Thinking Before Clicking: Returning to Graphic Design Basics

February 12, 2009 by

The New York Times offers a reflection on what graphic design looked like 30 years ago. It was all T-squares, X-Acto knives and rubber cement. You had to do it by hand, like a skilled craftsman.

That all changed with computers, but it’s not always a good thing:

“The technology we have at our disposal is dazzling, and our efficiency is such that clients expect fast solutions and nearly instantaneous updates. We are proud to deliver them. Still, I wonder if we haven’t lost something in the process: the deliberation that comes with a slower pace, the attention to detail required when mistakes can’t be undone with the click of a mouse. Younger designers hearing me talk this way react as if I’m getting sentimental about the days when we all used to churn our own butter.

Computers can do amazing things for design, but sometimes we need to slow down and step back. I always remember the advice of our own Michael Buckingham: Before you turn on a computer, pick up a pencil.

Putting solid thinking into design shouldn’t be an archaic concept like churning your own butter. Your work will be better for it, and your church will thank you. (link via

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

5 Responses to “Thinking Before Clicking: Returning to Graphic Design Basics”

  • Cameron Smith
    February 12, 2009

    Good insight here. I agree that putting solid thinking into a design will pay it’s dividends in the end result. I don’t necessarily agree that picking up a pencil before you turn on the computer is absolutely necessary.
    I don’t have a background in art, no degree in art or design, never taken a drawing class and I can’t draw a stick figure to save my life… seriously. But, if you put a mouse in my hand I can keep up with the best of them – that’s the way I’ve developed my craft.
    For those of us who can’t draw, and I’m sure there’s plenty – we don’t can’t really rely on sketching things out before sit down in front of the monitor, we have to get in there and get our hands dirty and watch the design begin to flesh itself out and take shape.

     | Permalink
    February 12, 2009

    Keep it simple. Remember your audience. Is it sticky? Will they tell their co-worker or their gym friend about it?

     | Permalink
  • Nicholas.C
    February 13, 2009

    I absolutely agree. Except maybe the youth part. I’m a 25 year old career Graphic Designer, I’ve had formal design training, and I’ve been using photoshop since it was version 4.0 (thats 10 years ago).
    Despite being a relatively young designer, my experience has been that a good design is always 60% Pre-Production, 30% Production and 10% Post. I.e Spend most of your time figuring it out, then do it once and do it right, so you’ll end up with very little clean up.
    I sneer at people who want to take short cuts and go “We’ll fix it in photoshop later”

     | Permalink
  • Sean
    February 19, 2009

    Best way to design is to go to the lab, and use the designs you see there as your own. . .
    This is a good short true post.
    Everyone has a different method when designing. For me I like to sit at night with no pants on and howl at the moon. Others drink a lot of coffee.
    At the end of the day the golden nugget that comes from this is simple is better, less is more.
    Sure tech is great, its wonderful even, but its gotten in the way.
    I’ll go ahead and disagree with Cameron on this one. If you don’t know how to draw, learn, you think you are a great designer with out ever taking your idea from pen to paper, thats awesome. Learn how to draw, and go from being a good designer and keeping up with the best of them, to becoming a better designer and surpassing the rest of them.
    SKETCH. SKETCH. SKETCH. SKETCH. Michaelangelo sketched before he painted. So to should a designer sketch before he designs.
    You don’t start building a dog house before you’ve drawn out a plan, and if you can, awesome, but I bet you my car that it would have been an even better dog house if you had sketched it out first.
    Great insight Kevin!

     | Permalink
  • lefthandedrobot
    February 23, 2009

    looks like a great campaign, pre-empting the inevitable (already here) counter-culture movement that all these social networking sites are going to bring about.

     | Permalink

Graphic Design