD model and use programmes such as ‘Keyshot’ to create realistic visuals.
In summary, sketching, drawing, scribbling, doodling or whatever you call it still has a vital role in a professional designer’s toolkit and I can’t see a day any time soon where that will change.