Stop getting stuck on your digital design concepts.
Nothing feels better than finishing a design quickly.
The beauty of speed
If you’re anything like me, you are probably beating your head over whatever design concept you’re working on in your design program right now.
“I’m stuck on this piece and I’m probably never going to finish this design on time”
Often, I am trying to finish a logo design or branding project with a lot going on. There’s a certain project that I have been trying to finish, but I have very little time during the day right now to do work. However, this project is special. I wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to use my “more professional” process.
Unfortunately, I forgot a crucial part of the design process.
Sketching is vital to a project’s success.
It gives you the ability to iterate on ideas without the restriction of:
- Dropdown Menus
- Annoying vector handles
- Transparency and blend mode issues
- Color and gradient choices
- Screens, battery life, wall plug ins…
- Blank screen hesitation
I had a bad habit of starting my designs directly on the screen.
Let’s talk about that.
The beauty of iteration
The only restraints you have is imagination.
Being a person who has to work primarily with digital design programs to create a finished product, I had a bad tendency to go straight to my design programs and try to get a finished product.
I worked a lot with Photoshop and it would take forever to get my layers fixed and updated anytime I moved something. In Illustrator, I would have to reconnect vector points, or re-crop something using Pathfinder tools.
I know that it’s possible to be very quick with using digital design tools like this. Instead, what I’ve found about myself was: the process of using digital tools takes much longer to come up with a great design than if I had started with a good ol’ pencil and paper combination.
I was losing speed due to the rigidness of the design programs.
**You need to focus on speed of iteration, and that comes with sketching your
You can directly compare each sketch side by side and decide what to tweak with
a simple eraser.
If you did this with your digital tools, it will take you a very long time to master quick iteration. I get that you can drag, copy and paste, etc… but if you rough shapes and do quick comparisons, you can get a good view of the different ideas that work and those that don’t.
I put all of my sketches right next to each other and focus on delivering as many bad ideas out of my head as possible.
You can quickly get all the “bad” ideas out of your head.
Sometimes we think we have a really good idea in our head so when we jump to digital first, we’ll spend a lot of time creating this idea and waste a lot of time on something that was actually a bad idea.
By using the pen and paper, you can rapidly get as many ideas down on paper as you can muster. This gives you a good overview of which ideas are good and which ones you might want to skip.
(I use a ‘*’ for each one I want to keep, and an ‘x’ for each one I want to discard.)
You don’t want to get married to a concept too early on in the process.
The beauty of the “Aha!” moments
Sometimes you end up with the best direction to go from the beginning.
I was making another logo out of the number five and mountain peaks.
When I usually create a logo, I have a long questionnaire that I use with the client to get a good idea where to start. During this process of questions with the client, I try to not think of anything relating to visuals until I understand goals.
But, even then, I might have a direction picked as soon as I start sketching that fits the brief perfectly.
From there, it’s simple to just hop over to the screens again and continue refining the concept.
This logo design was done in a day and accepted the next day. But if I had started with the screen, I might not have had this idea as quickly as I did here.
The best part is that I’m not limited by tools trying to get cutouts or offset paths, building grids, etc. I’m just free sketching at this point.
An aha moment might come to you a lot easier if you are able to quickly scribble out all the bad concepts first. It could take you 3 sketches, it could take you 303 sketches…
You don’t know until you try this.
The beauty of notes
Taking great notes during the sketching phase might be the easiest way to improve a design once you take the design to digital.
You have direct input to what is working well, what you might have to consider when going to digital, possible layout/composition changes, explaining interactions or “hard to sketch” ideas.
In time, your ability to sketch will improve along with your details in your notes. You essentially give yourself immediate feedback on your concepts, which you can then turn into case study material at the end of the design process.
You can also get valuable feedback from others
Just take a quick picture and send it off to your design buddies in slack, your client through email, your professor in college, etc.
You can get feedback on your work and then take notes on what they respond with directly on the sketches you’ve created. We do this a lot in the Compass of Design community in order to save time staring at the same logo/website/branding package…etc.
The notes will help you tremendously as you continue to go throughout the rest of the design process. Saving time fiddling with tools or getting distracted by other things.
The beauty of practice
You can start by drawing sticks and horrible circles.
I give you full permission to suck at sketching for a while.
The point is to start and never stop doing it.
The more you sketch, the better your sketches become.
The more you focus on making your sketches as perfect as they could be, you’re wasting the most precious thing you have in your design process. Time.
Your sketch doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t even have to draw well.
I’m serious, not everyone’s sketches have to be perfect.
I can’t quite get my sketches to that “viral shareability” that some of those Instagram artists/designers have. But what I can do is practice.
By sketching often (even for personal stuff, not just clients), I can learn to generate more ideas quicker. This iterative approach helps me build the best details on existing ideas.
I’m not spending time trying to think of the keyboard shortcuts, or using the color picker to find the best colors to start with, or finding the right actions in the dropdown menus…
I’m just spending time with good music thumping in the background creating sketches with my pencil or pen.
Stuck on what you need to design?
“Burn“ a page in your sketchbook with some warmup doodles. Start the habit of sketching
You’re going to benefit a lot by starting with your sketchbook first as long as you keep it a habit.
If you don’t think you have enough time, start small. Take 5 minutes before starting your design to sketch out some quick ideas. After a while, you might be able to completely create your [insert what ever type of design you do :P] design using only a pencil and paper.
Then the transition from sketch to digital is just for cleaning up your concept and presenting the end product.
Just start with the 5 minutes, build the habit of sketching from there.
If you ever want to get some serious design practice under your belt…
Come join other like-minded designers who are working at becoming masters of their craft.
Every week we go over ways to market yourself better, giving and getting design feedback, improving your design professionalism, and other topics to further develop your skills.
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Brand Identity Designer for @itssomagnetic, running a design community at @compassofdesign. I write to help others grow their skills as designers.
Compass of Design
Some of the best design articles written by members of the Compass of Design Community to help you strengthen your skills in design, business/freelance, and marketing yourself.