PERSPECTIVE | Viscom Skills (Part I / II)

Today, the Internet provides car design students with an endless well of inspiration to draw from.  However, the vast expanse of the web is not always conducive to the preservation of “lesser-known” Viscom techniques.  My personal theory is that most students draw their Viscom inspiration from the most popular works – those that get the most Google hits, for example. Naturally, this can have a homogenizing effect on drawing styles at the student level and contribute to the narrowing of those styles.  With this theory in mind, let’s consider some of the more traditional ways in which techniques are developed, modified and preserved for future designers.


By Accident

Some of the best techniques are born out of pure happenstance – a confluence of events or circumstances that leads to an unexpected, positive result.  In the 2000 film Pollock, for example, actor Ed Harris depicts a painter discovering his signature technique when he accidentally drips paint on his studio floor.  Once, I developed an abstract shadow technique (see above) based on my experience as a photo technician (the under-developed photos had a faded appearance at the edges, which inspired me to replicate the look with markers on Vincent vellum).  And therein lies the challenge: to replicate a “happy accident” in a consistent way.  Sometimes this will prove easy; other times, it will initially prove elusive.  In either case, it is important to make the effort to recreate the magic – both for your own benefit and the benefit of others.  It is equally critical to recognize happy accidents when they occur and document how they occurred.  This way, they are far less likely to be lost. Keeping a note pad near your drawing table will make documenting these events much easier.


By Experimentation

Some Viscom techniques develop because their creators were tired of their current repertoire and wanted to come up with a fresh approach – like a pitcher whose style has become too familiar to the batters he is facing.  And rather than simply adopt someone else’s technique, they felt compelled to create a new one for themselves.  To a design student who has a limited amount of free time during a school year, this approach may seem a bit frivolous. It would be far easier to just hop on the Internet, find a technique that looks interesting, and try and emulate it.  During the summer, however, a student may have more time to expand his or her repertoire – and as a result, more space to allow for mistakes to happen, refinements to be made, and ultimately, for skills to improve.  If you’re a student and find you have this kind of time available to you during the summer months, I strongly encourage you to use it wisely.  Pretend you’re an athlete who is keeping in fighting form during the off-season. View this time as a challenge designed to keep your skills sharp and your competition on their toes. And don’t forget to enjoy yourself.  Similar to a designer coming up with a creative idea in a relaxed environment, a Viscom technique will develop more naturally if you have fun during the experimentation phase. Similar to the advice above on happy accidents, get in the habit of documenting your Viscom experiments, successful or otherwise. That way, you can avoid unnecessary retread and make the most of the time you have.


By Cross-Pollination

Sometimes designers have to look outside their own disciplines to get inspired (we touched on this in the Ford 021C piece).  Sports car designers in need of some fresh thinking may look at fighter jets, for example.  A similar approach can be utilized to develop new Viscom techniques. If you’re not sure how to illustrate a unique subject or idea, look at how other professionals communicate with their respective viewers.  One case in point: Airline safety cards.  There are few areas in design where concise communication is more important than in airline safety. The designers charged with creating airline safety cards are aware of this, and that awareness shows up in their excellent work.  I’ve found that the techniques used in these cards (simple colors, refined line weight, judicious use of arrows, etc.) also work quite well for industrial design storyboards.  Had I not looked outside of car design for graphic inspiration, this notion would likely have never occurred to me.

In Part II:  Developing Skills out of Necessity and Sharing Skills


  1. under a waaaaaterfaaaall says:

    gotta say Jason, loving these articles.

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