Digital Design Sketching

The ability to explore and communicate creative solutions through drawing is a fundamental skill for designers. But like all human skills, there’s an infinite spectrum of styles and levels. At Cobalt, we recognise the power quickly sketching early ideas by hand; to initially explore your own thoughts; to then collaborate with colleagues; and finally – to communicate with clients.

The ability to draw is equal parts talent and technique; but the biggest component is practice. The reason most people’s drawings are no better than an 11-year old’s is that is probably when they last drew. Which is why at Cobalt will provide the right digital and traditional tools, project time, and ongoing encouragement to use and practice sketching as an essential design technique.

While traditional mediums such as markers, pens and pencils have not been forgotten, the possibilities of digital sketching are even greater, with far more tools available at your fingertips that may not be easily accessible otherwise. Having them all in one place inside the software has optimised the efficiency of a designer’s workflow. Traditional methods are still optimal when it comes to the informal ideation sketches that are needed at the beginning of the design process, but after that their limitations become more apparent. And the power of Control-Z (Undo) and Save-As is transformative to the creative process of not fearing mistakes, and exploring multiple variations.

3D Sketching; Where ideas become (virtual) reality

Digital sketching in recent years has also reached new horizons with the development of virtual reality technology. This development is revolutionary in the product design space, with the ability to sketch in three dimensions which can create a better visualisation for more complex forms, particularly those with detailed internals. 3D sketching can also shorten the time it takes to communicate ideas to engineers, who are able to take these 3D sketches directly into CAD software to model off, or to simply better grasp what the designer is trying to conceptualise.

3D sketching gives the ability to add details in 3D earlier in the design process, as it has made 3D visualisation quicker and more organic – like quick thumbnail sketches that take minutes or seconds. It also allows for a better translation of a product to CAD; providing a clearer picture than what could normally be done in a 2D sketch. This includes better scale and spatial relationships, and the inclusion of details from all angles that are normally not able to be seen in a 2D drawing such as behind, under or inside an object. Some 3D software even has collaborative features, which creates a newer and unique way of bouncing ideas and reviewing designs than what could otherwise be achieved in a meeting room with a pinup board.

Our digital sketching tools

At Cobalt, we use a suite of programs for different digital sketching situations. These are typically used in the following order, although

Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

  • Used for more intuitive sketching with a focus on sketching tools. The designer is not bogged down with the plethora of features and effects that Photoshop can provide. Allows for a freer hassle-free sketching experience.

Adobe Photoshop

  • Used for more detailed sketches and renders that may require more texture, shading, brushes and fine-tuning. Its large range of tools and features can be fully utilised to get more detail into a sketch renders.

Adobe Illustrator

  • Ideal for visualising ideas orthographically (front on views) by providing precise, scalable linework. It’s not specifically a ‘sketching’ tool, but is still a vital part in a designer’s toolkit
  • Also used for early scale configurations and graphics.

Gravity Sketch (Virtual Reality)

  • Used for 3D sketches, which are better suited for conceptualising in 3D space. ‘Organic’ designs benefit most from more freedom and ideation but can be used in any stage in product development.

How sketches fit into the Design Process

From rock-art to CGIs (computer generated images) the purpose, medium and technique of drawings is infinite.  Design drawings (or visualisations) fit within a smaller spread across this spectrum, but there is still a vast spectrum of accuracies and styles. Below is a simple example of the progression from a simple shaded sketch to a complete render.

However, check out the slideshow for a more thorough walk-through of various different types of drawings that our designers create.