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Why the pencil is still the most important tool for digital designers

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Looking for digital inspiration, or staring at an empty computer screen? Even at the tech nerd mecca that is SXSW in Austin, designer Von Glitschka has some radical advice for you: Close your laptop, shut off your iPad, and pick up a pencil. Open a paper notebook. And give doodling a shot.

“The computer is great, but it’s become a crutch for creative people,” he said. “My computer makes me more efficient … but that said, it’s just a tool. What designers need to do more today than ever before is bring a balance between analog and their digital skills. Because the methods that worked in the past can only benefit and enhance your work going forward.”

As a doodler and casual artist myself, I’m a huge fan of iPad apps like Paper that let you turn your tablet into a digital drawing and painting device. Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, per say, you’re probably familiar with apps like Draw Something.

But Glitschka went back as far as cave drawings and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to remind us that sometimes, digital isn’t always better, and drawing with paint and pencils can kickstart the creative process when computers fall short. In fact, some of our most popular logos and ads these days come from drawing methods popularized much earlier, such as Picasso’s use of line drawings that we now see in ads all over the place:

Photo by designer Von Glitschka

“There’s a common misconception that doodling shows that you’re not paying attention,” he said, but “doodling improves your brain recall by 30 percent.”

It’s too easy for design students to get caught up in computer programs when drawing is still an essential skill, he said, but drawing can open doors for journalists like Mathew Cook who brought the Iraq War to life through pen and paper, or art students who forget that as designer Saul Bass said, “design is thinking made visual.”

Bass designed iconic American images like the AT&T bell logo, the United Airlines tulip logo, or the racing credits in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. But even if most of us know Bass’s work from the television or computer screens, he reminded designers not to forget the art of drawing on paper:

3 Responses to “Why the pencil is still the most important tool for digital designers”

  1. Nice read! Good designers do not touch computers before they play with their pencil. Good designers always scratch their rough idea for quick visualization before touching any digital device. Pencil is the basic of all design tools.

  2. Just came from Stan’s blog. I really love this post because I know how important it is to never forget putting pencil, pen, or brush to paper even if there is a computer program that is easier more efficient. I can feel my brain get excited when I haven’t touched my artwork for a while. I literally get happier. And I’ve read a lot of the research about the value of handwritten notes and doodling. I’m glad that I was doing it for the love of it and don’t have to be coerced to return!

  3. Stan Faryna

    Having worked with young, professional designers for decades, I can say that those who lacked a fine art education (drawing, fundamentals of design, etc) are deeply disadvantaged and tend to struggle under low hanging, glass ceilings.