How Loose Can a ‘Loose Sketch’ Be?

The first thing that a designer should do before starting to sketch is to decide what the sketches are for. This may sound obvious, but the answer should have an effect on how the sketches look. In my opinion there are three stages of sketching and even those will depend, in style, on who the client is.

I have put a number of examples of different sketch styles together here, not because of the quality of the design work but because they are simple and lively in technique. It would be unfair to show drawings that I think are bad examples so these are all quite cool (in my opinion only).

Stage one is the quick work that you do to establish the general design theme of the project; these will be personal sketches that are for the designer’s own development of ideas.

Even with very loose work it is important to remember that one might not be around to explain the ideas when someone else decides to take a look at the work. That means that the page has to look good; all too often I see concept pages with telephone numbers, jokes or irrelevant notes scribbled over sketches, that undermines the importance of the ideas.

Similarly, pages torn out of sketch pads, pages folded in half or with coffee cup stains give the impression that the designers don’t care that much about their own work, so why should the viewer?

The second stage will be sketches that are for design reviews within a design studio. Here there will be a difference in style according to who the people viewing the sketches are. If the audience is from an ‘automotive industry culture’ the styles can still be quite free and dynamic, but when I worked with TWR and at McLaren the sketch language that worked fine at Ford and Lotus/GM would have been meaningless, so a much tighter style was needed.

I often see sketches from young designers, usually students, who try to draw every detail of the whole car in one sketch. The advantage of quick sketching is that you can just concentrate on one part of the design in a sketch and let the areas furthest away from the viewer fade away. There are a few good examples in the attached images. The easier you make your life when sketching the better the results will be.

The third stage is the point in a design program when the designer is looking to pursue the company to invest BIG money in full size modeling and then production! At this point the designers’ drawings must demonstrate that they know exactly how the vehicle will look and that they are the ones to be trusted with a multi-million Euro or Dollar project! I still remember the first time I said to myself “I am telling these people that because I have what I think is a good idea they should invest all their money in that product!”

That is the whole point of design sketches: they are to explain and support the designer’s concepts in such a way that they immediately stand out in a presentation, give an impression of professional competence and demonstrate an understanding of the proposed form and detail.

I have always been wary of being shown far too many sketch proposals; for myself, I don’t need proof of how hard designers have been working, that should be understood. What I like to see are a few really good ideas and evidence of a process that shows the designer will progress to a great piece of design.


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