I Can't Draw! Can I Still Be A Graphic Designer?

There is absolutely no need to ever draw a realistic life-like image in the world of graphic design so please don’t worry.

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When considering a career working in the creative industry it is all too easy to immediately think that you have to be good at drawing. No matter what role you’re considering whether it be an architect, photographer, and especially a graphic designer, people assume you have to be an expert at drawing. 

While it never hurts to be able to convey your ideas through your own drawings, being amazingly talented at drawing is not a requirement to become a graphic designer. To be completely honest, as a full-time graphic designer my drawing capabilities as of writing this article consist of drawing circles and squares well enough to get by. In this article I’ll go over what graphic design is, why you don’t need to be an expert at drawing to be one, and some exercises you can do to improve your drawing skills if you really want to.

What is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is the process of using visual elements such as symbols, imagery, and text to convey messages and ideas. Sometimes other terms are used to describe similar processes such as visual communication and communication design. I have found that these terms are interchangeable. When working as a graphic designer or in the field of graphic design you will use these elements to communicate your own ideas or the ideas of clients across a variety of mediums such as printed materials and digital devices.

Why Graphic Designers Don’t Need To Be Experts At Drawing

As much as graphic design is about the deliverable at the end of the project. Graphic design is also about the process and steps you take to reach that outcome. This process can sometimes be mistakenly thought as filling sketch pads full of drawings for an endless amount of time to get the idea perfect. This could not be further from the truth. While some graphic design roles can require a basic level of drawing there are very few that require a level of skill beyond that.

At the beginning of each project you will either use pre-existing references or your own sketches to sell your idea for the solution to the project. I personally use a combination of references and moodboards at the beginning of each project to help the client understand what I have in mind for their solution. This is a direct result of personally not being good at drawing and it is perfectly fine to do this. I have never been asked by a client why I didn’t draw their solution or where my sketches were to look at. As a professional it is up to you to decide what method you prefer and works best for you. 

What Drawing Skills Do Graphic Designers Need?

In my experience as a full-time graphic designer I have never had to go beyond drawing basic shapes for any of my jobs or client projects. I have worked as a designer for a major TV network on show posters as well as a product designer working on apps and websites. Never during any of those roles did I have to go beyond drawing simple shapes and details. Here are 10 real current design jobs that will not require you to go beyond a basic level of drawing.

  1. Graphic Designer
  2. Web Designer
  3. Product Designer
  4. Marketing Designer
  5. UI Designer
  6. UX Designer
  7. Brand Designer
  8. Visual Designer
  9. Production Designer
  10. Digital Designer

If you see any one of these jobs on a job board then you can be confident that you will not have to draw like Leonardo Da Vinci. If you’re still wondering what drawing skills you should have then let’s think of it like this. Every graphic designer should be able to confidently draw a circle that is 80% perfect. Every graphic designer should also be able to draw a rectangle or a square that is also 80% perfect. I say 80% because I personally cannot guarantee that I can draw a straight line repeatedly and I have made it this far without having to do so. 

Roles That Require Real Drawing Skills

If none of the job titles above peak your interest then you might want to consider taking your drawing skills seriously. Below I have listed a few jobs in the creative industry where being good at drawing can really make the difference.

Illustrator

Being a highly skilled drawer can absolutely be useful in a number of roles within the creative industry. If you have any interest in becoming an illustrator or creating concept art for games or movies then improving your drawing skills will be something you want to focus on.

Animator

If you have an interest in creating animated imagery such as cartoons and short films then drawing will also be a very big focus for the majority of your career. Drawing will be the foundation to this career path as you will constantly be referencing your sketches throughout projects.

Industrial Designer

Industrial design is the process of creating and developing concepts for physical products. While it may not be drawing a beautiful bowl of fruit, drawing multiple angles of physical objects so that you can then manufacture them is not an easy task. I have worked with industrial designers before and I am always amazed at how talented they are.

Environmental/Interior Designer

Similar to an industrial designer in that you will not be drawing flower arrangements, designers that work within physical spaces should have the ability to draw to understand the layout they want to create. Being skilled at drawing as an environmental or interior designer will also allow you to present an idea before going into production to avoid making mistakes and costing you your estimated budget.

Fashion Designer

I don’t want to say that all fashion designers need to be amazing at drawing because I have never really worked with one or knew one personally. However when I think of a fashion designer that designs clothing or silhouettes, I can imagine that being able to bring that idea to life through your drawings will help tremendously throughout the process. If you or anyone you know is a fashion designer, feel free to DM or tweet me your experience!

Exercises for Graphic Designers To Improve Your Drawing Skills

Whether you want to be a graphic designer or one of the other design focused roles I listed above. It can never hurt to want to improve your drawing skills. Here are 5 exercises I recommend if you want to improve your drawing skills today. These exercises should be used as a warm-up at the beginning of each work session and should not be used to produce the final outcome. Remember that the only way to get better at something is to practice and do it consistently.

Drawing With Your Opposite Hand

Switching hands before you start a drawing is a great way to disarm yourself from any preconceived thoughts. Because drawing with your opposite hand will most likely be unfamiliar, it will force you to focus on what you are trying to draw and not so much on trying to draw a perfect line.

1 Line Drawing

1 line drawing is exactly what it sounds like. As soon as you touch your pen or pencil to the paper, you cannot lift it up to draw multiple lines. You must keep your pen or pencil touching the paper the entire time until you finish your drawing. This exercise is great because it breaks the mold of what is considered an acceptable drawing.

Drawing Upside Down

If you are using an image as a reference for your drawing then take a moment to turn it upside. Similar to drawing with your opposite hand. Obscuring the image you are trying to draw will force you to focus on creating accurate lines rather than depicting an entire image at once.

Negative Space Drawing

This is a great warm-up and I would recommend doing this exercise in addition to any of the other exercises together. Negative space drawing means that instead of drawing your subject, draw or fill in the surrounding area creating a contour of your object. By the time you are done your drawing should be mostly filled in depending on your view of the subject.

Blind Contour Drawing

Blind contour drawings are one of the exercises I use the most to this very day. To do a blind contour simply put your pen or pencil to the paper while forcing yourself to never look down at what it is you are drawing. This will help you to better understand proximity with your drawings. Don’t be afraid if when you are done your drawing looks nothing like your actual subject. Mine never do either!

Conclusion

If you are thinking about becoming a graphic designer and are concerned about not being able to draw, then fear not. A graphic designer should at the very minimum be able to draw basic shapes to complete their job successfully. Anything beyond your circle or rectangle will not be needed. If you would still like to improve your drawing skills then go ahead and try out one of the exercises I listed above and send them to me over email, instagram, or twitter so I can see what you came up with!

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@jonsorre
Creator of Wellfed. Curious designer and lover of all things type. Always hungry.
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