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What we can Learn from Sketching // Eric Dernbach


As computer programs get traded out for the “newest and best” program—one thing will remain an important component of architecture and design; sketching. Sketching is an important tool for designers and it can be an effective way to convey information to clients and contractors in a timely manner. Sketching, and other pictorial graphics, are some of the oldest forms of human communication and it is often easier to understand simple graphics—albeit quick graphics—than other forms of communication. 

A quick sketch can lead to a long lasting solution

Early on in the design process, sketching can be the most productive use of time. Instead of trying to manipulate a single design concept in a computer program—a roll of trace paper can be used for dozens of iterations and can lead the designer to a better solution sooner. Working freely on a piece of paper and moving away from a screen full of pixels can open the mind. 

Sketching quickly on trace paper can lead to better design iterations

Sketching can be beneficial in meetings or on the job site. Often, conversations can become muddled between a client and a designer and to quickly clarify a concept a pen and piece of paper can be effectively used. Clients can feel reassured that the designer can quickly display the skills needed to excel in their field. Sketching builds trust with the architect and client relationship. Sketching is a medium that can be a group activity and can be part of a team solution.


For our Design+Make Alma project, sketching was utilized several times to convey information. Sketching was used between the design team and a local contractor to convey a solution to an unforeseen problem. Whilst we were digging for one of the pier holes for the column to sit on top of, we ran into a culvert that was buried 14 inches underground—and therefore we could not reach the 40 inches that the structural engineer denoted in the perfect-world set of documents. Instead of us travelling 30 minutes to get back to our computers and thinking of solutions, we sketched out a few potential solutions with the contractor on site-- these few iterations evolved into a more formal drawing and eventually into the final solution that was used for our project. It’s necessary to have all documents on a formal piece of paper or in a formal set of drawings, but sketching can be a crucial step in reaching the end product. 

Sketching helped resolve an unforseen problem

Sketching serves more than business communication. Sketching is a form of art that takes years of practice to become proficient at. It’s a way to convey intrinsic beauty through a series of simple lines and can be done anywhere in the world where there is paper, a pen or pencil, and a little bit of light.  

Sketching can take place anywhere - it can also lead to an image stronger and more memorable than a photograph.

This sketch is of Yankee Girl Mine in Colorado

In addition to a tape measure—a sketchbook and a reliable pen should be an essential part to every architect’s day. It’s important to step away from the computer and to start thinking more with just a pen and a pad of paper. 

Written by Eric Dernbach

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