By: Craig Harshman

One of the most overlooked steps in the design process, sketching, can take your project to the next level. The role it plays will differ depending on a number of things such as the end product, the breadth of the project, and each designer’s individual style and workflow. All of the design work, however, will clearly benefit from sketching, because it can save a significant amount of time on every type of project, whether it is illustration, identity, web design, etc. The key element is the ability to decode all of the thoughts and visuals in your head and put them on paper, then sort out the not-so-good ideas and eventually discover the ones that work. You may sketch more for logos than for a mobile app, but the processes are still the same—starting loose and finishing with a refined drawing that has the key elements of the end product. My sketching process involves two steps: 1) concept development and 2) composition or layout.

Concept Development

Sketching is a good way to quickly work through a number of possible solutions. Focus on exploring all possible concepts without worrying about what the sketches look like. It’s about getting ideas on the board to drive the project forward. There are no boundaries—anything is possible and nothing is wrong. Once your brain is initially drained of ideas, walk away and come back later with a refreshed mind to add a few more or expand upon what’s already on the board. Now it’s time to narrow down your “brain dump” and work to further refine the best ideas or sketches.

Below is an image of my concept development process for an illustration project where the goal was to develop a piece that expressed a particular verb.


Composition or Layout

After settling on a concept, the next step is to build the composition. This stage could vary for different products but it continues to have the same meaning. For an illustration, think about perspective or crop and for a website it’s not about style or typefaces anymore but layout, wire-framing, motion and more. Logo design will consist of more concept development then composition, but you still need to think about how the logo is integrated into design pieces and all forms of the logo. The composition step helps save time in the design process because having a basic layout or two prepared before actually designing on the computer provides a visual guide that’s much easier to adapt and evolve.

Sketching is vital to the design process because it is a key element of true “design thinking”—identifying the possibilities without being restricted by boundaries and getting all ideas (ridiculous or not) onto paper quickly. Once that’s accomplished fast sketching of composition or layout iterations will ease the transition to the computer, saving time to really fine tune the project later.

Below is an image of a composition developed for a project that required a visual booklet showing a natural process. There are also two mocks of how the booklet could function as a final.


What tips do you have for sketching?