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Producing Graphic Design Ideas With a Sketch Pad: Why Designers Should Use Pencil & Paper in This Computer Age

It seems like an age ago when Graphic Design was carried out using a range of manual tools to produce design concepts directly onto paper, card and other media. Initial design ideas were jotted down in sketch pads and worked up further on layout pads, using Magic Markers to flesh the concepts out.

In some cases more finished concepts were worked up using Letraset sheets to add print style headings with body text often nothing more broken zig-zag lines to give a feel of the x-height and leading of the copy.

With the arrival desktop computers, it became possible to produce printed visuals that could very clearly communicate how the final piece should appear and work and so the importance of the sketch book in Graphic Design fell away, to the point where now many designers never touch pencil to paper.

Sketch pads do however still have a place in the design process, for a variety of reasons.

Practical Reasons for Using a Sketch Pad

Sketch pads come in a range of sizes and as such can offer a portable and usable solution for sketching out ideas wherever a Designer is. The new wave of Netbooks may be portable by the standards of a laptop, but they can’t offer the ease of use for capturing quickly sketched ideas while on the move.

A small sketch pad also scores over electronic options by having no concerns over battery life, though obviously consideration needs to be given to ensuring some form of drawing or writing implement is available and that the sketch book hasn’t been filled up with no space available.

The nearest thing to a sketch pad ‘crashing’ would be spilling coffee over it and in that case it can still be dried carefully to ensure the ideas contained remain usable.

Artistic Reasons for Using a Sketch Pad

A sketch pad is always online as the sketch book’s equivalent of the internet is the real world. This means that using a sketch book can free up a Graphic Designer’s thought processes and make them approach a creative brief in a different way.

Seeking inspiration from the surrounding environment rather than from a computer screen can liberate new ideas and ‘favorites’ or ‘bookmarks’ can be torn from magazines and kept in the sketch book for future reference and inspiration.

Furthermore the physical action of sketching ideas down on a physical sheet of paper may lead to the thought process flowing in a new and novel way, and this process may become more organic as ideas are jotted down in just a few seconds wherever the Designer is, without needing to worry about turning a device on.

Keeping a pad by the bed may mean an end to waking and trying to remember what that great idea was that popped up in the middle of the night, meaning that far fewer potentially brilliant ideas are lost.

One last point is that by scanning an idea from a page, it can be traced over in an application like Inkscape or Gimp to produce a digitised version that retains many of the qualities of a hand drawn image.

A sketch pad may not fit in with every Graphic Designer’s creative process, but many Designers who have become completely reliant on digital media may be surprised at the new creative ideas that flow from sketching with pencil and paper.

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