Why I miss the drawing board

03 Feb 2021

Our Design Director, Dave, on 'Why I miss the drawing board'

I started work, as a draughtsman, in June 1988. One of my three O Levels when I left school was technical drawing and my neighbour knew a bloke who ran an architectural firm and needed someone on the board.

I never went the whole bow tie thing, but I did tuck my tie into my shirt (or it got stuck under the parallel motion). I had a set of Rotring pens that were a gift from my parents for getting a job. A clutch pencil (which I still have), razor blades, rubber, set squares, scale ruler. And a bathroom stencil from Armitage Shanks, that was invaluable. And a big old A0 drawing board with an angle-poise lamp and a high stool to sit on.

Most of our drawings were on A1 tracing paper. A3 photocopiers were still quite rare so everything was drawn and then dye-line printed. As a new, 17-year-old, draughtsman I also had to do my share of ammonia fumed printing in a small, badly ventilated print room. It was seriously unpleasant so the less drawings the better.

Drawing on A1 sheets of tracing paper, really made us think about what, why and how.

  • What was needed on the drawing? It was important to try get as much information on the drawing as possible. Less drawings meant less time in the dye-line room. There was not copy and paste from another job, so all details and information had to be needed to spend time drawing them
  • To ask why the drawing was needed. Be clear on the information required and draw the simplest amount possible to communicate what was needed. No more, no less. Keep it simple.
  • To think through how the drawing was composed, how it would end up. There were no moving bits around once drawn, no undo button, no multiple pages. It was key to really think through the scale, where things sat on the drawing and how it was put together.

Then there was the transition period. When CAD was still 2D. We were still using A1 prints (no idea why), still creating drawings, to print, using CAD. But simpler. We could print as much as we wanted. Have as many drawings as we wanted. No ammonia poisoning.

And that was when the what, why and how of drawings seemed to become a lost art. Production became too easy. Undo, copy & paste, move tool – all meant the composition of drawings, the why of drawings didn’t require so much thought or artistry. Hand sketching fell out of fashion, it was all bling and CGIs. I think it was the worst of both worlds, the lost art of drawing without the full power of CAD.

And then 3D CAD and BIM – an absolute step change in the way we work. Printed drawings are simply the by-product of the model, no longer the key component.

And now, with Covid – we haven’t printed anything in over a year. And to be honest, it is great. We used to print drawings, pin up and sketch over. And I really do miss sketching but I now do mark-ups for design reviews on screen, I sketch on screen in Zoom. All of our presentations are on screen. We submit planning online, we submit tender drawings on share point, we mark up in PDF’s or sketch in preview or photoshop. Prints and paper are so 2019.

Andrew, one of our Architects who is a Revit whizz, literally sketches in Revit in 3D, in real time on screen. We can sit there and say ‘let's try the window a bit wider or the roof a different pitch’ and he presses a few buttons and immediately we see the change in plan, elevation, section and multiple perspective points. It is brilliant. It is fast, it is fluid.

But, like my old A1 tracing paper scratched drawings, it is still only a tool to enable us to represent a real life building virtually. A very powerful and efficient tool, but a tool, nonetheless. We still need to, and we still make ourselves, ask why, what, how for all the information and drawings we produce. We still need to make sure we are being clear and simple and not just creating information, drawings, images, schedules and all the rest just because we can.

Dave Hughes - Design Director