How should we teach sketching for design?


What is needed regards sketching for this subject?

It’s a really different skill set to those needed for graph viz - it’s more about the skills for representing concepts rather than formal skills.

Here are some videos made by @aj.scott - do you have further advice?

Design teacher sketching techniques:

Design teacher sketching tools and media:

Design teacher sketching ideation:


I’d like to find short videos that discuss ideation sketching and visualisation from the perspective of a wide range of design disciplines and traditions. The videos I’ve made so far are, I believe, broadly applicable but it’s hard for me to avoid using products in the examples. I’m keen to find introductory-level content that addresses other traditions:

  • fashion
  • architecture and interior design
  • landscape architecture
  • graphic design
  • interaction design


I really like this youtube channel “linescapes” which has some nice commentary on the value of thinking by sketching for architects


“There is no such thing as a bad sketch.” I like it.


So, kind of related to this, I have heard a few teachers saying “I’m terrible at sketching but I’m supposed to be teaching design - isn’t that a problem?”. Or variations along the theme of “this subject terrifies me because I can’t draw”.

The best reply that I’ve heard to this has been “if you can play pictionary then you can draw well enough to design”. The point being that if you can sketch well enough to convey ideas then you’re able to teach design.

Having said that, a few tips and tricks (as in the videos above, or as can be learnt in all kinds of PD) can do wonders for improving someone’s ability to convey ideas using sketching, and go a long way to improving confidence. They’re the kind of tips and tricks that are good to be able to share with students too.


For teachers looking to improve their skills in this space I think it’s worth noting theres a big difference in style and reason between design sketching and artistic / illustrative sketching. I think Andrew makes the point well in his video’s… Whilst artist / art teachers can show us a thing or two about sketching - Design Sketching is a different school of thought.


I think what’s interesting about design sketching is that it’s easier than artistic sketching. It takes considerable skill to draw what the eye sees instead of what the brain interprets. An artist drawing a still life must work hard to draw the geometry of what they actually see (3) instead of what they understand (2).

design sketching

The designer has it easier, in a sense, since they’re interested in the ideas behind what they see. The hard bit, and the skill, is in taking the ideas beyond what already exists.

This is why design sketches doen’t need to be beautiful, just useful.


I loved hearing the part where you recommended sketching in pen rather than pencil. I had a student who was a mid range SA (current Graphics syllabus) in year 11 who had fantastic sketching skills. I noted that the high quality of her sketching was actually impeding her idea development and refinement. I encouraged her to move to pen, much to her frustration, however she was able to unleash her ideas and improved 2 levels of achievement to exit with a solid VHA at the end of Year 12.


I am working on a new style of mechanical drawing. It incorporates the concept of iterations into sketching. Basically, it is similar to the process of modeling in Fusion 360 but drawn of paper. The idea is a work in progress but I think it has potential.


Hi Ashton, can you share some examples with us? Thanks


Hi Nick,

It is a work in practice so feel free to add to or comment on the idea.
My rationale is that most students say, we make models so easily on a computer, why do we have to draw on paper. Which is not true but has some merit. It reflects the way we teach drawing. As if computers didn’t exist.

Taking that in to consideration, why not teach drawing in a way which leads to using a computer. Well in part. I love drawing for the sake of drawing but having a mixed background I can see the benefits of a new approach.

Iterations are the key. Not using an eraser means drawing lots of iterations. Getting away from Art which is taught badly IMO.


The architect Emad Zand has some interesting YouTube posts where he uses everyday objects to create a series of shapes that he forms architectural designs from. I have shown students and discussed how sketching can be broken down into simple shapes that relate together. We looked at how these shapes can be built upon to create more complex designs.



found this today and thought it might be useful


Thanks for the suggestion, I watched this video and found it pretty inspiring (as it probably would be for teachers and students alike!)


Very interesting ideas, @ashton_simmonds!

Your post highlights that were still on the frontier of digital visualisation for design. There’s lots of room for experimentation. Please keep sharing!

Your photo shows a bound sketchbook. Have you tried using unbound pages to make it easy for students to iterate via tracing their earlier sketches?

Some thoughts: a huge advantage of sketching during the design process, especially in the first half of the project, is the ambiguity that freehand sketching affords. Firstly, you don’t need to nail down every detail to get the gist of an idea, evaluate, and move on to another iteration. Secondly, you often discover new ideas within that ambiguity which then further fuels the exploration process.

With digital modelling, CAD, etc., precision is part of the package which sometimes forces you to be more exact or specific than you’re ready for in the early stages of a design. This means taking more time to digitally ‘sketch out’ the concept before you’re able to evaluate it. Early-stage design ideas haven’t earned the investment of this much effort in many cases. This can lead to exploration of only a few ideas because of the time-costs of doing so.

Of course every visualisation tool imposes a bias that’s dependent on the user’s skill. Students are more likely to explore design solutions that are easy to visualise in the medium they’re using. For example:

  • using a ruler a set squares will encourage straight lines and 30º and 60º angles
  • software such as SketchUp! makes rectilinear forms easy (and fun) but organic shapes, compound curves, and so on are more difficult
  • plasticine encourages organic shapes but not rectilinear ones

I think it’s useful to encourage the use of a wide array of visualisation tools (paper sketching, physical model making, CAD, etc.) and be conscious of the strengths and weaknesses of each. The wise designer switches tools as the flow of ideas demands.


This is a great video on sketching techniques for interaction design or user experience design:


Hi everyone, I found these for my Year 10 students, they are some great demos for inspiration, I put the links up and let the students attempt to draw from them.

I also love Anton Ruckman’s tutorials that are available here

Personally, however, I think that getting references from here suite our curricula better as they align to the stages that we are going through with our students. @andrew_scott, thank you!