Design by Hand Part II

As I mentioned in my last post—there is a strong physical connection between a person and his or her hand-drawn or written work. This is mainly due to the role of the pencil and paper, which Paolo Belardi talks about in his book Why Architects Still Draw. I want to explore this idea further to learn what that connection is and how it compares to the connection a human has with a computer.

This connection can be clearly seen through the way in which physicality of writing with a pencil on paper (how the beginning draft of this text began) allows me to experience the intimate process of writing that begins first with forming the shapes which become letters. These letters turn into words, which come together to make sentences, which become paragraphs that finally complete this blog post. This doesn’t occur without the physical experience of scribbling and crossing things out along the way. Belardi writes:

“When editing a text, for instance, the hand might perform from four or five million small movements, which all together give rise to the marks on the paper. When we write though, we don’t have full control of our handwriting: we trace in an automatic and conscious way, given that, during just one second of writing, our hand is subject to at least ten graphic impulses. In this way, unconscious automation related to the complicated neurological-muscle activity happens so that, as Henri Focillion maintains, ‘the mind rules over the hand; hand rules over mind.’”

The typed second draft is a much different experience—I have much less of a personal connection to what I’m creating. When I process my thoughts on a computer, it is more rigid. I type, erase, type again, until I have a final product. When I erase something on the computer, I simply press a button and it’s gone. It disappears as quickly as I was able to create it, which makes it a much less permanent part of my thought process as well. There is not much of a drafting or editing process when it comes to the computer. I sacrifice control when I use a computer because I can’t simply move my hand to the outside of the page to make a quick note. Not only do I have the mouse and the screen standing in the way, but also the program coding which prevents me from doing what would otherwise be natural. The creative process is limited to the framework that the tool and the computer allow you. This is opposed greatly to the engaging experience of using, as many have for ages, a pencil on paper.

The time it takes to write by hand versus the speed with which I type allows me to interact with my imagination and creativity while continuing fluidly my original thought process. Belardi goes on to say, “Many details related to the elusive nature of creativity may be successfully pursued in the mental images that are evoked in this “black hole” of the drawing act.” The “black hole” refers to the 350 milliseconds that our subconscious is free to pursue creativity and imagination.

At the computer, my hands sit idle and impatient, waiting to come up with a new sentence. The keyboard prevents me from doodling. It doesn’t allow my thoughts to wander, tapping into my imagination and creativity. Computers and creativity aren’t compatible. Had I skipped the crucial first step of using a pencil and paper during the drafting process, I would have missed out on the intimate experience of processing—an experience that is only possible because of the connection with the pencil and the creativity allowed by the freedom of the process.

The same is true with drawing. When you sketch something by hand, you feel the shapes, lines and angles forming. You experience the physical erasing of an element of the drawing. You are the crux of its creation as well as its destruction. The time that it takes for your hand to create makes you more and more familiar with the object or space being creating. Martin Gay Ford says, “Drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer, and clearer still. The image is passing through you in a physiological way, into your brain, into your memory – where it stays – it’s transmitted by your hands.” A computer on the other hand, is not as forgiving to this personal process. It does not provide the space necessary for creativity to flourish or for a relationship with the product to occur. It inhibits the flow of thought to hand, hand to pencil and pencil to paper.

Although the computer may not be a good processing tool or creative outlet doesn’t mean it can’t be used at all. It can be a great tool for the second draft stage when you have already had the chance to think something through and work it with the creative space and freedom that a pencil on paper allows.