I’ve previously mentioned that to be a graphic designer you do not need to have a strong grasp of illustrative skills. This is true and I have gone the entirety of my design career without having any significant drawing ability. However, you also need to know that a career in graphic design does require a certain level of illustrative skill. Fortunately, that level is pretty low and is attainable by pretty much anyone. Drawing in graphic design really boils down to having basic sketching skills.
There are two main types of drawing in graphic design that are commonly done by designers. These are layout sketching and logo sketching. You don’t need high level illustrative skills to achieve either, as they are both used for illustrating a concept, not a finished design. Here’s a bit about each.
This is the most common type of drawing you’ll probably be required to do in graphic design. In many cases, you don’t even need to do it if you already have a good idea of what you’re doing on screen, but it certainty helps in many cases, especially if you’re a new designer.
Layout sketching is essentially using a pencil and paper to draw up a rough outline or layout of a composition. While it’s not mandatory for every design, it can really help to get everything down on paper first when you’re dealing with a lot of elements. If you’re a junior designer you might be asked to create layout sketches to show to a senior designer or creative director so they can see your process or choose from alternative layout options.
I find sketching out a layout idea to be the most useful when designing something that doesn’t already have an established visual identity. For instance, if you’re building a magazine ad for a well established company, they likely already have a certain visual style they want to maintain. Here, you are probably limited to how creative you can get with the layout. In this case, you could just gather your imagery and messaging and just go right to the computer.
In the case of complex website homepages or entire site designs, sketching out the layout first on paper is incredibly helpful. When you’re working with so much information in one area it’s best to just first get it all down on paper, make some notes as to functionality, then experiment with how to arrange all the elements so they work best for the user.
When you are in the early stages of a logo design project, sketching is key. You sketch using pencil and paper (or Apple Pencil and iPad) to get down every single idea in your head. Unless you know exactly what you want to create for a logo design, you need to start sketching.
Start with the company name, the initials, the first letter, or just abstract shapes or representative icons. Sketch pages upon pages of ideas until you’ve found something that you think could work. This is the standard logo design sketching process before moving your work to the computer. This process does not require amazing illustrative abilities, though if the client is specifically looking for something more illustrative, it could.
Overall, the logo sketching stage is such a major part of the logo design process. You need to be familiar with how to create and combine shapes to make new ones and manipulate them in a way that makes them unique. Sketching logo ideas is something anyone with zero illustrative skills can do, but being able to do it really effectively does take practice.
George Bokhua has a great class on Skillshare that goes over the logo design and sketching process called Logo Design with Grids: Timeless Style from Simple Shapes.
Tips For Drawing in Graphic Design
Make sure you have a good pencil, eraser, and ruler on you for sketching layouts. If the sketch is just for you to get an idea down on paper, it can be messy since you’re the only one who will be seeing it. However, if you need to create layout concepts to show someone, you want to keep things legible and tidy.
For larger text, draw it neatly on a line, in a typeface close to what you want to actually use. For smaller text and paragraphs, you don’t need to write it in; just draw lines to represent where the text will be placed. If you’re using imagery, either draw in a rough sketch of it, or if you lack illustrative talents like me, do a quick trace from a photo or your computer screen.
Use tracing paper and/or grid paper for your layout sketches. Working on a grid helps you lay out all your elements in a really clean way and helps you avoid having to bring out a ruler for every line. Additionally, if you create a layout you really like but need to change something or create a second variation, using tracing paper speeds up the entire process of duplicating elements from the first sketch to the rest.
Just like with layout sketching, logo sketching works best, for me anyway, when working with some type of grid paper. It doesn’t have to be a standard square grid. I’ve experimented with using standard grid paper, dot grid paper, circular, or isometric grids.
As someone without strong illustrative skills, I find having the grid guides really helps keep my lines clean and assists with the entire creative process of shape building to make a logo. Some designers find grid paper to be too restrictive because it doesn’t allow for more organic shapes. For this reason, I do prefer dot grid paper the most because it’s easy to either use the grid for more geometric shapes, or to ignore it entirely.
I really enjoy using this grid notebook that has a variety of different grid types to sketch with.
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Other Types of Drawing in Graphic Design
So this might be obvious, but if you’re a designer and strong illustrator, you will likely do a lot of illustrative work of all kinds. Companies seem to be incorporating a large amount of illustrated elements into their visual branding right now, which means there is a demand for talented illustrators in the design world. If you’re not a talented illustrator, that’s fine too. There are plenty of things to know in design that are quite detached from illustration.
Some designers are quite skilled at hand drawn logos as well. You can find fantastic examples of what I mean by looking at Claire Coullon’s portfolio of beautiful hand drawn logos. This is not a skill most designers have, but it’s a great specialty to have in design.
My current favorite book for hand drawn type is Drawing Type by Alex Fowkes. It’s more about creative hand drawn typography than logos, but it’s still helpful if you want to learn hand lettering of any kind.
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Drawing In Graphic Design – In Summary
Hopefully this article has helped you, if your a new designer, to understand the types of drawing skills designers are required to have. Fortunately, the majority of drawing you will do in your career as a designer are accomplished with minimal skill and a bit of practice.
If you’re already a strong illustrator your layout and logo sketches will probably look much better than mine, and that’s fantastic. Just remember that sketches are meant to be rough but clean enough that they communicate both your idea and your layout/logo idea to yourself or your creative director.
Lastly, don’t forget that you’ll have a much easier time with any kind of sketching if you use tracing paper or some type of grid paper, a good pencil, and an even better eraser.
Do you enjoy drawing in graphic design? Do you do much illustration in your day-to-day? Are there any other major types of drawing in graphic design that should be on this list? Let me know in the comments below!