Drawing Design: "I sketch to establish relationships."

This month marks the start of The Big Draw (#bigdraw), a month long drawing festival that engages people of all ages in informal art making to demonstrate the power of drawing to help people see, think, invent and take action. This series was started by The Campaign for Drawing, a UK-based organization, and has now spread across the world. We are lucky to have a vibrant hub locally through The Big Draw Chicago, which has programming across the city at a variety of venues and institutions.

To celebrate, we are attending events and talking with colleagues about the role of drawing in their design practice. Below find an interview with Matt McGrane, a young architect in our firm who runs our summer sketch sessions and is a leader within Open Hand Studio .

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF HAND-DRAWING IN YOUR DESIGN PROCESS?

 I sketch to establish relationships.  It is much easier to understand and test proportion and composition of elements quickly by  hand.  Architects use scale drawing to measure.  Repeated sketching allows an architect to hone an inherent understanding of how things relate before translating those relationships to the computer.   

BESIDES ARCHITECTURAL DRAWING, WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DRAW?

 I love to draw the places around me, especially when I travel.  By sitting down for a half hour in a space and sketching, I am able to not only capture what a space looks like, but whenever I look back at my sketches, I remember how it felt to be there.  This is something that gets missed when snapping a photo with your cell phone.  The investment in time to draw is also an investment in the memory of the place.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE DRAWING TOOLS (OLD AND NEW, DIGITAL AND ANALOG)?

I am a sucker for a good old Moleskine notebook and pen.  I am also a big fan of watercolor pencil.  Recently I got a smartphone with a sketching app and stylus.  Although my skills are currently quite crude, I see a lot of potential in digital sketching. I look forward to putting it to practice for my design work when I am inspired by what I see while I am out and about in the city.

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF PHYSICAL DRAWING IN DESIGN – HOW HAS IT EVOLVED (IN GOOD OR BAD WAYS) IN A WORLD OF NEW TECHNOLOGY?

Physical drawing ultimately is a storytelling tool.  Regularly as I would sketch while on my honeymoon in Italy, children or other tourists would sit beside me and watch over my shoulder as I drew.   In that moment, there was a connection made between people over a shared experience that transcended conventional language.  It works the same way in architectural practice.

For architects, often times we feel pressure to try and resolve everything before taking it to the client for feedback.  Just as often, the client feels as though they have missed out on something, or that the 'finished product' lacks some of the quintessential messiness and energy that makes design exciting.   If you have the ability to communicate through sketching, especially when interacting live with your clients, they feel as though they are an active participant in the creative process, not just the passive recipient of a finished design.  Sketching builds trust and establishes expertise, both of which strengthen the relationship between architects and the clients we serve.