Thinking Through The Pencil: The Primacy Of Drawing In The Design Thinking Process

Pattie Belle Hastings
Chair of Interactive Media + Design
School of Communications
Quinnipiac University

The research and ideation phases of the Design Thinking process typically incorporate forms of drawing, which can include thumbnails, sketches, comprehensives, wire frames, mind maps, storyboards, paper prototypes, and collaborative methods. It is from this collection of visualized ideas that a design project moves forward toward implementation. The basic purposes of design drawing can be summarized as generating, visualizing, documenting, collaborating, and analyzing. I’ve broken this down into three main drawing and thinking practices:

  1. thinking of and through ideas

This includes visualizing and recording ideas to externalize and convey the process of thinking. The goal for this kind of drawing is for idea generation and exploration. The best approach is to start with deep research and then freeform brainstorming of ideas on paper in which quantity is pursued in order to reach quality.

  1. thinking to improve ideas

Once the flow of ideas begins to form on the page, the processes of analysis, comparison, iteration, elaboration, reflection, and development can begin. Sometimes generation and analysis occurs simultaneously and sometimes it is successive. Reflection on the drawings reveals relationships, strengths and weaknesses that allow for refinement, reduction, and reiteration.

  1. thinking about ideas with others

Design drawings are often created for the purpose of collaboration, communication, and conversation. They are used to explain ideas to others and to engage discussion around the project or problem. Through their ephemeral nature, design drawings convey an idea that is in process not completion, which invites reflection, responses, criticisms, and alternatives.

This framing of “design drawing,” grounded in ideation, iteration and development, will be the foundation used to gather case studies, best practices, in addition to visual libraries of examples and methods. Another broad and hopeful goal of this research is the creation of a drawing curriculum and handbook for introducing and integrating “design drawing” methods into interaction design programs.