Drawing Within the Design Process

O Desenho no âmbito do processo de Design

Ana Moreira da Silva
Universidade Lusíada de Lisboa
Faculdade de Arquitectura e Artes
CIAUD - Centro de Investigação em Arquitetura Urbanismo e Design
R. Sá Nogueira, 1349-063 Lisboa, Portugal


ULusíada - Universidade Lusíada de Lisboa

Retirado de: http://convergencias.esart.ipcb.pt

ABSTRACT: The focus of this research is to analyse the importance of Drawing within the Design process. As the designer has to conceive and develop solutions for precise problems which may be of very different nature, Drawing presents itself as an operative support for problem solving and critical analyses in the Design conceptual process. The fact of nowadays wide use of new technologies doesn’t invalidate the important role played by hand drawing as a stimulating instrument when sketching the first ideas and as a critical verification of the several hypotheses. Through the study of several statements from various authors we intend to investigate the permanence of this important role since mid-last century to present. From this theoretical approach we also intend to verify the relevance of the drawing teaching in the formation of the future designers, despite the paradigm changes that emerge from times changes. Based on a survey methodology with two different moments, being the first an inquiry based on a questionnaire applied to undergraduate students, and the second a group of semi-structured interviews applied to designers. We intend to verify the permanence and the importance of hand drawing in their daily design work.  

KEYWORDS: Design, Drawing, Design process.

RESUMO: O foco desta investigação é analisar a importância do Desenho no âmbito do processo de Design. Uma vez que o designer tem de conceber e desenvolver soluções para problemas concretos que podem ser de natureza muito diferente, o Desenho apresenta-se como um suporte operacional para a resolução de problemas e análises críticas no processo conceptual do Design. Actualmente o uso alargado das novas tecnologias não invalida o importante papel desempenhado pelo desenho à mão enquanto instrumento estimulante no esboço das primeiras ideias e como verificação crítica das várias hipóteses. Através do estudo de várias asserções de diversos autores pretende-se investigar a permanência deste importante contributo desde meados do século passado até à actualidade. A partir desta abordagem teórica pretendemos também verificar a relevância do ensino do desenho na formação dos futuros designers, apesar das alterações de paradigma que emergem das mudanças no tempo. Com base numa metodologia de inquérito com dois momentos distintos, sendo o primeiro um inquérito baseado num questionário aplicado a estudantes universitários, e o segundo um grupo de entrevistas semi-estruturadas aplicadas a desenhadores. Pretendemos verificar a continuidade e a importância do desenho à mão no trabalho diário de design.

PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Design, Desenho, Processo de Design.

1. Introduction

This paper stems from a current post-doc research project motivated for the need to produce more knowledge on design thinking after previous researches developed for my Master and my PhD degrees about the relevance of drawing in the conceptual process in Architecture and in Design. Our main research question is: Which is the importance of hand-drawing as a critical instrument and as an operative support within the conceptual process in Design? The main objectives of this current research are: to verify the relevance of the drawing teaching in the formation of the future designers, and also, to verify the permanence and the importance of hand drawing in the actual designer’s daily work. We aim to achieve contribution on the conceptual design process, enhancing the importance of this for Design students and professionals.


2. Drawing and Design

In this study we consider the close relationship between drawing and design. The relevance of drawing in the act of designing as stimulating instrument when sketching the first ideas and as critical verification of the several hypotheses.
“Designers are inextricably associated with drawings.” (Lawson, 2004, p. 31)
We find reference to drawing in the very origin of the word design. ‘Designare’, is a Latin verbal form, which covers both the meaning of ‘to designate something’ and of ‘to draw something’.  In its origins the term already has a double sense: a more abstract aspect of ‘to attribute, to conceive, to project’ and another one of more concrete nature of ‘to register, to configure, to form’. (Denis, 2000, p. 16)
Design adds intention to drawing: to imagine, to conceive and to assist in the achievement of solutions for practical problems, which can be of very different nature.
Manzini refers the issue between the “thinkable” and the “possible”, which is always underlying the design process, considering it neither simple nor linear (1993, p. 5). Lawson also characterizes this process as “highly complex and sophisticated.” (2005, p. 67)
During all the complex process which goes from one imagined object to its implementation, designer has one essential media to help him on developing the idea – drawing.

Fig. 1 – Sketches for a chair. Daciano da Costa (1994)


The complexity, characteristic of the transition from the idea to its materialization, is related to the actual extent of design where a number of factors come into play, such as the ability to understand the context and imagine the solutions, the ability to know and take advantage of the processes and materials as means or vehicles through which the solution is materialized, the ability to transform ideas into appropriate forms, having in mind the limits and material possibilities. Drawing holds, in itself, the making visible quality of the whole mental process underlying the conceiving stage, from the first sketches of a vague idea to the object to create final form.
Drawing’s transcendent importance lies in the capacity it gives the designer to materialize abstract conceptualizations and to create the ideational basis for design forms and objects.
Within the complex process which takes place from how to imagine an object till its materialization, the designer can use hand drawing as an indispensable mean to help him to develop the idea, as an operative support in the conceptual process. This attitude comes across the concept of drawing as mental activity, which uses the hand as an extension of the brain.
Campo Baeza writes in the introduction of one of his books, that its title - Thinking with the Hands - is intended to make clear that “the creative work requires both hands and head. This ‘thinking with the hands’ is inspired on the bright image of Saramago’s novel, The Cave, when he states that creators have a sort of little brains in their fingertips.” (2011, p. 11)
The search for solutions, even for simple problems, implies that drawing studies in detail each phase of the process for obtaining the result we seek for. The complexity of the required drawings emerges as the designer approaches the solutions which he considers ideal or that are possible. During the conception phase we should not disregard the importance of a trace, of a scribble, of a sketch. They all can contribute to the development of the idea.
For a designer, the sketchbook is not just a place to draw but a place to order thoughts, to graphically and visually gather information and to develop a design response. It merges as a way of thinking through drawn lines as a creative process, revealing the central role that drawing can play within the development of any design product.
“The real goal of sketching is about generating ideas, solving problems, and communicating ideas more effectively with others.” (Rohde, 2011)

Fig. 2 – Sketching allows to explore a wide variety of ideas all at once


The act of drawing allows that the reasonings and thoughts we have developed can be gradually translated and decoded throughout the drawn lines. Somehow we debate ourselves with our own ideas in the paper space. We scratch, we draw, we overwrite features, we configure, we represent, we visualize, giving physical form to our thinking. There is a direct link between the thinking and the hand that performs the drawing. The hand as an extension of the brain, of the reasoning.
If drawing is central to conceiving, it is also central to defining how that conception is managed as it moves from its initial stages through its actual development and realization as a material form. Drawings illustrate various aspects of the design process.
“Drawings are used by designers in their own thinking and design processes as a kind of internal conversations and as a way to record, test, and reflect on a design.” (Robbins, 1994, p. 5)

Fig. 3 – The idea generation and development stages through drawing


Drawings have been used for generations of designers. The use of sketches not only helps a great deal in starting the ideas generating process, it also enables high quality concepts to begin with as initial ideas. These ideas can be accessed, combined, selected and developed.

Fig. 4 – Charles Eames sketches of chairs (1943-46)

Drawing can be the key instrument of creation and control, also playing a critical role within the design process.
Nigel Cross states that “drawings are a key feature of the design process. At the early stages of the process (…) they are communications with oneself, a kind of thinking aloud.” and concludes: “The conceptual thinking processes of the designer are based on the development of the ideas through their external expression in sketches” (2005, pp. 9-20)
There are a number of ways of looking at design drawings. We can see them as a representations or a language, or even see what ideas each drawing embodies. To look at drawing in these ways certainly is critical to any understanding of what role it plays in the creative and communicative processes that design entails.
Tom Porter and Sue Goodman (1999) claim that in the wake of rapidly computer-graphics technology, drawing by hand remains undisturbed as the central activity in the process of design.
The impact of new materials and production processes, together with the changing nature of society and the alliance between technology and design, present designers with considerable challenges. (Sparke, 2004, p. 3)
Lawson states: “So important has drawing become in the design process that every contemporary design curriculum places considerable emphasys on the acquisition of skills in drawing. This is usually thought so important and basic that it invariably starts right in the very beginning of the course.”  (2004, p. 32)
According to Donald Norman, the recent profound changes in design nature, due to the contemporary historical context, justify an enlarged discussion on the important role played by drawing in design courses, adapted to the new paradigm. (Norman, 2010)

Fig. 5 – Mike Dutton’s sketches for a Google doodle. (2014)


The fact of using new technologies doesn’t invalidate the important role played by manual drawing, both at the initial stage of recording the first ideas and during their subsequent development and in the critical analysis of the different hypotheses.
Mike Rohde states: “Adding sketching to the design process is a great way to amplify software and hardware tools”  and concludes that the use of sketching in the designer’s creative process, reveals the central role drawing plays within the development of a design and the importance of drawing by hand, particularly in an age dominated by digital media. For Rohde, sketches can work like a visual thinking tool as a primary language for capturing thoughts, exploring ideas, and then sharing those ideas. “Sketching provides a unique space that can help you think differently, generate a variety of ideas quickly, explore alternatives with less risk, and encourage constructive discussions with colleagues and clients.” (Rohde, 2011)
Given the difficulties of project process as an ability to imagine what doesn’t exist, drawing appears to be the project tool that enables the idea to become visible. Drawing mediates between thought and action, expresses the thought by images that allow us to visualize the future conception.
To study drawing understood as a bearer and an intermediate of the idea and of the project, means to deepen its values in order to explore the multiple meanings contained in graphic language, understanding, directly, through the ‘reading’ of the drawing, the generating idea of the project.
Design is inseparable from project methodology, and drawing assumes itself as an indispensable tool in the design process. The issue focuses on the relationship between drawing and project, and the importance that drawing acquires in the conceptual act of the design project, as a booster instrument when registering the first ideas, and as verification of the several hypotheses.
Being aware of the complexity of project making as intellectual ability to imagine what doesn’t exist yet, drawing appears as the project tool that enables the possibility of making the idea visible. As the designer has to conceive and develop solutions for precise problems which may be of very different nature, drawing presents itself as an operative support for problems solving in the design conceptual process. Due to its operative characteristics, the importance of drawing assumes itself as a wide sense, providing the act of drawing with the ability of being a means with multiple resources and a basis for the conceptual process underlying the practice of design.
In a previous research (Moreira da Silva, 2010, p. 101) approaching the subject, we concluded that drawing accomplishes the most different objectives, such as:
·       a way to communicate;
·       a means of discovery;
·       a process of interiorization;
·       a graphic method of study;
·       an observation and registering process;
·       a research tool;
·       a privileged mean for the communication of ideas;
·       a link in the mental and creative process.
So, the importance of drawing assumes a broad sense, conferring to the act of drawing the ability to become a means of multiple resources to practice the discipline of design.
“Drawing today serves as a primary medium for generating, testing and recording an individual designer’s own creative and conceptual musings about a design.” (Robbins, 1994, p. 27)
In The Inexorable Rise of Drawing, an article that analyses contemporary thinking about drawing, Annabel Tilley, tray to identify the reasons why, nowadays, the drawing subject became so relevant. According to Tilley, this happens because “(…) we are still trying to define what it is, and, imagine what it might become.” Drawing interdisciplinary nature “has been acknowledge, while the tangible has given way to drawing’s recognized facility to allude to or describe the intangible way of articulating the inarticulate.” (Tilley, 2008)
Several authors have written about the importance of drawing in design methodology. Their general conclusion points drawing as an essential tool for design research, as it allows investigation of several alternative solutions in design process. (Lawson 2004; Cross 2005; Rohde, 2011)
The new information technologies offer the designer new ways, allowing him to save time and facilitating many of the daily practice tasks, even becoming indispensable in many work phases. However, they do not replace hand drawing, which continues to assume a ‘chameleon’ shape during the various historical periods, in a constant time adaptation, and, especially by incorporating a critical dimension in design’s conception process.


3. Conclusions

Despite the paradigm shift required by changing times, we believe that hand drawing remains inseparable from the designers training and professional practice, assuming an essential operating support in the project activity which continues being the design basis.
Various authors have written about the importance of hand drawing in the design process and several designers refer the permanence and the importance of sketching in their daily work.
Drawing presents itself as an operative support for problem solving and critical analyses in the design conceptual process.
Although technological development has created several tools and techniques of graphic representation, we can conclude about the importance of the hand drawing for the design creative process. Freehand drawing is used to facilitate the development of projects and show them more quickly and efficiently, and is an essential tool for any designer, regardless if he works in informational, graphic, product or fashion design areas.
In the future, design education should pass through a systematic approach to hand drawing in order to highlight and analyse the flexibility with which it adapts itself to various purposes, fulfilling effectively a wide range of intentions, in a constant and vital adaptation to the continuous changes in the teaching and in the practice of the student and of the designer, given the new techniques and technologies.
In order to validate this assumptions, the current post-doc research can constitute a contribution for the understanding of the importance of hand drawing’s permanence as the basis of the design conceptual process.



The author would like to acknowledge the support given by CIAUD – Research Center in Architecture, Urbanism and Design, FA/ULisboa, CITAD - Research Center in Territory, Architecture and Design, Lisbon Lusíada University, and FCT – Foundation for the Science and Technology, Portugal.
This paper was presented at Regional Helix 2016, and published exclusively at Convergences.


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Reference According to APA Style, 5th edition:
Silva, A. (2017) Drawing Within the Design Process. Convergências - Revista de Investigação e Ensino das Artes , VOL X (19)