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Synthesizing the Scribble: Rapid Visualization

As soon as Academy freshmen embarked on their first major collaborative project, they immediately discovered there were not enough Expo markers in the entire Garage to complete the Rapid Visualization class mural. "We were constantly running out," says student Sydney Loew, recalling the three long nights she and her 27 classmates worked tirelessly on the design. Some of the students had no drawing experience at all. But ready or not, there was a wall to be drawn upon. And quickly.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Rapid Visualization is a first-year Academy course that teaches entrepreneurs, artists, designers, and makers how to capture a flash of inspiration on paper before it fades from memory. Speed is key as it allows the designer to bypass their critical, perfectionist mindset. In so doing, creatives are able to release their inhibitions and maximize their creativity at the early concept stage where unfettered creativity is critical—allowing every member of the team to brainstorm ideas together. As one of the foundational classes in the Academy curriculum, Rapid Visualization gives students the visual skills for the full sequence of design courses.


The class provides a thorough grounding in drawing skills to prepare students to draw from imagination.

"Once students get comfortable with the visual elements and principles of art and design, as well as the various techniques used in conceptualizing, they get looser and more disciplined in their approach," explains Professor Stephen Child.

Prof. Child has taught graphic design at USC for twelve years; this is his second term teaching visualization at the Academy. Like any drawing fundamentals class, students learn the visual language of shape, line, perspective and value. The stronger their fundamentals, the more accurately designers can convey the ideas in their head: when sketching a product into existence, each line conveys information about its proportions, contours, and material texture.

The course teaches more than dry technical sketches: drawing from imagination requires specific skills and students learn how these techniques fit into their creative workflow. When designers draw and give specific form to the inchoate ideas in their heads, the process demands creative choices and problem-solving. Are these dimensions appropriate? Do the elements cohere together they way the concept artist thought they would? Do other people see the idea from the sketch?

"The practice of drawing quick sketches of a bunch of different ideas is extremely helpful in thinking through a solution to a problem and creating a final drawing," says student Jane Marolt. "My drawing skills improved significantly over the semester and I became a lot more comfortable conveying things through drawings."

Throughout the semester, students learn to apply their skills in a collaborative setting. "The class felt like a team trying to achieve goals versus individuals trying to learn concepts," said Will Koening, who added, "I made friends with lots of students in my class, more than I have in any other class." Marolt had a similar experience: "Each project was critiqued by the class and we would edit them given the feedback that we received. I learned to be open to suggestions because there were lots of critiques made and by the end I had made a lot of friends in the class and was much more open to the idea of critiques which is essential to the design process."

It is core to the Academy's mission to teach collaborative problem-solving skills across many modalities. Rapid Visualization teaches skills that are helpful, not only to visual designers, but to an entire team.

"Visualization training can help a student to both see and understand the world in completely new ways," says Prof. Child. "My job is not just to teach the thinking, tools, and techniques needed in this discipline, but to help students develop the attitudes that embrace difficulty and the mindset to persevere through difficult challenges."

Loew recalls the feeling of relief and pride when the Cohort V class completed their AR-enhanced mural which represents each student engaged in one of their favorite activities in a landscape that combines ocean, city, forest, and outer space. Using AR technology coded from scratch,  3D avatars of each cohort member appear to hover in front of their illustration on the mural.

"That moment when we all stepped back to look at the completed mural, I felt so lucky to be with such a creative, humble and enthusiastic group of people."