I’m a firm believer in pencil and paper as essential creative tools. I learned quickly that if I haven’t sketched out a concept before I sit down at the computer to execute it, lame things happen. I waste time and end up with a half-baked design. I’m also learning how to rely on pencil and paper as time and energy management tools. In the same way that mapping out my day in a Moleskine notebook helps me keep track of different projects, sketching ideas on paper helps me clarify my design thinking and ultimately frees up a ton of mental space. A sketch becomes my calm island in a stormy sea of varying tasks.
My day-to-day work ranges from very conceptual (like logo design), to mini-conceptual (like icon design and illustration) to more straightforward spatial thinking (like page layout). For any of the above types of work, I start by brainstorming in a short, super-focused stint at my desk with a pencil and a piece of recycled paper. Once I get the ideas down on paper, I feel like 90% of the work is done, and all that’s left is bringing the barebones to life. Sure, I may have hours of hunched time at the computer ahead of me before the work is ready to show, but with the bulk of the mental work behind me, I feel much lighter. The actual execution is a more physical, intuitive process, so my mind is free to breathe and wander into open space. It’s a lot like cooking or riding a bike—activities that I also love.
So while I pack a lot of “work” into my days, sketching helps me minimize the hard work. Sketching also forces me to test an idea before spending time developing it. If an idea can’t be represented in a quick sketch, it’s probably not worth pursuing.