'There’s no margin for error in the design industry, so it would be a mistake to overlook the vital skill of working drawings in D&T education'

Paul Woodward
18th December 2017 at 10:19

This year I decided to return to education but before doing so I accepted one last design contract before a well-earned summer holiday. That role, while short and not particularly stimulating, did open my eyes to an issue that I was guilty of in the previous role; that of taking for granted how an idea in my mind was communicated with the outside world.

My experience of design, much like that of the design student, involved communicating a concept visually. And like many students, the better you get at visualising something, the more convincing it becomes to others that it could really look like that in the real world. Again, much like my students, my interest in a project often declined when it came to communicating those ideas in great detail with others because nine times out of 10, the student makes the project themselves. As someone who sold ideas to others visually or made my own products, the production of a technical drawing was often just for reference but in this last design role I was subjected to the full force of the scrutiny of the production manager.

Given the short term of the contract, I took on the task of turning 3D models into drafts or, as we know them, production drawings. Given my disdain for excessive detailing in these drawings, for the reasons above, I soon found myself swamped in a level of detail the likes of which I had not seen outside of complex engineering projects. Some of these drawings took me approximately eight to 10 hours and there were still changes suggested for the following day, but this blog is not about how picky the design manager was.

It got me thinking of the suggestion that a working (production) drawing should be of a standard so that it could be made by a third party. In the new AQA syllabus it's "providing sufficient accurate information for third-party manufacture". That's exactly what I was doing here, but a drawing produced to the right standard so that it could be made by someone else was taking a professional designer more than a quarter of the whole CA or NEA allowance for a student and, to be honest, the project was little more than an A standard A-level furniture-based project.

Bemused by this, I got to thinking about the days of dyeline printing of drawings on drafting film using Rapidograph pens and UV pencils and how you pretty much had to get it right first time, as there was only so much ink you could scratch off before you had to draw it all again. In that respect, modern CAD is an absolute godsend but I can't help but think that, somewhere down the line, we just forgot the importance of communicating a design with a manufacturer because the student is considered the maker and, as long as they (or the helpful technician) know what they are making, that's good enough. CAD programs make it so easy to produce the views but the annotation, dimensions, section details, etc, really do take some time to produce. Where CNC is not always employed in manufacture, the designers have no idea of the abilities of the tradesmen that will make the projects so they have to ensure that every detail is on there in order to reduce the margin for error.

Over the years I have seen many attempts at working drawings and most were little more than evidence to show an understanding of orthographic viewpoints with little attempt at communicating detail. Many were nothing more than outlines but they still made it into design folders, despite being next to useless as a means of communicating a design to a "third party".

Once upon a time, we had whole subjects dedicated to the various aspects of design, making and communication and I, personally, believe education was better for it, even if there was a focus on handicraft at the time. While certain developments in D&T education have been welcome, much of what was covered was absorbed into a suite of D&T specialisms and now they are being condensed even further into a single subject. Take a small case on holiday and no matter how well packed, you are going to have to leave much of your wardrobe behind. Sadly, on this particular journey, with so much diverse material to be covered, the communication of design intents via production drawings will likely be seen as an unnecessary diversion.

While it's vital to consider design and manufacture in the future, as I have discovered this last year, not every company runs a high-tech CADCAM-based production facility and some will still need detailed production drawings for some time to come. Unless you can guarantee that they will move on to using the same tools and machinery that future design graduates will have used, this could well be another gap in the skills required for industry. 

Paul is an experienced teacher, examiner, moderator and consultant in design and technology who has also worked as a designer, artist and musician. He is currently head of creative arts in a successful Yorkshire boarding school