Drawing is the foundational skill of all graphic design. Learning to solve design problems with a pencil is the training we need to be able solve problems most effectively with the digital approximation tools of in the palettes of our favorite design applications. But some designers get by without drawing.
Graphic designers can get by without drawing
But only just so.
I don’t necessarily mean that classical still life drawing is somehow indispensible to being a good designer, but drawing by hand is nontheless critical at some level, especially during the initial stages of a design. Brainstorming with a pencil is simply impossible to improve on. Many designers get by without drawing, but it’s to their detriment, whether they know it or not. All the great design schools and great graphic artists would concur. Those that don’t concur, well, they probably have a lesser degree of greatness.
But, even though I’m quite convinced to be a great designer you must draw, you still don’t have to draw to be a good designer. In fact, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do! But, the benefits of drawing as a habit in any form at all are just too clear, history would show. I’m sure there are some exceptions to the rule out there, but they would be anomalies: curiosities to be considered but not emulated.
Digital tools are approximations, not replacements
All the digital tools we use as designers are imitations of the real deal. Hence the “pen” and “pencil” tools, “erasers” and “brushes”. The marketing campaigns of the greatest design applications are almost always “looks more natural” or something along those lines. The latest release of Photoshop CS5 is really highlighting just how “more natural” the new brush tools work. These digital tools approximate their analog parents. In some ways, they are better, as is the case with “undo”. But the Holy Grail of all design applications is really being as close to analog as possible, while sneaking in some digital goodness.
So, if you are working only and ever in the digital approximations (the toolbars of your various apps) you are missing out the very thing they are trying to approach. Again, you can get by as a designer without drawing. The shear ease of some aspects of design software make hitting the bullseye of competent design pretty easy, whether one is cognizant of it or not. That is beside the point. Rulers, grids, undo, color palette applications, templates: it’s much easier today than 20 years ago to pull off being a “designer”. Adobe gets singular credit for that! But it’s a bit like feeling around in the dark and figuring out that the thing in the room is an elephant, instead of simply turning on the light and seeing it all at once. You can get there the hard way, but, that is the hard way!
Don’t just “play it by ear”
Being a designer who never draws is a bit like being the musician who never learns a scale and simply plays by ear. That musician might be able to eke out some great tunes, maybe make some great recordings, but in the end, they will never escape the limits of their self-imposed exile from even greater achievements.
For instance, great color palettes can simply be copied. But there is math and hard science behind color theory that one can learn. Great layouts can be copied too. But again, there is demonstrable math and theory as to why a great layout is truly great. Drawing, along with study of things like composition and typography, all work in concert to make us designers even better designers than we would be without them.
Drawing is fundamental to getting the best results with the least effort
I must repeat though. You don’t need to draw to be a good designer. You don’t need to do anything any “expert” might suggest. It’s simply too easy these days to create competent work, and even make a living, without a lot of what designers from a generation ago struggled to achieve. I personally have found this troublesome, as someone that now finds competition where there was none before.
For example, order some Letraset transfer letters. Google that if you don’t know what it is. Open the package and grab a sheet and try to “wing it” as you set type. Right. I thought so. You’d better sketch that first! Letraset gets really expensive really fast. Yes, sharpen a few good old No.2’s and grab some scrap paper and have at it until you are sure each .10 letter you scratch out and burnish is in the right place in all respects.
Learn to solve problems like a Master by drawing
All the elements of design are rooted in drawing, as is painting. Drawing is the fundamental skill of visual artists of any stripe. The better we draw, the better we paint, and the better we design, because drawing contains all the problems and pitfalls we must overcome as designers. If we never fully deal with the problems with a pencil, we never fully solve our graphic design issues with much cruder tools.
- Should graphic designers be able to draw / illustrate? – Graphic River
- 10 steps to great logo designs – David Airey
- The logo design process from start to finish – Jacob Cass
- Do designers need to know how to draw? – Creative Opera