“All designers sketch, although not all admit it…” An interview with Koos Eissen.

“He is very inspiring to look at while he is working..”

After graduating from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague in 1975, Koos Eissen joined TUDelft‘s faculty of Architecture as a lecturer and then became Associate Professor at the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering in 2004. His teaching career Spans over a Decade.

Some of you already have been his students or simply know him because of the amazingly helpful & insightful books he has written on Industrial design & Sketching along with Roselin Steur.

Professor Eissen also has seen over many freelance projects in the fields of Architecture & Industrial design. A laundry list of professional projects for institutions & brands like the Nationale Nederlanden, Dutch National Olympic Committee, Dutch railways, G-Star just to to name a few.

designdaily.. speaks with Professor Eissen about Design, Sketching, his Publications & his thoughts on Design schools & 3D Printing.

Professor Eissen can you please share a bit about your background ?

“I graduated in Art Education and Art History at the Royal academy of Art in The Hague (1975). Finding a job was  quite easy. The Delft University of Technology scouted me and wanted to have me as their youngest lecturer. I accepted the offer and started simultaneous at the faculty of architecture and the fast growing faculty of Industrial Design. The first half-year they trained me and guided me. It was fun to be able to visit lectures from designers and well-known architects and to learn a lot more about architecture and industrial design.  After 16 years of lecturing at both faculties I got a full-time teaching position as Head of the drawing department in Industrial Design.”

How would you describe your approach to Design ?

“Looking for opportunities to improve existing products and develop new context driven, beautiful, attractive and easy to use products.”

How would you describe a ‘Good Design’ & what would be its Important Elements ?

“I liked the idea to not have more then a few knobs like the first iPhone. People complained at first that it would be hardly possible to type on a screen. We tend to forget this ‘struggle’, but it really was a sensational design decision I admired greatly. Good design does that: thinking context driven and using the latest technologies without forgetting the consumer’s adaptability.”

You joined TUDelft faculty of Architecture as a lecturer and then an Associate Professor, so have you always wanted to be a Teacher or is it something that came later in your life ?

“When I entered the Royal Academy of Art I intended to become a painter. My father was actually not supporting my choice of education. At that time my brother nearly finished his university study to become a medial doctor and my father thought I would never get a decent job (!). During my study I got more interested in art history, methodology and psychology. I wrote my first essay about visual communication and was attracted by design in general.”
“After graduation I was approached by 3 different educational institutes and invited to choose for one of the three offers, to being a teacher in a teacher program, being a teacher in a school for professional photographers or accepting the job at the university. I was really interested in teaching design students and to push them into a higher and responsible level in design.”

“Developing my career as a lecturer at the University I was invited to become a full-time associate professor at the faculty of Industrial Design with a staff of 4 lecturers and about seven student-assistants, developing Design Drawing within a new curriculum.”

 “I really like giving demonstrations and lectures to universities and students. It inspires me and in return I learn a lot from those different cultures & students.”

Being a Professor of Industrial Design, what are things that you focus on and try to promote among the students?

“When I started my career, the traditional drawing was made by pencil, pen and ink and sometimes watercolour, really old school.  In a workshop I experimented with fine liner and colour markers to make sketches faster and presentation drawings more impressive. A designer of Philips and his American colleague designer inspired me. They made me decide to implement these techniques (or tools) in the drawing course. It was the first time this was done in The Netherlands. So I introduced these marker-drawing techniques in The Netherlands (with at the time still rather toxic markers). At that time professional markers were not being sold in the Netherlands. I had to import Magic Markers from Japan.

“In the early stage of my lecturers the main goal was to make drawings as impressive as possible. This idea changed over time, because society changes. Nowadays, sketching to ideate and explore in the preliminary design stages is far more important than nice presentation drawings. So students are now trained to make quick sketches in the ideation phase. To do so, I introduced Digital Sketching to the curriculum (in 1999) and I have kept looking for opportunities to merge ‘old school’ on paper sketches with digitally finished ones, adding context pictures and textures to create a powerful visual communication in different stages of the design process.”

Were you always attracted towards Design ?

“Yes, my whole life I have been interested in art, architecture, product design, photography, car design and fashion.”

(click on the sketches to enlarge)

You have published quite a few books on Sketching & Industrial Design along with Roselien Steur, so where did this idea of writing a Design & Sketching book come from?

“In the 1980’s I wrote a book about marker techniques for industrial designers. It was actually the spin-off of all my experience with these ‘new’ techniques. I wrote it in Dutch for Dutch designers and now I know and feel proud that every Dutch office of industrial design has this book on the shelf.  After that I wrote a book about architectural presentation techniques, published not only in Dutch but also in German and English. As a senior lecturer developing the curriculum of design sketching and designed exercises in digital sketching on Wacom drawing tablets my wife started to push me into making a new book. Actually she threatened to make the book herself (!).  So Roselien Steur is not only my co-author, but also my Wife. She is a very talented lecturer in design sketching.”

“Our starting point was, that it should show the beauty of industrial design sketching and the unmistaken importance of drawing/ sketching. Its focus was on inspirational sketches, and not be a book full of recipes. I was still in contact with a lot of talented former students, so we focussed on Dutch designers and Studios and their work and the use of sketches in the design process. Almost all of them were willing to contribute and we are very proud of the result. The book has an overwhelming success in the world and is translated in various languages.”
“There were also ‘complaints’ about the content of this book: students always want to have drawing instructions and the first book gave some information, but not extensively. Hence the idea of: Sketching the basics. You could see this as a prequel and contains, as my first Dutch book, recipes and theory of sketching. We looked for more international contributions to get a more universal visualization ‘language’ in the book. Our first book opened all kind of international attention and again most design studios were willing to contribute.”

After receiving such great response & success with your current publications, are you planning to put out more books about Design & Sketching in the coming future?

“That’s hard to tell, we never intended to write that many books, it just sort of happened. The third book (depicted above) shows design sketches in their perceptual context. Why do they look the way they do, what is their function, what do we see, how is it processed in our brain and what can you, as a designer, learn from visual theories to become more effective in visually communicating and gestalt principles translated in the world of industrial design. I think it is our most intense statement about the role of sketching in design. So, we don’t know yet. It feels like the three books belong together.”

Know all about the publications by Prof. Koos Eissen & Roselien Steur. (Click to visit)

How important & essential would you say Sketching is as a tool, as medium of expression for a designer?

“I think Sketching opens a world of expressing thoughts and ideas. All designers sketch, although not all admit it… could be vanity, perhaps. How ever small or insignificant a preliminary sketch may be. Most people think visually, and a sketch helps communicate ideas in a very direct way. Sketches can be used to explore, to visualize or to persuade. A sketch often communicates other messages too, like a designers’ style or handwriting. If you look at car design, my favourite, you see that these designers are extremely skilful at design sketching, being able to express emotion and control the complexity of the product at the same time. Real heroes! “

What is that one thing would you say that Design schools are lacking on or possibly have to improve on?

“Because of the workshops I give in Universities in different countries I have seen that our approach is often different. We train student to make product drawings using transparency in the drawing. As you need to have an understanding of the three dimensions of a shape, its spatiality. Cross-sections in a sketch dictate what you ought to see, so get used to draw them. You will understand better the volume of it. I have seen many schools focussing on the outline of a shape in their sketches, which in my opinion is Not an effective spatial way to make a successful product.”

How are the students of today different than the students & graduates of your time?

“Today some students do believe that drawing and sketching is for talented students only. They think, that the computer is there best friend. I think those students will not be trained well enough. Drawing is not for the art of drawing, it’s is a tool to think, to discuss and to decide.”

Has there been any Significant change in the way Design is being taught in the schools now, compared to how it was when you graduated?

“Yes. In those days marker were regarded as a poor quality drawing material. Drawings should be in a quality material ‘everlasting as art’, now we know that it is a great tool, fast an efficient and there is no discussing about the durability of the sketches at all. Funny enough there is no discussion about authenticity in digital sketching. Everybody sees the communication advantage of digital drawings.”

What are the other things that you are passionate about and how do they Influence your work?

“I am a petrol head. We now have 6 cars. Car design keeps your eye keen, To look for beauty and balance and coherence.”

How often do you sketch and do you keep a Sketchbook?

“As a tool I often make quick sketches, but mainly to explain or research ideas or possibilities. It is nice to ask me about a sketchbook! No, have never used or wanted a sketchbook. I sometimes get them for free and I just give them to Roselien, because she likes to use them for almost everything.(she is a visual problem solver)”


What is the most important Quality & the most important Skill a Designer should posses?

“It would be, without a doubt,the ability to communicate your ideas well. It could be on paper, digitally, 3d mock-ups or 3d prints. It of course goes without saying, that people should be attracted. It not only depends on your visualisation skills, but also the pre-knowledge of your client is helping to create a visual story. Empathy, durability and connecting people are of course more important qualities. The word context driven is maybe covering this designers quality.”

How important do you think Design (As a tool) is for the world & What do you think it would be like without Design?

“Design (thinking) is a broad way to solve problems, and to come up with solutions. It is a way to combine and integrate various expertise. I guess it makes the world more coherent, without it there would be a lot of knowledge ‘in vain’ or remain optimised or unused. Having the technical issues of a product solved, for example, is worthless, if no human psychological aspects are involved and the other way around of course.”

What would you say are the Differences & Similarities between What you Learn in a Design school & In the Industry?

“The similarity is the design training and Maybe the biggest difference is time. While at the University you could be allowed to use more time to finish your work but In a design studio however you have to perform within a set and usually a bit tight time frame. It will change your attitude towards work and it will teach you to be more and more efficient without losing a high quality standard. You are also ‘punished’ in greater effect of doing something wrong. You will loose clients in the real world. I think “good” Universities distinguish themselves by critically grading, pushing students to the limit and attracting important (famous) designers to their schools to demonstrate the real design world.”

What are your thoughts on the 3D printing technology &how important do you think it is going to be for the Future of the Design industry ?

“I am looking forward to the development of 3D-printing. It will change the attitude and challenges of designers. I am also convinced that in ideation there will still be a strong need for sketches, digitally or on paper to communicate.”

Are the new technologies like the 3d printing being used in your school, TUDelft?

“Yes, at the TUDelft there are 3d-printers now, the interest to use them in the process of design is growing. At this stage, I think, the result now is a bit premature, as it lacks a real surface finish and detailing, but that will change soon.”

What is the best piece of advice you have heard and would like to repeat to others, possibly to the aspiring Designers out there?

“Learn to look into the future. Train yourself in sketching to make this future visible.”


5 thoughts on ““All designers sketch, although not all admit it…” An interview with Koos Eissen.”

  1. Here at the University of Monterrey, México, as a teacher of quick ideation sketching, I´ve asked the library to acquire all the books by Professors Eissen and Steur. Fortunately they´ve conceded and bought them eveyone published since 2008. Now we included these books as part of our study plan bibliography.

    Thanks for your contribution to design skills education!

  2. Thanks for the interview sharing with us such great experience – going through the evolution of sketching in Design.
    Very interesting!

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