Why Analog to Digital? Materiality of the Virtual


This presentation looks to challenge design educations preoccupation with "analogue to digital." The presentation will have participants consider the utility of various approaches to 'drawing' for engaging student and faculty in greater conceptual discussions and understandings of computation as material and will provide specific strategies and tools that participants can use to structure their own assignment planning, including peer-to-peer collaboration (between faculty teaching and students in-class) and a methodology for assessing student work.


-Tangible examples of ways to teach technical skills, both conceptually and applied. -Assessment methods. -Small publication of project samples will be provided to participants


The "how" of traditional graphic translation were experimentations done in black and white which focused on the flattening and reduction of the three-dimensional world around us into simplified iconic representations. Much attention was paid to the edges of a leaf that could be slightly softened by the stroke of a brush with white gouache or the technique to flow black ink from a pen at the edge of a cork-backed ruler to create a hard line on the shadow of a can opener. Demonstrative instruction often included how to hold the brush or thin the gouache. It was a relationship of reflection: hand, eye, and cause/effect in the physical world and materiality was the nucleus. It would stand to reason that over time this would come to include virtual environments and their material properties such as vectors and pixels, yet this has not been the case. As outlined in the third phase of a 30-year-long study on drawing in design by Pamela Schenk, drawing is seen as obsolete in certain aspects of design process such as rendering (eg. layouts for communication to clients or typesetters) while still being valued as a way for designers to ideate—a thing students should do to solve or realize their ideas before going to the computer (Drawing in the Design Process, 125). Drawing seems to be shackled by historical precedent and actively denied the material exploration potential so freely granted to graphite and ink.

Over the years it has been rare to hear professors—either in the hallways or presenting at design education conferences—spout poetically about customizing and modifying brushes or translating bezier curves into meshes. Meg Jackson from the University of Houston would be an exemption to this rarity. At the 2016 NCBDS conference in San Los Obisbo Jackson shared first-year architecture drawing course work which looked to foster conceptual understandings of computation as a medium over digital work as mere translations from analogue to digital environments (NCBDS 2016, p.111). This work inspired two years of experimentation in a drawing translation class to see how first-year graphic design students could engage in design processes to investigate spatial and material relationships in virtual environments. Jackson claimed that drawing in virtual environments changed the way designers thought and the way drawings were created (NCBDS 2016, p.111) so these experiments looked to uncover the nuances of: if so…how so, why, and what student perceptions are towards thinking and making in virtual environments. This paper presentation will describe and unpack two in-class exercises to support more nuanced discussions of drawing as digital and digital as material: 1) Blind contour and contour studies where students use pencils/pens (graphite/ink), mouse/trackpads (Illustrator, Photoshop), and camera phones (photogrammetry) in rapid succession to capture details— seen and sensory—of organic structures and compare analogue and digital drawing experiences and 2) graphic translations in an a Schule-für-Gestaltung-Basel approach using vectors over gouache in order to discuss broader implications in design systems (file management and file sharing) and outputs (laser cutting and printing).