How Valuable Are Old-School/Traditional Design Skills Today?

Inspired by LinkedIn’s Communication Arts Group’s discussion forum post:”When you learned to work on a computer, did you take classes or teach yourself?”, I want to pose the question: How valuable are traditonal design skills like thumbnailing (preliminary sketches and verbalization), and marker and paper comping? Are they still being used today? Are they being taught in design programs today? Join me in the discussion.


  1. John Rizzi says:

    I believe all design should begin “the old fashioned way” and evolve into a digital world. Perhaps Marker comps are a thing of the past… Perhaps.

    Thumbnails are the place to begin all work in my opinion. How fast you move to digital is a question of how baked the idea is. I dont miss the old days of specking galleys of type or waxing the galleys and fpo images… The tactile beginnings of graphite on a drawing pad cant be replaced. Once we move to digital, the version changes can happen fast and easy in many cases.

    I think the so called designers out there that dont know the difference between Serif and Sanserif, leading and kerning should go to school and learn the basics of the business. If that makes me old… Call me cranky too!

  2. Here in Belgium and the Netherlands I know that they still use non technological technics at design courses or art school today. The oldfashion drawingtable has unfortunatley made place for the computer. Computer desiging has for sure expand the possibilities to an endless range. But I believe prestudies for sure need to be done by hand. I can’t really explain why, maybe because I think technology is getting in the way of authentique and traditional way of creating in general. Creating need to stay a pesonal process, a computer can in some cases feel like a bridge too far, but at the same time are hard to avoid. In the world today involvement of technology is inevitable period.

    For example when it comes to colors, a computer is not able to give the exact true tone depth strength or warmth of any color. Color swathes on a program used for desiging, have to be recognized by their names and codes, even computer designed and created color charts can differ. But plain paint and colormarkers will have more ‘true color’. Because they are manufactured by They feel more real to me too. And I think it is important to keep using these technics. But I understand it becomes more of a rare thing. Because the society nowadays seems to strive to a more user friendly fast way of working and the traditional techniques are considered very labour intensive and time consuming.

    What is also the case, that is that personal or even handmade design is still more valuable in comparison with mass design that is very technology dependent, when there is a lot of technology involved or technological processes. When you speak more of manufacturing rather then creating. And this i think will not change in the future.

  3. ayanabaltrip says:

    John and Saskia,
    Thank you both for lending your valuable thoughts to what I feel is a critical question today. As a design educator, I often struggle with getting my students to understand the value of hand skills.

    Since design is about applying a process to a strategy, I feel, as you both allude to in your comments, that the computer can get in the way. Working pen/marker to paper creating thumbnails and roughs affords us the freedom to let our ideas soar.

  4. NPO Communicator says:

    I find that the largest opportunity for progression with hand drawn sketches is born from a “clouds in the sky” critique, wherein the unfinished nature of “the look” gives way to discussion of “the feel” and where the ultimate direction of the design is headed.

    This approach is similar to gestures versus portraits in figure studies. Many more ideas can be sketched onto a paper (usually) faster than created on comp. There is an instinctive push towards making computer comps look pretty that steals time and creativity from the process in its young stages.

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