Web design beginnings… Pencil or Computer?

John Reeve | March 12th, 2009 | , , ,

Although most of the web design & development process occurs in the digital realm, there are many of us designers who give birth to our creations not with a tethered mouse but with an old fashioned pencil. Either approach can result in good design, but my preference has always been the pencil. I love my Koh-I-Noor Rapidomatic and the momentary creative sabbaticals it affords me away from the computer.

Why start with pencil and paper?

Because, personally, this is how I was trained as a designer. In design school, we were graded on the design process, which began with pencil thumbnails. I learned to rely heavily on speedy iterations of designs filling up page after page. After a few hours of sketching I would have several quality options to consider, which I could further refine with more sketches. The pencil approach puts our mind in touch with ideas and executes them through our fingers in a way that the computer just can’t compete with. Perhaps I’m too biased, but I’ve never had the same experience when starting out a design on the computer.

Why not start with the computer?

The computer makes it more difficult to iterate through ideas quickly and compare and contrast them in context. Screen real estate is at a premium, and printouts are a waste of toner and paper. Computers also have the tendency to make a designer lazy. As a result, their work becomes formulaic. Just look around at all the sites selling or giving away web design templates to see what I mean. The computer brings us closer to the brink of web design becoming a commodity, instead of a representation of original thoughts and ideas. Computer birthed designs also result in design trends becoming deeply rutted with cliche. The onslaught of gradients and drop shadows is still holding strong, only to be reinforced with grungy designs complete with distressed vine arrangements and dripping spray paint.

It is my personal belief that good web design can result from either approach. However, great web design has to begin away from the computer, preferably without one in sight or in any proximity to the designer.

I’ll end with some words from Pablo Picasso:

“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”

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John Reeve
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Jennifer Payne
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Jennifer Payne

Jennifer is the Director of Quality and Efficiency at Pelago. Her blog posts are based largely on her experience working with teams to improve harmony and productivity. Jennifer is a cat person.
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Michael Payne
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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