Design Chat: Hand Rendering vs. Computer Rendering

August 27, 2019


Technology continues to dramatically impact the architecture profession. I mean, blueprints aren’t even blue any more, right?

Given the highly personal and creative act of design, the continued pressure to implement advanced technology has created one of the longest running debates in what we do as designers and architects: Hand rendering versus computer rendering.

At the core, I believe BOTH hand and computer rendered artwork are essential to achieving the best project outcomes. Here’s why:

Hand rendered concepts provide fantastic qualitative results of emotion, vibe and feel. This makes them perfect for an initial concept when qualitative elements are the goal, such as design consultations and client “first looks”.

Computer-generated concepts are consistently more appropriate for achieving quantitative results. The nature of most design software enables replication to quickly apply design elements to multiple buildings. Design flexibility within these programs allows easy early-stage revisions. Designers and clients can even get a rough idea about materials and costs.

Each has their drawbacks, though. Hand drawn designs present challenges when engaging in back-and-forth review. Tweaking a design often requires redrawing large portions or simply starting over. And achieving quantitative results with hand rendered concepts is difficult (though not impossible).

Computer rendered concepts can actually make the design process too easy, turning it into a copy/paste exercise of assembling frequently used elements. Design creativity can be limited, especially when deadlines loom. An assembly-line approach is not what most architects envision when they’re in school.

My Vote:

It depends...

If an inspiration is needed to provide a nudge to the client/jurisdiction without too much risk of being “locked in” to a design, then a hand-drawn sketch/rendering will win every time (hands down).

If you need to elevate the discussion toward preliminary pricing and more realistic depictions of material/scale/massing/etc. in a short timeframe, then computer rendering is the way to go.

Ultimately, I believe the two methods are not opposing forces in an eternal grudge match…I see both serving equally valuable roles in the design process…both creative…both productive…both needed.

There’s just something about hand-drawn artwork that captivates people. The bean-counters may not appreciate how qualitative results play out for the project, but I’d argue there’s a direct cause and effect relationship between high-quality hand rendered artwork with great feel and the eventual completion of a successful, great-looking project that communities love.

Computer renderings also look amazing. In many cases, the realism they convey is absolutely essential in winning neighborhood or municipal support. Sometimes this can even be a double-edged sword since initial concepts look so polished that jurisdictions see them as final, binding designs very early in the process.

I recently challenged our team at BSB Design to consider both angles. My goal was to create an open dialogue on how we can glean the most from each side of the coin and understand that each method provides a very real benefit to our design process. My experience and lessons learned drives my opinion, and it turns out my colleagues agree in most respects, especially as we all target the best designs for each project.

Our firm actually has a wide cross-section of opinions, but most of our architects and designers believe both hand and computer rendered designs have a place in our industry now and well into the future. Educating the next generation about the advantages and potential drawbacks of both will ensure future clients continue to benefit from these two different types of artwork.

Originally posted by Jeremy White on LinkedIn. Jeremy White is Director of Design in the Charlotte office of BSB Design. He is driving the firm’s design efforts and thought leadership, particularly in the student housing field.