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Matt Nuccio. "Make it Rough."

Toy & Family Entertainment, Oct. 2009

Recently first-time client of mine called me in a complete panic. He was outraged over some layouts that my studio had sent him to review. “These will just really never work... They look just way too old fashion... You need to redo these... You missed the mark completely,” he told me. I was floored. What the...? I didn’t know what to do. I thought they looked great. I told him I’d call him back in twenty minutes. I sat down and viewed them. I laid them all out next to each other and went over them in great detail. They looked really on point to me. I was baffled, so I dragged each person in from the studio one by one and asked them for feedback. No one had any negative thoughts whatsoever. I couldn’t figure it out. I was scratching my head. I haven’t been this confused since I missed an episode of Twin Peaks over ten years ago. What do I do? How should I handle this? So I dialed him back and told him,“ I’m really sorry, I see absolutely nothing wrong with these at all." He paused and than snapped back, “ THEY'RE IN PENCIL!”

Is the art of pencil roughs dead? Has the age of hand skills gone way of the carrier pigeon and the dodo bird? It’s starting to seem that way. Nowadays days more and more of my client base doesn’t understand tight pencil concepts at all. Forget even showing them quick thumbnail pencils. More and more these quick thoughts are becoming only a reference for me and a handful of designers who were born pre-Carter.

I grew up in this business and as far back as I can recall we always started a layout off on paper. We’d just bust out a pencil or pen and scratch out some thoughts. That was just, well, the way it was done... Today people tend to bypass this step. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps the art schools don’t stress it as much as they should. Maybe designers are lazier than they once where. Personally I think it's a very important  part of the process that shouldn't be forgotten. It makes as much sense today as it did then, twenty or fifty years ago. Brainstorming concepts is 90% of any design. The labor is the easy part. A quick rough pencil or thumbnail is like jotting down some iconographic notes. Why would one let a program create boundaries for themselves right off the bat? Placing those thoughts on paper is a way of thinking things out with no limits. If the pencil works then the mechanical layout most certainly will.

Doodling a thumbnail sketch can be quicker and easier than wandering on a computer. One doesn’t need to draw in great detail or need much talent to do so. Circles and squares for placement of copy, models and products can suffice just fine. Simple shapes and formations can enable a designer to really think everything out ahead of time. It can also help a designer to avoid the pitfalls of generic layouts. Designers can be swayed by Photoshop filters and typeface restrictions, causing them to generate the same layout over and over. More filters can be like throwing fuel on a fire. It will only make things worse. Overly filtered layouts tend to look over done and amateur. Try and avoid filters in the infancy of a layout.

Every client has unique  parameters around how they would like to see their projects in progress. Some always want to see a pencil drawing first, while others want the designer to go straight into digital layouts (although I still do pencil thumbs beforehand). The reality is that it shouldn’t really matter to the designer. Whatever gets the your creative juices going is the way to run. When presenting concepts to clients I have always relied on myriad techniques and materials. We’ve pitched concepts in a variety of mediums like cut paper, napkin sketches (luckily we’ve never had a Spinal Tap stone hedge in danger of being trampled by dwarfs), verbally, written out, marker layouts and I believe once we used two bottles and eighteen tooth picks. The fact of the matter is it really doesn’t matter as long as it is not stifling to the layout. I find working strictly on a computer limiting. A computer is only a tool. If it’s not working for you, just pick up a different tool and blast away. Find what works best for the client as well. If your client screams “THEY'RE IN PENCIL!” then you may want to give them only digital layouts.

Some people are bewitched by simple thumb nail drawings. To them, drawing is a gift that impresses them greatly. I hear people say a million times, “I can’t even draw a straight line." Truth be told, neither can I, or anyone else I know in this business for that matter. That’s what rulers are for. Penciling layout concepts is a great way to plan things out. If a pencil doesn’t work for you, then find what does. Just create the new, freshest layout you can every time and try not to repeat yourself.

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