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Why Designing By Hand Still Matters

by Lara McCormick
art & design

When I first started teaching graphic design, the classroom had no computers. It was a foundations course and students were required to make everything by hand. Often this involved cutting paper to create compositions, and using rubber cement to adhere it to matte board. There was always a segment of the class that rebelled and did their homework digitally.

“It’s so much easier with Illustrator,” they would say.

But during critique, it was clear that the work made by hand was visually superior to their computer-generated counterparts. The handmade compositions had texture and depth, felt more human, more interesting. Using their hands was also a much more creatively satisfying process for students, and I assured them they would have plenty of time in the future to work on the computer once they became working designers.

graphic design by hand

Some lettering I’ve been working on.

Just a few of the many reasons making things by hand it important:

Using your hands stimulates brain activity. Studies show that increased brain activity occurs when you write by hand versus on the computer (Google it).

Making things with your hand yields personalized results. No one can reproduce the work you make, because it came from uniquely you.

Making things by hand gives you less control. This makes some designers uncomfortable, but often produces the most interesting results. Imperfections become part of the work and add visual interest.

Making things by hand gives you more control. You aren’t tied to the capabilities of the software you are using.

Physically, it’s better for you. Manual processes involve your whole body, versus the static state we are in when we work at a computer (which often leads to back and shoulder issues).

graphic design by hand molly hatch

Handmade surface patterns by Molly Hatch

As a designer, the work I make by hand is the work that satisfies me. Designing a poster in InDesign with an existing typeface is a job, but doing it by hand with a brush pen is playtime. Many creatives I talk to are in favor of the hand made, and incorporate it into their design process.

Molly Hatch, whose clients include Anthropologie, is known for her ability to create images that feel hand-made. Why? Because they are! I’m using Molly’s handmade wallpaper on my computer right this minute, and the balance between her organic flowers and the rigid monitor create just the right contrast of imagery.

Want to play more with graphic design by hand? Join Molly in her class, Pattern Design: From Hand to Screen to Surface, right here on CreativeLive.

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Lara McCormick

Lara is an accomplished designer, educator, and the head of design education at CreativeLive. She has her MFA in Design from SVA, graduated from Cooper Union's prestigious typography program, and is the author of ‘Playing with Type: 50 Graphic Experiments for Exploring Typographic Design Principles’ published by Rockport Press.