Have you ever been chatting with friends at a restaurant, and an idea so great comes to you that you grab a pen and a napkin to start drawing? This is the most fundamental form of product design sketching. It’s the act of turning an idea in your head into a graphical representation that captures what you were thinking, allowing you to convey those thoughts to others. With product design sketches, the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings true.
Product design sketches are not only the fundamental tool of industrial design, but they’re also a useful instrument for almost every step of the product development process. When used properly throughout the design process, sketches compare and convey concepts and configurations in a fast and efficient manner. Even if you’re not an industrial designer, taking a bit of time to develop the fundamentals of sketching means you can capture and convey your ideas more effectively.
This article will cover types of sketches and explain how they are used to drive new product innovation. We’ll also offer drawing tips to help you develop some basic sketching skills.
The Different Types Of Product Design Sketches
There are several different types of sketches. All sketches exist to capture and convey design concepts, but they vary in creation methods and how much detail they include. As your new product design solidifies, the accuracy and detail of your sketches come to life.
Drawings, Renderings, Computer Drawings, and 3D CAD Models
Although the term “sketch” makes us think of a pencil drawing, in product development it refers to a graphical image that is not precise. Engineering drawings and models are precise records that tell the design and engineering team exactly how the product should look. A sketch is purely a visible suggestion. It’s also a way to exercise design thinking and lean product development without going to the extremes required in engineering documentation.
The simplest form of a sketch is a doodle done by hand on paper — usually made up of lines and maybe hatching or shading. You move into renderings when adding color and more detail, like specifying materials and textures. At this point, you’ve gone from capturing the basics and are now conveying how the product will look.
Sometimes, sketches are done on a computer, using the automation and precision of software to quickly create images with easier accuracy. You can also move into creating 3D computer models, known as computer-aided design (CAD) models that are truly 3D rather than perspective drawings. Even more, you can input CAD models into rendering software to create photorealistic images of your product.
The most common use of sketches happens during the ideation phase of the product development process when the team explores the overall look and feel of the design. The purpose of this type of product design sketch is to quickly iterate on many different design concepts. This type of sketch needs to convey just enough information to capture a concept and help the design team make decisions — e.g., two buttons or three; a ridge around the product or flush; a square shape or a curvy shape.
Once you decide on the basic look and feel of the product, it’s time to create sketches that explore and capture the configuration of the product. Use perspective drawings or 3D models to decide the size of the product and its features. How do different parts fit together? What does the human interface look like, and what do users see as they interact with the product?
Although the final product of the design phase in the product development process is engineering documentation, sketches still play an important role. Sketches at this point are often made with the engineering CAD models. The team can quickly explore different options for fit, feature, and function without building a prototype.
The final use of sketches in the product development process is for marketing purposes. Nowadays, photorealistic rendering is so accurate that you can create product sketches that look exactly like the final product. Even if you’re working with hand sketches or shaded renderings, they’re an effective way to get feedback from customers and promote the product.
How To Work With An Expert To Create Useful Product Design Sketches
Now that you have a good idea of how to use sketches for your design project, let’s explore some basics of working with an experienced industrial designer who can translate your idea into stunning images.
1. Develop a solid idea of what you want sketched
Start with knowing where you want to end up. The purpose and audience of a given set of sketches should drive how much time you spend with your industrial designer and how detailed the sketch should be. In this step, you will work with them to explore design ideas in a process called ideation.
2. Add flesh to your ideas with basic sketches and simple renderings
In the beginning, the designer is trying to capture the “big picture” items — size, shape, and basic features. Don’t waste time on intricate details or making things attractive. Just capture ideas. Think of this step as a concept sketch and explore different options.
3. Group key features and solidify the product’s style
Once you have determined the size and shape, provide the designer with a list of necessary features. Displays, buttons, hand grips — i.e., all things that give your product functionality. Work with them to create detailed sketches and renderings that lock down what the product will do and what it will look like. Your designer will be creating realistic images at this point. You and your team can use the renderings to make decisions and share with other teams in your project to convey your design ideas.
4. Move into 3D and CAD renderings
To capture more information about your product, your sketch should include details that reflect how it will be made and assembled and what materials you will use. Have the design add notes or attach samples to show material choices. This can be done with color 3D renderings by an experienced artist, or they can use photorealistic renderings of a computer model.
6. Show functionality
The last and most detailed form of product design sketches are renderings that describe the product’s functions. This can include multiple images that show movement, pictures that show people or parts of people, or renderings that convey the environment in which you plan to use the product. Ask your industrial designer about animations if they will help convey the product’s functionality.
There is a difference between industrial design and product development. Industrial design maps out the customer experience, while product development starts with industrial design and then fully defines the product. Sketches are the key tool for the industrial design process and provide information for the product development process.
Start Capturing And Conveying Your Product Ideas
Creativity and innovation permeate the development of outstanding products, and sketching is the primary tool for both. When done right, sketches don’t just capture and convey that creativity and innovation — they become a way of exploring new ideas and better solutions. Taking the time to understand the process will help you when you work with industrial designers who create professional images that can have a direct impact on the sales and profitability of your new product.
When you are ready to bring in professionals, finding the right people is exactly what we designed Gembah’s marketplace to do. Hundreds of industrial designers and graphic designers are available through our platform, and our experts are here to help you on your journey. Reach out to us today and let us know your product idea. Maybe even send us a picture of that napkin sketch.
Save sketches as you work your way through the product development process. They’re fun to look back on, and they’re a great way to review the creative process that resulted in your new product. When your product goes huge, those sketches will be priceless.