How to design

The process at work.

When I was in design school, I was taught a technique by the artist Joanne Landis that changed how I approached designing, drawing and working with inspiration.  It took me a few years to fully grasp how great it is.  I teach fashion and have since passed the technique on to my students in portfolio, drawing, and now, a fashion foundation class and it, once again, has given great results.  Today, I’m going to discuss the first step.

There are 3 guidelines to follow:

1.  Each sketch must build from the last sketch with the first design being a simple shift dress.  Design details must be exhausted and several changes need to be made from sketch to sketch. (In other words, if you lower the skirt hem, you must continue to lower the hem until you can go no further.)

2.  Do not spend more than a minute on each sketch.

3.  Most importantly, absolutely no judgment can be made while you’re sketching.

It’s a design brainstorm that frees designers up from dealing with construction, fit, fabrication, season, merchandising, customer, etc. and lets them just work with design elements and extending an idea.  While I know the importance of having restrictions when you design, going through this process allows students to let go and stop drawing what we see in the stores everyday.  Most students are scared when I ask them to do this.  They want to draw things that make sense.  I did the same thing.  I wanted to draw “clothes” and “looks” and this exercise is asking you to design.

Here is a student quietly not judging herself and diving into the exercise:

Southpaws may want to work from right to left.

There are a few other things I gently mention when I guide them through this.  I remind them that it doesn’t have to be pretty, or make sense or seem wearable.  I tell them that their drawing skills are not important at the moment.  I ask them to not look for an outcome and to just brainstorm.

And here is what they drew.  It doesn’t look like much and it shouldn’t.  Students always cringe when you put them up on the wall to discuss.

The first step to nowhere.

When they actually start to use the exercise as a design tool, designers eventually produce dozens, if not hundreds of designs from which to develop a collection. While this seems daunting, it is actually much easier than just drawing clothes.  What does this get you in the end?  Why have a bunch of wretched drawings of crazy garments? How can this possibly become a collection?  Hopefully, you’ve drawn enough sketches so that you have something to work with.  An element, or even a mistake that appeared out of nowhere that can be the basis of a collection.

If fashion design is about pushing forward, then we need to encourage accidents and dreaming.

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7 thoughts on “How to design

  1. maybe it’s because I’m a fashion illiterate, but there are very few things sketched there that I wouldn’t wear. Unlike sketches that the students are probably hoping to end up with, which will probably be full of things that I’d never wear!

    Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, but I think that these are awesome!

  2. This has been one of the most valuable design techniques I have been taught! It sets you free… you fly over the border of your own limitations and fears. How would we have survived fashion school without it?

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