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Designing at the speed of lead

Supplier: Bortz Product Design By: Gary Bortz
28 November, 2014

Everything we do today is at pace. The products we design need shorter design development cycles and rapid prototyping and digital manufacturing are the buzzword of the day.

To drive these processes the design must be done on CAD, which in itself is a way faster and better method of detailing, maintaining and specifying designs. It gives the ability to create many configurations, update dimensions parametrically; it improves our workflow and output, but is it always the best way to design? Perhaps not.

“Pencil trumps CAD in early design stages.”

With a statement like that you may be thinking this author has lost touch with reality and is a relic from an age gone by, but let me make a few things clear. 

The humble lead pencil in the right hands is way more powerful for initial concepts than CAD. With a few lines it can help create design intent and generate many more initial rough concepts than any digital system. With a few strokes critical components can be laid out and quickly help the design team visualise what is required from the overall design.

By sketching quickly the focus is on design and not on the process or which CAD tools to use and how to digitally create the design. It frees the designer to focus on designing.

Rough notes, doodles and references sketches of related ideas can be brought together quickly to help stimulate the design process. This roughness, by not being too controlled or detailed, helps in stimulating the thought processes and brainstorming better ideas.

When it comes to developing aesthetics, this is even truer. To create complicated and beautiful 3D surfaces CAD tools require even more attention to the modelling process and require even more time. This kind of modelling requires a certain skill and the focus is spent on which CAD tools should be used to achieve the best result.  The focus here has become more about the process and less about the design.

The lead pencil can express these complex surfaces and curves rapidly. Changes to the curves or surfaces made with the flick of the wrist and the aesthetic developed in minutes rather than hours. These sketches would help guide the CAD operator later in actually modelling them. In fact throughout the development process and even when 3D CAD modelling, it is good to use the pencil to help visualise where blends or surfaces are going to meet, or how they could be constructed.

Pencil sketching should not be the domain of Industrial designers who are trained to do so, but be used by all designers. No shame should be felt for "a poor sketch" – finished art or photo-realistic images can be produced my better with 3D photo rendering software. The emphasis is on generating the idea, on stimulating the though process and not on a finished artwork.

Every stage of the design process requires a different set of tools. In the opening game, freedom and flexibility is needed, in the endgame precision. Here at Bortz Product Design, we believe in using the right tools for the job, and for quick conceptual design the humble lead pencil still rules.