The Role of Sketching in the Creative Process

I wrote this article a few years ago, when it was published in the book Logo Nest

The creative brief is complete. Your mind overflows with information. The clock is ticking. Pressure builds. Now you have to transform words, opinions, emotions, and strategy into a single graphic that has the potential to work on a billboard or as a 16pt favicon. This simple little graphic must withstand committees, competition, trends, and capture the company’s mission statement, yet remain sufficiently adaptable to leave the company free to grow and change.

You have the Go!, the approved set of goals, the pile of data, URLs, and a set number of days to present the perfect logo. Now what? The Role of Sketching in Logo Design

Sketches from the development of the N45 Architecture Inc. logo design and branding

Now is Not the Time to Panic

There are millions of logos in existence. Many businesses operate globally and there can be legal hazards for a logo that is too similar to another. Intimidating to contemplate. So it is easy to allow panic to set in when you realize that your chances of coming up with a never-seen-before solution by next Friday are zero.

The first step is to accept that although you can’t come up with something truly unique, you can create something that is appropriate, differentiates from the competition and has its own personality within the specified business space. Sketching can be key to accomplishing this by exposing the widest range of possibilities in the shortest amount of time. With a solid understanding of the creative brief floating around in your subconscious, let your imagination wander and draw everything, quickly, roughly and without tweaking. These sketches will give you a record of your entire thought process, a paper trail providing a real benefit.

Judge Not

We designers are a judgmental lot. At this exploring/sketching stage we should resist our instinct to condemn ideas. Sketch! It is quite possible you will discover a real gem, which went unappreciated at its inception.

Ideas need to be preserved and to be seen another day.

While some designers choose to explore using the computer and save only their manipulated ideas, the designer who sketches has a better chance of creating a comprehensive record of that host of fleeting thoughts, ideas, and insights to draw upon.

This is the One

Just as vital as not rejecting ideas during the exploration, is the refusal to get stuck in that moment when what seems to be the perfect solution magically appears on your sketchpad. You know it’s definitely the one the client will love. Why not jump to the computer, tweak it, present it, and wait for the awards to come rolling in? Without going beyond this moment, you are doing both yourself as a designer and your client a disservice. You may be able to do better and the only way to know is to plow through, trying your best not to commit to any ideas until you are completely spent. Try your best not to watch the clock during this process. You have committed yourself to come up with a solution, and while time is a factor in your project pricing, it would be unfair to stop exploring when the seemingly “perfect solution” appears. You might not yet have accomplished what you were hired to do. After the project is complete, review the time you spent and adjust your future pricing if you need to. Right now, your job is to keep working until your hand is cramping, your head is hurting and that callous from writing that you haven’t had since high school is starting to return. Then, take a break.

To Execute or to ‘Execute’?

You have rested, and you have reviewed the creative brief, again. Now it is time to be the critic. You need to determine which sketches meet the project goals, and which do not. Your choices must also posses creative merit of their own. Be discriminating. It’s a fine line between pushing the boundaries to create something special, and delivering the goods as promised. You do not want to move forward with any idea that does not meet the creative direction. Too often, designers present a number of ideas, one of which is on target, but the rest, as fillers, are there simply to make the quota of deliverables. Or the designer has pursued a cool design for its own sake even though it fails to capture or represent the company.

Be strict when judging your designs against the creative brief, but don’t be too severe when you consider them aesthetically. What is needed at this point is a viable seed of potential in each design you select to move forward with. If you remove all ideas that look like the competition, the trendy ideas, the cliché ideas, then the ideas with with potential will show themselves.

It can be tempting at this point to get feedback from your peers or the next person who happens to walk by your cubicle. Don’t do it. The only feedback that has value comes from someone who has read and understands the creative brief, or is one of the audiences the logo is meant to serve. If you want/need feedback, make sure you are asking the right people who have the necessary understanding. Designers generally hate committees, but it is dismaying how we can let a completely random set of opinions to influence our decisions at times. If you do choose to share your rough ideas, especially online with your peers, make sure you have permission from your client to do so as you may be violating a non-disclosure agreement not to mention the trust you are trying to build.

Potential to Move Forward

Confident that there is potential in the chosen sketches before you, it is now time to manipulate and ultimately create from them an aesthetic knockout, the logo that meets the creative brief. Move forward, but try to embrace the nature of the creative process. Rarely is the creative process linear, and it often requires reexamination along the way. If those seeds of creative potential in front of you die, you can always return to your sketchbook and fill up a few more pages.

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