Design drawing

From WikID

When you enter a design studio you will find out that drawing by hand is an integral part of the decision-making process, used in the early stages of design, in brainstorm sessions, in the phase of researching and exploring concepts, and in presentation. Drawing has proved to be a versatile and powerful tool for exploring and for communicating. (see: Sketching, Eissen 2007).


Figure 1

Explorative drawing enables the designer to analyse visually and to generate and evaluate ideas throughout the entire product design cycle, and especially in the synthesis phase.

That also includes:

  • Analysing and exploring the perimeters of the problem definition
  • Using drawings as a starting point for new ideas, by means of association
  • Exploring shapes and their meaning, function and aesthetics
  • Analysing and structuring principle solutions and visualising structural and formal concepts (see Fish trap model).

Hand drawing is also beneficial to the development of the designer’s visual perception, his or her imaginative capacities and perceptiveness of form in general.


Figure 2

Next to verbal explanation, a designer also uses drawing to interact and communicate with several groups of people, with different levels of understanding of professional jargon:

  • Fellow-designers or team members
  • Model makers
  • Marketing managers
  • Clients and contractors
  • Public offices.

Effective Drawings

Figure 3

The significance of a drawing depends on the context in which it is made. A drawing serves its purpose when it is efficient. Therefore a certain phase in the design process may require a certain type of drawing. Time is an issue and in many cases, a quick, suggestive sketch is preferable to a more time-consuming rendering.

For generating and evaluating ideas, hand drawing is more versatile than CAD rendering and prototyping. A rendering can look very definite and unchangeable, which is not appropriate, for example, when a studio is still conferring with its client about design directions and possibilities. A (brainstorm) sketch can also easily be upgraded into a more presentable drawing, on paper or digitally by using a tablet and e.g. Adobe Photoshop or Corel Painter.

Early Phase

Figure 4

In the early phase of the design process, drawing tends to be simple: basic shapes or configurations, (grey) shading and casting shadows (figure 1). This kind of drawing incorporates the basic skills and rules of perspective, construction of 3D shapes, shading and constructing cast shadows (figure 2). Colour is not always used and very often this kind of drawing will suffice for idea sketching or structural concepts (fig. 2, and see Fish trap model).

Preliminary Concept Sketching

Figure 5

When several ideas are combined to develop preliminary concepts, the designer has a general idea about the materials being used, the shape, its function and how it is manufactured. Colour and expression of the materials (e.g. matt or reflective plastic) become more important and drawings become more elaborate. (figure 3) Side-view sketching can be a quick and easier way of making variations in shape, colour, details, etc. (figure 4).

Mixed Media

With a PC and tablet the designer can easily adjust colour and shading in the (scanned) drawing and add textures or the brand name. Computer sketching also has some advantages. It can speed up the drawing and enhance the designer’s eye-hand coordination and muscular movement. A relatively new explorative medium in generating ideas is called Intuitive Sketching (van den Herik and Eissen, 2005). This method uses a simple doodle as a starting point (figure 5), as a means to break free from conditioning, to express feeling without hindrance, and to expand your visual language.

By combining or integrating several drawings with other types of images (figure 6a and b), layers of information can be presented in a coherent way and a suitable context can be provided: the meaning of the product, user environment, etc.

Figure 6a
Figure 6b

Material Concept Sketching or Preliminary Design

When concepts become definitive, when you want to explore or explain how different manufactured parts are assembled, or when you are communicating with an engineer, choosing an exploded view is effective (figure 7). Side-view drawings for exact dimensions, detail drawings, ‘ghost’ view or shaded cross-sections can also be very useful in communication. Drawings of user interaction can serve to get feedback from users, prior to the testing of prototypes (figure 8).

Figure 7
Figure 8

References and Further Reading

  • Eissen, J.J., van Kuijk, E. and de Wolf, P. (1984) Produkt Presentatietechnieken, Delft: DUP.
  • Eissen, J.J. and Steur, R. (2007) Sketching: Drawing Techniques for Product Designers, BIS Publishers.
  • Van den Herik, Y. and Eissen J.J. (2005) Intuitive sketching: a new and explorative medium in generating ideas, CAID&CD’ Delft 2005: applications of digital techniques in industrial design engineering. pp. 708-713. Beijing: International Academic Publishers
  • (retrieved May 2009).
  • see also


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