As a design engineer I am continually moving through various products' life cycles and most, if not all of those, begin with a simple sketch of the idea. The design process has many steps but the first step is almost always the ‘idea’ phase. You have to actually have an idea to test and take through the rest of the design process.
Once you have an idea, what do you do with it? At the idea stage there is usually a lot of creative freedom and aspects of the project that are still in flux. Being able to quickly iterate through several ideas and concepts is a very helpful way to get decided on the path that is best for your particular project.
I have found over the last decade that hand sketching is one of the most effective ways to quickly iterate through early ideas. When I am in the early design idea phase I constantly sketch and draw on everything from paper notebooks to whiteboards. The first sketches are always very rough and exist mostly as a space for my ideas to work themselves out and naturally progress from an initial vague concept to a defined part of the project. I normally go through several rounds of sketches and every step of the way the sketches get more refined and detailed as the idea takes shape.
Sketches are also an extremely effective way to explain your ideas to someone else. A simple visualization can immediately get everyone on the same page and focus on your idea instead of leaving them wondering what your idea even is.
Would you rather listen to someone drone on for ten minutes about something you have never heard of or seen, or instead glance at a quick sketch and then spend that ten minutes discussing what the idea means and ways to improve it?
The best part of these exercises is that the sketches are not works of art, they are mostly side-view line drawings with only the important details included. The sketches and scribbles exist only to convey ideas, not win awards. Early on in my career I was afraid to show anyone else my sketches because they were not very well drawn. However, once I started bringing them along to meetings I noticed that even though they were rough, people got a much better understanding of my ideas before I even began talking about them. My sketching abilities are improving with practice and maybe one day my sketching will progress to the level where I can fully communicate a new idea with a quick sketch. Not today, and tomorrow is not looking good either, but maybe someday.
I would encourage you to start sketching today and see how well you can express your ideas on paper or a whiteboard. If you are feeling underwhelmed by your sketching abilities, as I once was, there are a multitude of references both online and in print that can get you started in the right direction. I have read numerous books over the years about sketching but one I started with, and would recommend you look at, is “How To Sketch, A Beginner’s Guide to Sketching Techniques, Including Step by Step Exercises, Tips and Tricks” by Liron Yanconsky. That book starts with techniques about holding the pencil and how to draw straight lines in a very easy to follow manner that helped me a great deal.
In conclusion, I have found through experience that hand sketching remains an outstanding way to begin the design process and explore lots of ideas quickly. I highly recommend that you try to incorporate sketching before you start working in your CAD program of choice.
I hope that you have found this short paper helpful and please reach out to me with any feedback. Good luck sketching!