Design Journal Exercises

Every since I started my woodworking career I have been interested in design. I have taken a few classes in college in design and drafting. Although the classes touch on all the classic points of design the classes wasn’t gear to the furniture maker, but I did learn a few things.

Classes are a good way to get some basics but the way I really started to explore my design ideas came when I started keeping design journals. I once read from a architect that he keeps a journals of ideals that he didn’t like, yes don’t like, according to him it was easier to narrow down the details that you don’t like than keep track of all the things that you like. So I started a couple of journals. In one I put pictures or photos of stuff I don’t like even if just a small details in the piece, and then I would write notes on the page of why I don’t like it and why I don’t think it works and what I think I would do as an alterative to that detail. This journal over the years has come to be a big help for me to understand my own taste in design, and I suggest if you really want to get in touch with what you like start with a journal about what you don’t like.

The second journal I keep is one where I keep quick sketches and rough ideas that come to me at any time. It’s a place where if I get one them great little ideas for a table I can jolt it down for a later reference. I don’t worry about making it a finished drawing I just want to preserve the idea at this point. I also keep this one by my bed side, because believe it or not some of my best ideas come to me in my sleep, so I keep it close at hand that way when I wake up and record my idea. This is where I go when I start a design job after I have heard what the customer wants just to see if I already have something in my book that will meet their need, and if I do I develop it from there. Most of these drawings are crude little isometric drawings that don’t show a lot of detail I add that after I have a feel for the finished piece

My third journal is one that I keep pictures of other peoples work, and other thing that catch my eye from magazines. If I’m out and have my camera I might take picture of architecture elements I find appealing, sometimes I like to use them in my designs. I really like trim work in old houses and since I spent most my life as a trim carpenter I am always on the look out for great trim work. This journal can grow very large if you’re not careful so I divided mine up in to different pieces I keep tables in one and beds in another volume and so on it makes it easier to find what I’m looking for that way.

After I have designed a piece I usually keep it in a file on the computer along with any other finished drawings I have. That way I have my customer drawings or sales drawings, then my working drawings, and cut list, time sheets, material list, and my building notes all in one file.

Over the years these are some of the tools that have helped me to become a better designer. I still read every thing I can and have started studying a lot of the older pieces of antique furniture and taking a harder look at the things that I said I didn’t like, because I am finding that some of the things that I didn’t like 15 years ago I find very pleasing now and I guess age really doe’s change one’s out look and I wouldn’t even remember that I didn’t like most of this stuff if it wasn’t or my journals.


3 thoughts on “Design Journal Exercises

  1. I like this idea. Dave over at Modern Woodshop mentioned something like this as well. Design is one area that I really struggle with right now. I have long given up on the notion that I will have original ideas because so much has come before me but focusing on what I don’t like is much easier. I think I’ll try to pull some of that together in a notebook. Great idea!

  2. The bookcase in one my earlier blogs was developed from my journal. I used elements of side boards that I liked and pieced it together in a design. they say theres no original ideas, but I think you can’t still put together an original combination of other people’s ideas. I am working on a design for a tool box for my self I will blog about the process.

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