problem solving & pencilphobia

Not so many designers draw now. The benefits of drawing as a language, a process, a means of working through problems are widely overlooked. The idea that drawing is for making pictures inhibits creativity.

From primary school on, drawing is seen as something you either can or cannot do and is permanently welded to a sterile idea of ‘picture-making’. Observational, note-taking and thought-processing drawing has no place and the innate perception and creativity common to most young children (I have seen primary school sketchbooks to shame some illustration degree students) is rarely understood / encouraged. Where creativity survives education, degree teaching’s first task is to remove a decade and a half’s conditioning. Inhibition sees students of design timidly sketching an idea in 4H pencil, more concerned with what onlookers might think than than generating more ideas.

Problem-solving in design or any activity—engineering, physics, business… requires that you envisage many solutions and evaluate them. It is not easy to get one’s mind into the zone, but then thoughts come thick & fast. Writing is too slow, memory is subjective, editing ideas inside your head can’t be trusted and (at the time of writing at least) there is no app for brain-archiving. Drawing can be realtime thought-capture; a record of fleeting observations and head-clearing ideas—good, bad, indifferent—for later objective review. If you can shake off self-consciousness anyone can use drawing to help solve problems.

Drawing ability does not make you creative—some of the best design thinkers I have worked with are pencil-phobic: Terence Griffin (Sedley Place / Wolff Olins) used them only to tackle The Times crossword; my first job involved visualising for Michael Wolff who employed thought, provocation and charm—to win D&AD pencils (ironically). Good draughtsmanship in the more obvious way is of course very helpful in resolving visual / spacial design details—but skill is irrelevant to drawing for problem-solving.

We are all keyboard / glass jockeys now and design education is again under siege from Micky Gove & mates. Drawing and handwriting will be among the lost arts of the twenty-first century. But futile though it might seem: next time you have a problem don’t just try to solve it quickly in your head—get a pencil (better still a pen) and try drawing out your thoughts…





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