A design that starts off so full of promise, can quickly turn south if you don’t have a game plan. Sketches matter.

– January 21, 2015

On Drawing & Design, Part IV

Stop me if you’ve heard this one… You’re just sitting there minding your own business when you look up and see it: it’s an idea, and just like that you're smitten! You’ve been bitten bad, so you immediately pursue it, and in those exquisite moments the idea seems so gorgeous, so perfect, that you even begin to entertain the notion that this idea is the one.

The next day you bring the idea to your computer to meet your software. As you introduce the idea first to Illustrator, and then to photoshop, you notice the first hint of an imperfection, but hey it’s such a great idea and small imperfections are par for the course, right? The two of you can always work through that later in InDesign.

Over the course of the next several hours, problems start to arise, but the idea showed such promise at first that you tell yourself that bumps along the road are normal, and greatness is worth fighting for. So you soldier on, applying your digital magic to make things work. A little clone tool here, color bump there ... You’re strong. You've got this.

By the time you make it to InDesign, you've got a real mess on your hands. The typography doesn’t fit, the composition is flat and static, and the idea just doesn't seem all that appealing anymore. But you have so much time and effort already invested in the relationship, and of course there are the children to think of – the collateral pieces. Ending things at this time doesn't seem to be an acceptable option, and so it goes.

When you finally see the presentation, you can see just how dysfunctional things have gotten. How did it ever get this way? Your coworkers smile sympathetically to your face, but you feel the shame and humiliation in their whispers behind your back. You can't go when they ask you to join them for adult libations after work because you have to put in extra time covering for the flaws in your idea. Pretty soon, they stop asking.

How can you avoid such a dismal fate? Draw. On Paper.

Think of thumbnail sketches as idea speed dating. You certainly don’t have to pursue every thought that you sketch, but you are going to meet a wide variety of ideas. Moreover, there is a stream of consciousness aspect to sketching thumbnails that simply does not happen on a computer. Maybe it can happen on today’s new touchscreen devices, but even then creating the new document doesn’t seem nearly as fluid as flipping a page in a sketchbook. Perhaps that first idea you were smitten with really is the one, or maybe you’re just too easy. Thumbnails provide you with the information you need to make a better choice.

Beyond the thumbnail, continuing to develop the rough layout through drawing prevents you from rushing into things and forces you to deal with problems up front. What’s more, once you begin to see that things aren’t going to work out, you can simply move on to a different idea!

Sales people understand that the more time a customer spends with a product, the harder it is to walk away. That’s one reason car sales people want you to sit in the car and take it for a test drive. That simple psychology applies to design as well. The more time you spend in the computer working on a design, the harder it gets to abandon it for something else, even when the design is clearly not working.

Maybe because subconsciously you always know that there is yet another step to go, the same thought process almost never applies to the hand-drawn layout. When things aren't working on paper, the solution is one of two relatively easy choices: flip the pencil around and erase or wad the sheet of paper up and toss it in the trash.

Breaking up with your dysfunctional design is painless when you are still in the drawing stage. Minimize the probability of a bad relationship by playing the field with your pencil. Don’t be pushy, don’t be needy…