We are analogue

It may seem strange for me to be a proponent of non-computer-aided design processes.  After all, my very first studio in undergrad was a “paperless studio,” which meant just that: no paper, no pencils, all computers, all CAD.  It felt like we could create and render entire worlds before we could adequately sketch the image staring back from the mirror.  We had learned to excel at producing images that could quickly and clearly communicate design concepts, but I quickly learned that they were not always the concepts we intended to communicate.  The level of detail in computer images brought unintended attention to certain areas of our designs and often did not adequately present the solutions we wanted the focus on.

For years this complex level of digital modeling had been relegated to Hollywood production studios and those folks with pockets much deeper than the average architecture student.  Suddenly software like FormZ, 3DStudio, and SketchUp found a home in the grubby little hands of us design students, and the world suddenly became much easier to represent.  It seemed that as our skills on the computer gained focus, our skills with pencil and paper were proportionately pushed to the back burner.  You may ask yourself, “So what!?”  Who needs a pencil when you have a shiny new MacBook Pro with a full software suite installed!?

Well despite our generation’s dedication to the computer, perhaps these skills alone are not enough.  What if every one of us saw the need to couple our wireless optical mice with an inherent ability to draw?  Maybe the ability to sketch your thoughts during a conversation with a client can be more powerful than even a fully refined digital image?

A few years ago we were working on a small multifamily project.  We had prepared a few hand sketches from a draft FormZ model, and were going over the designs with our client.  We were discussing things in a very fluid way; he seemed to understand that the hand sketches represented a work in progress.   He was open to alternates being discussed on the fly.  I could tell he was open to further evolution of our solution.

Soon the need to look at a view not previously sketched came up.  I turned on my laptop and opened the digital model so that we could fly around a bit.  I was genuinely shocked to see a drastic change in our client’s perspective.  Suddenly he expected this “realistic looking” digital model to represent a final solution.

It was the exact same solution we had been discussing all along, but the simple switch from analogue to digital seemed to trigger in his mind a premature solution.  Where the hand sketch was apparent as just one stop along the project’s evolution, the computer model meant to him that the design process was finished.  Had we suddenly designed ourselves into a corner!?  I quickly turned the laptop off, and we returned to discussing the hand sketches.

Since that experience I have strived to make the ability to sketch much more central to my skill set.  I spend more time simply drawing what is around me: nature, the city, and projects I dream up.  Still plenty of work ahead, but the exercise is at the very least a great distraction from my 17” LCD screen.

5 thoughts on “We are analogue

  1. Great post Adam, I read the whole thing and couldn’t agree with you more.
    I’ve always been more comfortable with pen and paper versus vector lines and keystrokes.

    Although I’m in the music business, I still retain all my design skills from my previous life as an Architect…so most of the graphic design and stage designs for the band and our projects fall to me. I could go to CAD, or Revit, or SketchUp, etc….but most of the time I find myself getting my ideas for the team out much quicker with a trusty ball-point pen and paper (of some kind).

    I’m glad I took the time to hone my “analog” skills when I had the chance.

    Again, great post and keep up the hard work.

    -Matty “Primetime” P.-

  2. You say the client’s perspective changed when you pulled the digital model out – was he no longer amenable to an evolution of the project past the solutions that the model showed? Was it difficult to get him re-invested back into the hand drawings after that?

    I’m also curious about how his attitude itself might have changed, in terms of enthusiasm for the project, solutions, or discussion, or his level of comfort during the discussion, or anything like that. Notice anything like that?

  3. Wow! Excellent observation about your client’s mindset given a hand sketch (work in progress) or a digital sketch (premature final design). I have never articulated this, But I think that sketching by hand gives people permission to take risks in their thinking that they may not take with electronic media. I have been taking drawing classes at Art Students League since November, and what is happening for me is that the graphite stick and paper creates a synergy between my creative thinking and what I can express. When I am designing on the computer I am using more of my left brain function.

    Drawing is becoming a bit of a lost art, but I agree that it still has a vital role in the creative process. I started collecting books a couple years ago about architectural and lighting design firms who still draw – I am inspired tremendously by them.

    Thanks for the blog,
    Nancy Johnson

  4. Matty P- Glad you are still finding a home for your architectural training! I see a number of parallels between music and arch (in fact stay tuned for a future post on that topic).

    Kevin- I think what really happened is that he started thinking about the next steps before the project was ready for those next steps. Development is a numbers game, and time is money. The sooner the design is done, the sooner the drawings are done, the sooner the project is submitted for permit, the sooner he can start drawing on his loan, the sooner he can get the GC started…etc. It was a bit difficult to get him back to square one, and I’m not sure he ever fully pulled himself back. The schedule remained intact so all was well.


    Thanks for tuning in, glad you enjoyed it! I agree with you that hand drawings allow more risk, and the computer is much more left brain!

  5. Pingback: Le Se Le Bon Ton Roulette | AIA Colorado Emerging Professionals Blog

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