The Pencil Sketch as an Integral Part of the Design Process (Part 2)

In my last post, I discussed how the role of the pencil sketch has changed dramatically with the adoption of digital technology as the industry-wide standard approach to articulating design solutions. However, those of us who favor pencil and paper over paths and pixels during the conceptualization phases of the design process understand the value and creative freedom that this rare skill set can impart.

Let’’s take a look at some scenarios where the ability to skillfully wield a pencil can be highly beneficial:

More time thinking, less time executing

Although they may appear to be time intensive to create, pencil sketches can be developed rather quickly. Designers who possess strong drawing skills can produce even a tight pencil sketched interpretation of a design solution much quicker than the solution can be developed digitally. This affords the design team more time to refine and perfect their thinking and address the design objectives rather than spending that time executing digital files.

Conceptualizing in 3-D

When it comes to developing package structure design solutions, the ability to generate concepts in pencil isn’’t a luxury, it’’s an absolute necessity. It requires the capacity to think in 3 dimensions, considering which attributes of the brand can be expressed visually through package shape. For some consumer product categories, package structure design can be a powerful brand differentiator. From our experience with toy and entertainment brands, we know that package structure design needs to be pushed far beyond the basic shapes found in other consumer product categories. Working in pencil allows us to generate solutions that are more dynamic, more gestural, and with a sense of spontaneity that truly captures the essence and attitude of the brand.

Breaking the confines of digital execution

When software developers created the design industry standard applications we use today, they cleverly integrated a palette of digital tools that emulate the “”real”” tools we used as designers. Their functionality may be the same, but let’’s face it: developing design solutions with a keyboard and a mouse creates a disconnect between the designer’’s hand and the digital “”page”.” Even the best tablets and digital apps can’’t truly replicate the experience of creating a pencil sketch.

In contrast, working with pencil and paper gives the designer the freedom to explore without having to start with the default shapes that digital tools produce, or the unnatural motion of clicking and dragging to create paths or brush strokes. For certain design initiatives, such as hand-lettered typography as part of a logo design, the designer’’s ability to work in pencil is integral to its success. In these scenarios, a pencil sketch is always going to feel more fluid and spontaneous – more ““human.” If a design solution begins as a pencil sketch, this quality is retained when it’’s executed digitally.

Leveraging the work-in-progress mindset

I’’ve heard many times over the years that the client typically doesn’’t want to see a pencil sketch because they’’re not imaginative enough to understand it and appreciate it. Instead, they may see it as unfinished, and they’’ll judge it as such. And they’’d much rather see a digital execution because it’’s in color and it feels complete.

It’’s true that some clients aren’t as open-minded to viewing pencil sketched concepts as others. But, generally, we’’ve found the opposite to be true. Especially now. Marketers and brand managers have become so accustomed to seeing digitally executed design solutions right from the start, that the pencil sketch, in contrast, is refreshing – often awe-inspiring.

For some clients, digitally executed design solutions are perceived as ““final”,” so they struggle to envision any stylistic interpretation beyond what it presented. For these clients, pencil sketched design solutions are preferred. They’’ve come to embrace the fact that they’’re a “vision”” of what the final solution can be, and not an exact representation of its final execution. They appreciate that it’’s a work-in-progress, and understand that there’’s flexibility in how it may be interpreted. This approach affords the agency the ability to resolve much of the design solution before it is developed digitally.


  • These are just a few examples of the benefits of incorporating the pencil sketch as an integral part of the design process. What other scenarios, from the agency’’s or client’’s point of view, come to mind?
  • Can you cite examples of specific initiatives that thrive on the designer’’s ability to work in and present their design solutions in pencil?

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