The Importance of Sketching in Creating a Successful Design Work

Articles April 12, 2013

With the rise of numerous gadgets and applications for vectoring, photo manipulations, 3D modelling and illustration, the old pencil and paper are least getting noticed, kept inside drawers and sometimes never used again. I remembered attending a graphic design convention where one of the speakers (from an animation studio) forgot what is that “writing instrument with graphite” called. Everyone laughed when the audience figured it out for him that he is referring to a “pencil”.

Every creative person and even those who are not into design work might have used a pencil or a pen and a paper at some point of their work process. But with the popularity of sketching applications on tablets and other devices, the traditional way of conceptualizing an idea on a piece of paper are replaced by virtual sketch pads and sticky notes.


Levels of sketching via idsketching

Levels of sketching via idsketching


This article will teach you the importance of sketching and how your pen and paper will help you in conceptualizing and building your next successful design work. Take time to shut down your laptops and set aside those drawing tablets for a while as I give you some benefits of sketching your ideas first on paper, how other designers benefit from it and some tips on getting it started.



Why bother sketching?

An initial way to spark creativity

There is always that creative feeling when you are holding a pencil than holding a mouse. It gives you more freedom to illustrate what’s in your mind on paper than on a computer. By means of drawing rough lines and shapes, you begin to use that spark of creativity within you to come up with interesting concepts that can be the initial foundation of your next awesome design work.


Character Sketch Process | LuigiL

Character Sketch Process | LuigiL



Easy, fast and can be done anywhere

Sketching doesn’t only happens in your work table. It can took place anywhere you need to record something, list an idea or just be inspired by the environment you are in. Bring a small notebook and a pen everywhere you go. Who knows, you might just find notable ideas as you go.


Sketches of Suhita while traveling in different places

Some sketches of Suhita while traveling in different places


An effective visual communication tool

You might meet a potential client while not at work or in public places and you might talk about things relating to your design work. Your pen and notebook in hand can be a great communication tool. Through rough sketches or just showing up your sketchbook, you can easily  describe what you do and your creative process for an instant client work.


Initial ideas for a new blog design | Anatom!c

Sketches of initial ideas for a new blog design | Anatom!c



Visual exploration

When you start your project with a sketch, you will not limit yourself with a single variation of your idea. Through sketching, you can explore multiple options you could take in a particular design concept.


FireFox OS brand mascots | Martijn Rijven

Early exploration of pose and style | FireFox OS brand mascots | Martijn Rijven



Great ideas comes from rough sketches

Oftentimes, when you still have nothing in mind, scribbling and doodling triggers your imagination and gives birth to the awesome idea you’ve been figuring out for hell years!


Early sketches of the Twitter logo

Early sketches of the Twitter logo

Early concept sketches of Twitter’s Brid logo via DesignTAXI


Improve your drawing skills and discover new skills

As a designer, you must be equipped with that extra skills you use in your design work. By means of sketching, one important skill is developed, drawing. The ability to draw and visualize things on paper instantly can be your greatest weapon. A designer who can easily illustrate his ideas or concepts will most likely win a client over those who can’t even draw a distinguishable object. Also, by sketching, you might just discover your other skills like art direction, creating storyboards or character designing.



How designers and artists benefit from sketching
It is always fascinating to see how a designer transforms his/her sketches into an amazing design work. Rough scribbles in a piece of paper  can be a start of the next successful design. That is why more successful designers start their creative process by sketches and drawings. For the past months, YTD have featured a lot of awesome projects and interviewed some great designers and artists across the globe about their works and took a closer look on their creative processes. We always ask a particular question to most of them. That is,


“Can you share us your creative process? From where did you start?”


It is not a surprise that the common denominator of their answers is the skill we’ve been talking about in here. Here are some of them:


Emmanuel Romeuf

In his UCreative Spotlight interview, he answered:

“Projects in art direction can be really different, depending on the needs of the client. I think the most important part in the project is listening to the client speaking about his needs. Try to be reactive. Sometimes, the final idea comes during the first ten minutes of the meeting, while making some doodles on a sketch book. Then I begin the research stage; doing sketches and picking up pictures to make a mood-board. In doing this, I build the idea with the drawing and try to pass on the emotional direction with the mood-board. For the last stage, I just need to develop and put the finishing touches. That’s it!”


Jim Tuckwell

In an interview about his Game of Thrones Playing Cards Project,  he answered:

“After choosing a character and few thumbnails for the overall layout, I begin drawing. Then it’s just the tedious process of hatching lines, which is my attempt to retain a classic illustrated look in the cards vs the standard comic look.”


Peter V Nguyen

In his UCreative Spotlight interview, he answered:

“I start like I think most pencillers do. Maybe a couple of sketches on the script and layouts and thumbs and carry them out to finish with pencils. I think all the choices really come in the layout stage and I try saving the more exciting panel for last as a reward.”


Rachel Spoon

In her Ucreative Spotlight interview, she answered:

“I always start with research. I’m a list person and I usually end up making a lot of those in the beginning stages, along with writing down snippets of information about the topic at hand. From here I move to the “looking” stage. I flood myself with visuals–looking through books, magazines, and art and design sites. Then I start loosely sketching or putting something tangible down on paper. Sometimes I add another step in there, but this is usually the start to my process.”


Justin Marimon

In an interview about his NatGeo Rebranding Project, he answered:

“I started generating assets by sketching logo variations and several applications of those new logos. From there, I began creating the logo and applying it to simple stationary. From that point, every single element followed the standard that was laid out in the previous elements, and I knocked them out one-by-one to give you the completed project.”


David Habben

In his UCreative Spotlight interview, he answered:

“For my personal work, the concepts always begin in my sketchbook. I don’t use thumbnails as often as I should, but I’ll usually play with the idea on paper and in my mind enough that by the time I’m creating the final work, I have a good idea of where it will go.”


Ben O'Brien

In an interview about his “Fluid Animals” Calendar Project, he answered:

“It really is very simple, I always start with a pencil drawing, not a rough sketch, but a finished drawing, then I scan it and trace it in Illustrator, then it’s just the simple process of choosing colors and getting those transparent effects perfect.”


Tetiana Kartasheva

In an interview about her Watercolor Patterns, she answered:

“Everything starts with an idea. Then I think about it for some time. Next I create draft sketches. I think it is the most difficult moment – to apply  the picture in my mind on the paper. Some persistence, a drop of inspiration, particular time – and voilà, I have a result.”


Ryan Massad

In an interview feature, he answered:

“Totally depends. Generally, as digital as I’ve become, it starts with a sketch. It could be the most crude rough sketch that anyone else would not understand, but if I’m doing layout, I’m going to start with sketches in my book. It’s going to say what the basic proportions are, blocking out typographic elements and how squares and rectangles and shapes are holding that visual weight. That’s easiest way to get going. You can push things around on the computer forever and sometimes not get it right.”



Ok, sketching is pretty cool but how can I get started?

This is the big question that might comes out of your mind. Well, I know that there is always that feeling of doubt when you are facing a clean blank sheet of paper and that hesitation of what to draw and where to start. Fortunately, I have listed some effective tips you might give a try to get started with sketching.


1. Start by listing some words/terms/initial thoughts that best describe your idea. These words, when properly analyzed can give you the starting point of what to sketch.


Sketches from the identity design process of Butterfield Photography via JustCreative

Sketches from the identity design process of Butterfield Photography via JustCreative

2. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. Remember you are sketching to come up with INITIAL ideas to be used for your FINAL designs. So mistakes are inevitable and most of the time, they give rise to new opportunities and better ideas.


Character pose exploration

Character pose exploration via KingSketches

3. Sketch anything and anywhere. Bring with you a pen and a sketchbook or a small notebook wherever you go. Sketch anything that you think are interesting and can be an inspiration for your next designs. Do it in a subway, a park or in a restaurant. Some of the most brilliant ideas might come across your way at an instant so better be ready to record them.


Pocket sketches by SketchySteven

Pocket sketches by SketchySteven


If those tips are still not enough for you to try sketching and drawing, then consider this advice from American graphic designer and filmmaker Saul Bass:


Image banner via Almost Never Clever.

Now it’s your turn! How important sketching is in your design work?
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Kerby is an online marketer who has a keen eye in print design and creative artworks. When not at work, he spends most of his time in completing his sketchbooks with doodles and illustrations from anything that inspires him to draw. He is an avid fan of Japanese Anime, manga and some comic book characters. Check out his illustration blog and portfolio for more info.

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  • Design Deeper

    Great article. Sketching is one of the most important parts of the design process!

    • Kerby Rosanes

      thanks! glad you liked it. :) As designers we can never do away with the use of pen and paper, that is why the sketching process will be as important as the gadgets and technology we use. :)

  • AsBeautifulAsFire

    This was great! :)

    • Kerby Rosanes

      Thanks for stopping by. Glad you like the article! :)

  • lian

    I love this post! I am always amazed on seeing the rough sketches behind every successful design projects! I totally agree with you Kirby that there is always that feeling of being more creative when you are holding a pencil rather than a mouse.. I like those interview snippets! Sound advices from the design experts!

    Hope to read more posts like this! Thank you for this great share! :)

    • Kerby Rosanes

      Yay! Thanks Lian!

      The best advices we can get in terms of sketching comes from those designers who has been using it over and over again in the early stages of their design processes.

      We’ll definitely do more posts like this in the coming days so I’m looking forward to seeing you in the blog more often. :)

  • DesignsBySamantha

    Sketching helps me a lot when having conversations with my clients. I can give them my initial perception of the design work at an instant which creates a better visual communication between us re: the idea we are trying to come up.

    Very insightful post! Thanks/

    • Kerby Rosanes

      Nice to know that sketching helps you a lot! Thanks for the comment. :)

  • Nagaraj


  • Zell Liew

    I love this post Kerby! I’ve recently started picking up design and have been struggling with drawing. This really serves as an inspiration to stick with drawing even though I suck at it!

    One question though, what do you think about sketching straight on the computer with a graphic tablet instead of using a mouse? To me, it seems quite similar to sketching using a pencil, but feels oddly different at the same time.

    • Kerby Rosanes

      Glad you liked it Zell :)

      I am using a graphic pen for my digital designs. I think the presence of pen tablets really helps a lot. But, I don’t do the sketches of my initial ideas of the design I’m working on. I still start with a pencil and a blank paper then when I figured out a brilliant concept from those rough sketches, that’s the time I’ll face the computer and execute what I’ve conceptualized. I always have this feeling of having more creative freedom when scribbling on paper than on computer using a mouse or a graphics pen. :)
      But all things still depend on you, as the designer you must know where you could execute and pitch in your ideas better. :)

      Thanks for stopping by. :)

      • Zell Liew

        I was contemplating on trying to learn drawing with my graphic tablet on screen straight, but it feels totally different from drawing with a pencil. I’ll give drawing with a pencil a run and see how it goes!

        • Paul Trivilino

          Drawing with a tablet feels more natural than drawing with a mouse because the pen stylus of a tablet is identical in size and shape to a pen or pencil. Draw with a computer mouse feels like drawing with a brick.

          Even though the mechanics of drawing with a graphics tablet are identical to drawing with pencil and paper, it can “feel” different because you are looking at a computer screen while you draw rather than looking at your hand, as you would do with pencil and paper. This can leave you feeling disconnected from what you are doing. That is why I prefer to draw with pencil and paper.

  • Marie

    The good old pencil is still my favorite tool. It gives you total control and it does not give you ready-to-integrate solutions unlike graphic software that can do wonders in a click. It’s artistic and inspiring and has aided me many times in finding eureka moments.

  • LalaBanana

    Sketching really helps. Sometimes brilliant ideas come out when you’re not facing the computer and all you have is a pencil and a sketchpad. My sketches are always rough – but that’s the great thing about sketching, you don’t have to make it perfect. The good thing about sketching is you don’t loose the idea or concept. So when you finally want to finish it digitally, you know very well how to execute it.

  • Lénárt Levente

    I’m draw when I have enough time and no inspiration – or specification. Sometimes I could work on computer only, but most time I have to draw what I would like to create digital. This is a great article, It’s inspire me to draw more on paper.

  • stephan

    I cant draw for s@@t with a pencil … however im fine with a graphics pen in illustrator …

  • ? ?

    Really good post , mostly for people who is starting. I can draw, but i’m not a developer, i just started learning web design, and i know only html and css, i know it isn’t enough for good designing, and i would like to know, what must know good designer?