Why Drawing is (Still) Important

It’s day two of orientation at AC4D, and our students are learning how to draw. Matt and Pat are showing them how to sketch lines, boxes, circles, and people; it’s all Expo on whiteboard, and the focus is on fast, loose communication. Given that I’ve been a proponent of moving beyond historic representations of craft in design education (layout, composition, typography, color theory), it might seem strange to have such a focus placed on hand-skills. But there are a few fundamental reasons we’re focusing so much on sketching.

  1. A sketch, sketched publicly, is persuasive. When you draw in front of other people, they get to “go along for the ride”, and this helps them feel some degree of ownership in the output. This means that they’ll be more likely to advocate for your ideas and support them, because they feel a personal connection to the process that spawned the ideas.
  2. “Owning” the whiteboard is one of the fastest ways to gain control of a room. It establishes focus. It forces an agenda (“We’re talking about this and not that, see?”), and more importantly, allows you to deliver on that agenda. Holding the pen is to hold the power of most rooms; it is to hold the definitive source of truth, or the “last word”.
  3. Sketching is the fastest form of visual thinking. I can create a sketch of a complex system in the amount of time it takes Adobe Creative Suite to complain about needing to be upgraded; pen on whiteboard is a medium that allows ideas to be captured before they dissipate, before they have a chance to be judged as “not worth it.”
  4. The ability to sketch what someone else is saying is fundamental to participatory design practice. As we strive to integrate “end users” into our design process through forms of co-design, we often need to act as the output mechanism for people who are too shy or unwilling to be publicly creative. Sketching is a critical part of that process.

Here’s some shots of the work in action.