Drawing Design

For many, the Lucigraph earned the nick name "Lazy Lucy"

Having worked in the design field for well over 25 years, I've seen many design tools come and go. When I first started my career most of the design work was done with devices and gizmos that many people today would not even recognize. Except of course for pencils and paper. It's possible that most would not even be able to guess what many of these tools did. The stat camera, proportional wheel, pica rule, Lucigraph, ruling pen, waxer, rubylith film, color-aid paper, Acu-Arc, and of course the rotary lead pointer are just a few of the relics I remember from another era. There are hundreds more that I haven't mentioned, or perhaps can't recall so easily. In most cases the computer has replaced these historical tools with software applications that make the design process so much easier. Pointing and clicking is certainly a bit easier than running a waxer. One thing, however, that has not been replaced is drawing. In my mind, drawing is an essential design tool that will never become obsolete. I'm talking about good old fashioned paper and pencil drawings. Nothing fancy here, just basic drawing. Man has made drawings like this since we lived in caves. Many are quite beautiful in their own right.


Lascaux cave drawings are both simple and beautiful

Years ago design drawings were created primarily to sway clients. They were tools to communicate to the design illiterate the fanciful concepts imagined by designers. They also created separation between those who understood and created art, and those who barely knew how to spell it. It was easy to dazzle a client with a spiffy sketch, or a detailed rendering. Unfortunately, the design often took a backseat to drawing technique. A spartan Dieter Rams design for Braun would never have won out in a all out rendering contest. Can you imagine a detailed rendering of a ThinkPad? Nothing more than a simple black box. Although the talent, manual dexterity, and mastery of illustration techniques continues to impress me for full blown renderings, it's design working drawings that interest me the most now. These are the drawings that tell the real story. Designers make them for themselves, not to impress others. They often contain notes, unresolved details, coffee stains, and mistakes. There is a certain spontaneity to them. The art of imperfection shines clear.

Wonderful working sketch by design master Dieter Rams

Richard Sapper working sketch for a flat panel based computer we designed together

When I worked at a design consulting firm in Kansas, I collaborated with excellent designers who were also highly gifted in the art of drawing. Some were so skilled that their rough working sketches often were a little too good. They looked like finished work, not initial ideas. In the consulting business this was a problem. Clients were more than happy to take a rough concept and immediately turn it into a real product. Short cutting the total design process saved consulting fees for the clients, but cost the design firm revenue. In some cases this was such a big issue that all rough sketches had to be stamped with a "PRELIMINARY CONCEPT ONLY" disclaimer. Not sure how this stopped the problem, but it certainly looked good on paper. There is nothing like a rubber stamp to lend an air of authority to a drawing.

Rough sketch created by the late and infamous Kansas designer Robert Deines in 1972. Want to guess what it is?

Mike Meister's best attempt at making a rough pencil sketch circa 1982. He's still working at it today.

One of my more recent working sketches for ThinkPad controls. Look familiar?

I make simple working design sketches nearly every day of my life. They aren't intended to wow clients, instead they help me solve design problems or communicate ideas. Back in the 80's I got pretty good at making more polished renderings, thanks to Bob and Mike, but I really don't need to make drawing like that anymore. I can still remember Bob giving me an extensive lecture on the best way to select the correct degree of an ellipse template, and Mike showing me what marker best rendered sky reflected in matte chrome. They were true masters of their craft. Today I prefer real full size 3D models to review and present design concepts. If a rendering is required, we use computers to create them. With the right software and designer at the helm the results are amazing. Okay, when compared to a hand created sketch they're somewhat sterile, but that is a different topic. I'm not about to surrender my pencil and paper. Drawing is part of my life and connected to how I think. If  Bob was still alive, he would complain a little about my perspective being "off" and Mike would still want to add a few well selected reflections, but I think they would both be proud.

David Hill