Learning to Sketch vs. Sketching to Learn

By Core77 on August 26, 2015 in Design - Other
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Sketching Lab is an annual design conference in San Jose, Costa Rica that promotes the design process and visual communication techniques for students and young professionals in creative industries. Every year, Sketching Lab covers the basics of how to draw, and this year I hosted a session that explored the WHY of sketching aka applied sketching or as I like to call it, “Sketching to Learn.” Here are 5 lessons from this year’s session:

Sketching Lab participants “Sketching to Learn”

1. Sketching is a form of communication 

Sketching communicates thoughts, tangible things, emotions and innovative ideas without words. Like verbal languages, the sketching alphabet can be arranged and rearranged into visual dialogues and even longer cohesive stories with a variety of purposes.

2. Sketching has an audience

Your audience will inform the purpose of your sketch, which ultimately will inform the type of sketching style or level of fidelity. For example, if we are in a brainstorm with our classmates or colleagues, the ideal sketch is loose and open to interpretation. It should capture the idea in a few gestural lines without much detail, that way your colleague can build on your original idea and make it even better. However, if your sketch is too tight, rigid and looks finished, then others won’t feel as compelled to build on it.

“Dialogue with a Sketch” by Bill Buxton helps to illustrate a non-verbal conversation and ultimately the flow of an ideal brainstorm.

3. Sketching is a universal language

At the Sketching Lab, we usually have a mix of English and Spanish speaking participants, so naturally there are a few words or phrases that not everyone can comprehend in their second language. The one way that ensures all participants understand is through a picture or sketch that captures the idea in its purest form—proving that sketching is our universal language.

Sketching Lab participants communicating visually

4. Sketching has rhythm

The speed at which we sketch can greatly influence the type of output or content we create. As a general rule, fast and sporadic sketch rhythm usually equates to more gestural output that stems from emotion and feelings. Whereas a slower sketch rhythm equates to more pragmatic output that stems from a cerebral approach. Either way, each sketch rhythm has its own superpower. For instance, the fast and loose style lends itself more towards form exploration and the slower and tighter style allows your brain to keep with the rhythm of the sketch, thus informing it and solving problems in real time.

Sketching Lab Cofounder, Jose Gamboa, demonstrating sketching rhythm using his Sketch Aerobics methodology

5. Sketching to learn

Also known as “failing fast,” is all about developing meaningful ideas by way of iterating through an abundance of throwaway ideas. Through this process, the sketch becomes merely a vehicle for thought. Remember, learning to sketch is only a skill, but sketching to learn is applying that skill to create something meaningful.

“Sketching to Learn” exercise where the participants created 10 second sketches on post-it notes of a chorreador (Costa Rican Coffee Maker) design evolution.