When I was at Interaction'09 last week, I had the luck to attend a 4-hour "Drawing Ideas" class with Mark Baskinger, a professor in the design program at Carnegie Mellon, and William Bardel, an information designer. They have a book coming out later this year on this topic, and in their class, they shared a number of tips and tricks on how to render your conceptual ideas with a certain level of fidelity.
I can't give away the crux of what they shared -- they want you to buy the book! So let me point out some tips and tricks that helped me out... especially because they align with the previous discussions and posts we've had about sketching design ideas.
First off, just to polish off what I'd talked about two weeks ago:
Computer-based design software sucks... compared to the humble pencil. Even using a Wacom tablet is harder than using a pencil and paper. Computers don't enable flow, and if you can get into a state of flow when doing sketches, you can go further much faster.
How you sit and use your pencil influences your quality of work.Keeping a stable posture, being close to the paper, and holding the pencil loosely in your hand is directly expressed when you're trying to draw an idea. Moving the pencil towards you, instead of away, also leads to more stable and precise illustrations.
Aim for work that's precisely rough. Is there such a thing? Yes. If you want to show an idea in a state that describes through its visual language that it's still in progress, use a sketch. Once you get in the machine, clients and your peers will perceive the work with a different frame of mind -- even if it's stamped with For Position Only or This is a Draft. A sketch treated in this way screams Still room for improvement. If you want a perfect square, use Illustrator at your own peril.
Work quickly in order to iterate your thinking and begin to create narratives. Mark and William keep notebooks in order to work through their thoughts in a visual manner. In doing so, each of them was able to iterate through a number of ideas swiftly and string them into a narrative. This is very important for interaction sketching, which shows how people use a product or service over time and is in effect a simple storyboard. I think the phrase they brought up was: definable = designable.
Include guidelines. If you're working with sketches that need to render a 3-dimensional idea, feel free to sketch in guide lines, circles, and any other shapes that will help you maintain perspective and volume. Make sure they're in place before you attempt assembling a complex shape.
Now, on to some quick illustration tips and some examples... I know you can do better than mine!
Indicate flow clearly and boldly. When telling a story or showing how an object can be manipulated, clearly indicate change from state to state. The example in the center is meant to show how you fold a t-shirt.
Take an architectural approach to rendering people. When drawing people, start with the head, then create the body in proportion to the body. And be sure to consider how the arms, legs, and overall direction of the person's body is showing gesture -- which helps to convey the context for the overall story.
Indicate direction of movement through shading. Don't just scribble your people in. Otherwise, direction won't be evident in how they move. See the photo at the top of this post for an example.
Don't worry about "finishing" the sketch. Bringing things together with the necessary detail is all you need to do -- those little elements that make if "feel real". Don't put misplaced effort into microdetailing or polish. Save that for the computer comp.
This post barely scrapes the surface of Mark and William's knowledge on this topic. I'm very excited to get their book when it comes out... I'll be sure to put info about it here as soon as it's available for purchase, as I think it'll be an indispensable addition to any designer's bookshelf.
Here's some student examples from the class that I took. They were generated in a matter of a half an hour. We were asked to analyze how we did laundry, then work as groups to visualize the process, as well as ways that we could improve the task...