Problems Are Solved On Paper

Last year I attended a talk with Oliver Uberti in which he introduced this notion of problem solving that has now moved to the forefront of my process. As he stressed the importance of drawing, he stated, “Drawing naturally forces you to look harder and to wait longer.” It’s a natural force, similar to how the physical act of writing further embeds what you are writing into your head. With drawing, as well as writing, it forces you to wait longer. Although you can quickly flush out ideas on paper, it allows you to sit and experiment and gives you the room to let your thoughts and ideas incubate. As Oliver continued he stated, “You can solve and iterate more problems in 1 minute with a sketchbook and a pen than you can in front of a computer.” Only when the problems are solved do you go to the computer. Following Oliver’s talk, I put this into practice with my own projects and found a ton of success between generating better ideas and executing those ideas with higher efficiency.

“You can solve and iterate more problems in 1 minute with a sketchbook and a pen than you can in front of a computer.” — Oliver Uberti

After experiencing so much success with it, I then began to incorporate it into my process with clients. Before moving forward, I just want to stress the importance of going over your process with your clients. If they aren’t interested in getting to know what your process is like then it’s a sign that they aren’t truly invested and you two may not be a good fit for one another. Needless to say, when I first introduced this into how I work with clients they were a bit speculative. If they had any prior experience working with designers then they have already established an expectation of seeing lots and lots of digitally rendered options.

Many would argue that just seeing sketches makes it more difficult to envision the final design versus when it is digitally rendered, however, the sketches that are revealed to clients aren’t chicken scratch on a napkin—they’re functioning blueprints. Just as an architect works through all of the details and nuances on paper before actually building the structure, with design the problems are solved on paper. Refined sketches, again, are blueprints for the final design, and if it’s not working on paper then it’s not going to work when it’s digitally rendered.
There’s an assumption that finalizing work on the computer is simple, easy, and quick when in reality it’s the opposite. It’s tedious, challenging, and long. Some may argue that it actually is easy, and I used to think the same, but when I look back at that version of myself I see someone who constantly half-assed work. Working digitally in regards to identity design and lettering is tedious, challenging, and long because the first 10% is mere construction while the remaining 90% is refinement and testing.

Working first and primarily on paper enables you to focus on form rather than construction. Jumping to a computer too quickly before all of the kinks are worked out means you will be rendering the problems that remain on paper. The computer is limiting because is not a place to solve those visual problems; instead it’s built for construction and refinement, not experimentation. Considering this nature of working digitally, being on the computer puts you in a perfectionist mindset. This isn’t to say that experimentation isn’t impossible on the computer, but rather it inherently limits exploration. For every experimental idea I can come up with on the computer, I can come up with 10 more on paper, not because I’m better with my hands or drawing but because I’m not concerning myself with the details of how it’ll work, and instead focusing on the development of concepts.