Visual representations are an inseparable part of disciplines like architecture and design, which deal with decisions about spatial creations. These representations are seen as effective and concise manifestations of the designer’s thoughts, ideas and decisions and act as a vehicle for communicating with the team. Because of their ability to precisely capture and convey thoughts and decisions, visual representations are often called a designer’s language. Indeed, they do serve some of the functions of the natural language, for the professional groups who share the common codes, symbols and conventions of this language.
Layout drawings are formal and concise visual representations of the architect's thoughts
But the question that we would address is
“Is this an adequate characterization of the role that these representations play in design?”
Designers tend to use the entire range of visual representations during the various phases of the design process. Often, the first understandable representation are the 3D perspectives and renderings, but the later representations need a more precise and formalized system of communication such as engineering drawings, orthographics, layouts and maps. The purpose as well as the nature and style of representation during this phase are clearly different than the later phases of the process, where precision in communication is emphasized. (McKim, 1972, p 40) These show a higher degree of abstraction and are also considerably more formal than early freehand perspective sketches and doodling of the ideation phases.
Early creative phase, often referred to as graphic ideation phase, involves extensive explorations of spatial arrangements and shapes and is full of doodling, thumbnail sketching and freehand perspectives. That is why most design schools teach sketching. Historically, these sketching programmes are based on art school sketching tradition, focused on correct representation of objects put in front of them.
'See and draw’ exactly is fundamental to the art school tradition of object drawing
This continues to influence the teaching and practice of sketching in the design schools even now. This article questions the relevance of this form of sketching in design programmes.
In the exploratory sketching during early creative phase designer’s hand is driven by the thought and images that are evolving in his mind. The studies of designers in action shows that the process includes not just representing spatial ideas or concepts, but reacting to them and thus reconsidering and rebuilding it several times. Spontaneous freehand sketching at this stage supports innovative thinking and is used as a device by the designer to talk to himself. So the representation must necessarily offer a quick feedback to react to, and allow instant and reversible changes. Freehand sketching meets these requirements effectively.
This article is based on earlier work that studied sketching practices of designers during the early creative phase. (Athavankar, 1992) Architects and designers continue to think and mentally focus on the solutions to the design problem at hand and almost simultaneously sketch their ideas. This is almost similar to human production of writing or speech. The line between the rapidly thinking mind and the efforts to represent these thoughts in form of speech (or writing) appears to fade. Efforts involved in production of the idea and its representation blend so well that to an observer it appears like a single activity. Like speaking and writing, can we make sketching appear a near natural act? How can we achieve this particularly when the designer’s mind, occupied with finding a solution, simultaneously keeps converting his own thoughts into 3D perspectives?
Can the act of sketching demand very little cognitive resource, so that the mind remains occupied in discovering new solutions? We must ensure that the problems of sketching do not obstruct the evolution of designer’s thoughts.
Two things must happen to achieve this,
1. The architect/designer should be comfortable with sketching reasonably correct perspectives and that he starts thinking in 3D space all the time.
Drawing perspective is not natural. To understand the principles that dictate the drawing of planes in perspective is the first step. So, the designer’s hand has to be trained to get used to automatically move in perspective space to make the 3D representations become natural and quicker. Such a practice supports thinking in 3D space later.
2. The architect/designer should be fluent in sketching, so that he can match the speed of his thought process.
This can be achieved if the person sketching can develop control on the movements of his hand to fluently drawn lines at any speed, in any size, orientation or direction and with any sketching tool.
This article is based on the author's convictions that it is possible to achieve this through a systematic programme of learning. The ideas take cues from how the classical music is learned where there is considerable focus on riyaz (planned practice sessions in Indian classical music) and how coaching in sports is done through specially developed small training tasks.