Where’s The Sketch?


The designer’s conundrum is that we want to get into the client’s head, find out what they are thinking, and respond brilliantly. Emphasis BRILLIANT! It’s in our DNA… the true belief that we can provide the ultimate answer.

Clients may be on board for close and fuzzy conversation, but only to a point. What they really want… but rarely say until everyone is at the wall…is a sketch. The client just wants to see a sketch. Not many sketches, not several parallel ideas that solve the problem, not a detailed explanation chronicling the journey from problem to answer. A sketch. “Where’s the sketch?”  It’s kind of like the design version of that famous movie line “Show me the money!”  And the sketch should reflect what they have in their heads…or you get…“You haven’t done this right!” …or …“It’s not what is in my head!”…or…”I told you and you didn’t do it right…!”

It’s a common refrain focused on immediate market need with pre-conceived idioms.  Focusing on the ‘here and now’ is not uncommon – but oddly enough, it’s often the same refrain for well-formed proposals for future work as well. Many product decisions, it seems, are made with little understanding of how design evolves, and with an attitude that…if one design doesn’t work, another one might. Not a lot of forward planning for product success.

Attempts to explain process to a client in the face of this type of response…trying to enhance understanding…are furtive at best. It’s already lost. Gone!  The warm fuzzies of anticipation have been replaced by the cold breeze of indifference.  Some designers, in this situation and true to form… may resolve to try managing and controlling the situation.  And right then is when Einstein’s other theory comes into play…the insanity one that goes “If you keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result – you are nuts!”


 Maybe what’s required is a paradigm shift! A re-boot…time to drain the swamp and get a good look at the alligators.

It may be time to down pens, push away from the 3D software; leave the studio and drawing board behind. Time to work at retail for a while…or hear the real customers…or add marketing, merchandising and business management to the design experience base. Many truly successful designers have found ways to meld design and factory know-how with the real world of having to sell the goods. The lessons of successes are many and varied and happen through all aspects of the design business. Design schools still largely teach design only, with a nod and a wink in the general direction of business; and vice-versa with business schools….so it may be an actual practical necessity to change the paradigm.  images (3)

Evidently and encouragingly these days, designers are becoming more entrepreneurial! Many are shifting from a client based approach to an enterprise approach in all areas of design and consumer products. Opting to bypass the often painful “client phase” of experience with actual experience that can be banked…and seen to be “of value” in a business oriented world. They will be beaten down, knocked off, undersold, mocked, ridiculed and ignored…all this and more will happen. Money will be lost! And that’s just on the first day! But experience teaches well those who listen, and experience will underpin a feeling that there is something to offer – something that’s new/different, right for the times.

Markets offer quick judgment, and with brutal efficiency. And, as it often turns out, the designer might not have been as smart as they thought in the first instance…when being right brought them to create the solution to the problem they themselves posed! The hubris of certainty gets well-tempered in time, and experience benefits the struggle.  At the very least, experience teaches (to those who listen) when to look up and raise the head above the problem….if only to know when to duck!  As the old saying goes, it’s not the fall that kills ya…it’s the sudden stop!

Fresh faced, ready for the world and facing down the dragons – all this has great value, instilling both confidence and adaptive reflexes that serve well going forward. After all, we all seek a clear path with as few (visible) impediments as possible.

Recognition, notoriety, and acceptance come from success; success comes from insight; insight comes from knowledge, knowledge comes from understanding, and understanding ultimately yields a different result, disproving Mr. Einstein.

Paul Zaidman