If there's one thing that students hate to do, it's a thumbnail. One of the most difficult tasks as a teacher is to convince first-year students the importance of doing concept sketches before committing to a final design. For many this is an unwritten right-of-passage. It's the torture of hundreds of thumbnails that they can look back on in their later terms and say "Yes my freshmen friends, I have been down that path, and I have lived to tell the tail of sleepless nights, coffee, Netflix, and 144 thumbnails for Project #3."
A lot of people say they hate thumbnails, but honestly? I love 'em. I never believe people who spout-off how they can start with a blank canvas in Illustrator, and come up with great designs the first time out. In my experience it just doesn't happen, and often that "great design" is a rehash of something they've either done or seen before.
The image that I posted above is an example of how thumbnails work for me. I take tissue (tracing) paper and just start sketching. I do this in sketchbooks laying all over my house and in my car, but there is something about the temporary nature of tissue paper that's wonderful. Unlike a sketchbook, there's no overlying insinuation of permanence; it's meant to be used up. Don't get me wrong, I keep all of my thumbnails, but I'm under no impression that it's something meant to survive the ages.
I guess the hardest part of emphasizing thumbnails is trying to convince a generation used to instant gratification that exploration of an idea for the sake of exploration is worth their time. You can see an evolution of ideas in thumbnails. You can see epiphanies, failures, changes in direction, and in some cases, the death of a project.
What I find sad is that when you approach people with the idea of coming up with concepts, the first thing they do is reach for their phone and start Googling. Thumbnails aren't meant to be spoon-fed to you; they're meant to be discovered and nurtured into a usable idea.
Perhaps I'm overcomplicating and romanticizing the entire process, but I believe there is something beautiful and important about the birth of an idea, and the process it takes making it to adulthood.