A Quick Refresher Course for Communicating Visually

July 22nd, 2014:

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Communicating visually is an important skill for all members of a design firm and should not be solely the responsibility of the designers.  Being able to quickly explain a concept for a shape, a linkage or the layout of components allows a brainstorm session to flow more smoothly and enriches the process.  The technical side of product development doesn’t always call for slick renderings, but being able to clearly illustrate ones intent is crucial to conveying the idea. After a few occurrences of hand waving and repeatedly pointing to a single line on a white board, I decided to hold a short class over lunch to hit on the high points of visual communication for design.   

The structure of this type of class should be informal, the more comfortable the group is, the less pressure and the better the outcome, food is always a plus.  At some point each of us has taken some type of drawing class, but the requirements for representing engineering concepts are very different than drawing from life.  These drawings are not formal pieces of art; they are merely tools to work out ideas, guide CAD modelling and are ultimately stepping stones to a final design.  Accurate representation of light and shadow are less relevant for an engineer than proper perspective and proportion.   A linkage assembly merely needs a vantage point that shows the novel features, it does not need the carefully thought out composition of a portrait or still life.  This makes the task a bit of getting a multi-disciplinary team of various skill levels up to speed a bit more streamlined. 

For a short class that is a refresher for some and new concepts for others, all types of perspective drawing should be covered, shading and rendering can be minimum or left our entirely. Perspective will comprise 90% of what a technical team member is tasked with illustrating.  Most will be content with simple 2 point perspective, but adding a bit of 3 point will make the drawings more interesting.  Line weight should also be covered, as it will make the drawings more legible when surfaces and components overlap one another.  I added a section on ellipses as well, albeit requiring more practice than knowledge, it is very important to understand the mechanics of how to properly draw a circle in perspective. 

The physical act of putting pen to paper was an overall theme of the class.  While explaining the construction methods for 2 and 3 point perspective, it is important to emphasize proper drawing technique.  Hesitant line fragments will eventually be replaced by bold confident strokes with enough practice.  The key to getting the ideas to stick is practice.  In class participation is key and allows question and answer time as well as real time feedback on each of the finer points of the class as well as physical technique.  Someone unfamiliar with drawing instruction should allow themselves a few hours a week to practice the techniques to really get a good grasp of the material.  After a short time, and with genuine follow-through, the technical team should be able to quickly communicate their ideas visually.

- Senior Industrial Designer Justin McCarthy, Goddard Technologies