non-formatted version of paper for CAIDCD 2005:




Yvonne van den Herik    Koos Eissen


Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology


ABSTRACT: Computer sketching technique is a relatively new freehand medium, which allows not only fast and radical changes while drawing, but has also turned out to be a powerful tool in exploring new directions based on intuition. Design education and design practice show that when designers (or students) are looking for new design directions immediate interaction with their design proposal as well as direct and continuous tuning to vision will benefit the search.

Trying to anticipate on developments within design and looking at today‘s practice in both design and education, we see a focus on emotion, engagement and experience in human-product interaction. Our new method seems to fit in that focus very well, because emotions and personal feelings have to be implemented from the start.

This paper presents the results of the intuitive way of sketching, that has been employed in developing the curriculum of Design Drawing Techniques. The method is part of the course Computer Sketching, an elective course in the Master program of the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology.


KEYWORDS: freehand computer sketching, intuition, open-minded challenge, visual-spatial thinking, generating ideas, creativity.



In recent and near future practice of competitive design, it is admittedly of great importance for a designer to sketch in a quick and adequate way. Time and quality of sketches are not only dependent of drawing materials and tools and the knowledge, skills and experience of the designer, but are also defined by insight and vision in the design process. Over the last years the drawing methods developed and taught by specialised teachers in Design Drawing Techniques of the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology, show a relative shift in emphasis from expert-generated knowledge and skills [1] to design process-facilitating knowledge and skills [2].

A well-drawn sketch is not only communicating the idea(s) of a designer in a clear, suggestive and effective way, but also has to be a strong and open-minded tool while exploring the design space. Open-minded challenge and intuition are keywords in today’s sketching practice. Intuitive sketching is a way of exploring shapes and forms, where the limits are defined by creativity.

The Computer Sketching course has greatly influenced the research in intuitive sketching. Computer Sketching is an elective course implemented in the curriculum of the Master program and based on the newest developments in 2D drawing media. With a Wacom drawing tablet and 2D software (Painter) you can make a freehand drawing on the computer screen, suggesting various traditional drawing materials with an electronic pressure-sensitive pen.

In this paper the last results of this course are shown and the newest ideas and insights are presented and illustrated with sketches from design drawing practice.



Drawing an idea on a piece of paper appeals to our experience of seeing a three-dimensional form in a two-dimensional way, the so-called perspective way of seeing [1]. Everybody can learn to draw, to a certain extent, three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface. It is a visual language with its own vocabulary and grammar. There are clear rules in perspective as well as clear directives for proportions and colour and suggestion of material. You need to practice to master the skills involved, however. It is essential to train and refine your motor skills continually, which is comparable with the steady training of motor skills when you were learning to write the alphabet as a child.

By profoundly and gradually studying and improving the methods of drawing and sketching the Design Drawing Techniques in the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, has developed a successful and well approved educational program.


2.1 Visual-spatial thinking

Verbal and analytical ways of thinking are predominantly developed and needed in our western education, in fact most learning methods appeal particularly to this way of thinking. Even in Industrial Design Engineering, with its highly visual and tactile character, the main language is verbal and most methods used in the courses demand mainly rational and sequential learning styles. Most people also have visual and intuitive talents. These talents are especially needed for designers and refer to a more holistic and global way of thinking [3].

In ongoing research this is recognised and in specific fields has already lead to specific tools and methods for design education. Empirical studies of van der Lugt, for example, show how the process of ‘brainsketching’ differs from the process of brainstorming [4].


Terms like ‘visual thinking’ and ‘visual imagery’ [5] [6], mostly used in studies on the design process, do not entirely include our experience with making design drawings. We have searched for another term and found the ‘visual-spatial learner’, coined by Silverman (1981) to describe the capacities of people who think in images [7]. This visual-spatial thinking is what we refer to, when we are talking about the visual-spatial thinking you need for both designing and drawing.


2.2 Intuitive sketching as tool for idea-generation

At the very start of an idea-generation phase one may have virtually no idea what to draw. Sometimes there is even no representation of any shape in mind.

There are different ways to start a drawing.

If one starts sketching some ‘basic’ sort of shape, this basic shape is more or less directing your idea-generating process. It fixes in a certain way the possible thoughts following on seeing your own drawing. In fact it can restrain or at least direct, the idea generating and this is absolutely not desirable, in case you want something totally new or different (from the familiar forms you have in memory).


Figure 1. Example of starting a drawing with a basic shape, in this case two lying cylinders.





Figure 2. Two idea-sketches for a viewer, both results of starting with cylindrical shapes.




If one starts sketching a contour instead of a basic-like shape (see fig 3. on the next page), there is more freedom in developing and changing the form: one can postpone the decision and stay for a longer time in a vague sort of form definition and suggestion, so that the drawing itself can lead you more then your memory of drawings or then the forms you’ve made or seen before.


On a ‘traditional’ piece of paper and with the ‘traditional’ drawing materials, this relatively free way of drawing has its limits in the amount of possible changes. You can’t erase a dark marker colour or ‘undo’ an action in the drawing process as easily and fast as with the digital tools.

With the computer as medium there seem to be no limits at all in making freehand drawings.

Moreover, while experimenting with this marvellous freedom in drawing and designing, we discovered a real new and powerful possibility in exploring new forms.



Figure 3. Examples of starting with a contour show the different forms you can make within this contour. The different cross-section-lines (in the left line-drawings), chosen within the contour, lead to different colouring and shading options and so to different form suggestions.


2.3 Freehand drawing, functions and what’s new

A powerful function of freehand drawing, is that you become more and more acquainted with a visual subject. It forces you to look closer and more profound to form, proportions, construction, certain details and all you will not see when you look superficially. This turns out to be very useful in analysing design. In our curriculum this method is the main point in the first year’s project ‘Exploring Form’ [8].


The most well-known function of making freehand drawings is to extend your memory. You don’t want to forget a (visual) idea that is coming up to your mind, so you need to record it in a ‘napkin sketch’.

A freehand drawing is also a way to express, to show externally, the visual thought(s) that you have in mind, so that you can present and communicate them. The expression, that is generating an image that you can really ‘see’, gives you the additional opportunity to reflect on it yourself; more easily, better and further on than just in your imagination [9]. You can change the image, make variations on the form or colour or whatever needed, compare the variations or different phases to each other and, by doing so, you can develop the visual thought from first idea to a more well-considered idea. It’s like an interactive ‘conversation’ with your drawing [10].


All functions and objects mentioned above are examples of thinking of drawings as a result of an action of mind. Intuitive sketching, functioning in the new drawing method we found, is about drawing as an action of mind itself.

We consider thinking itself as being visual. Drawing is thinking in a visual way.

That insight in fact is not new, but never before it is practised in one of our drawing courses in the methodical way we now offer. In education there has always been verbal language in addition, to explain, to cover. Because there are also many rational aspects which can be told in words while drawing or while learning to draw.

Trying to anticipate on developments within design and looking at today’s practice in both design and education, we see more and more focus on emotion, engagement and experience in human-product interaction. The new method, presented in the next section, seems to fit in that focus very well.



Computer Sketching is an elective course for all Master students, but especially dedicated for the Master programs ‘Integrated Product Design’ and ‘Design for Interaction’. The method we introduce in this paper, is one of the assignments within the program. The Computer Sketching exercises are done in small groups of 11 students and a specialised teacher in a computer studio with a special arrangement of 12 Wacom A4-sized drawing tablets and the use of 2D software (Painter). The instruction is based on making design proposals instantly mixed with a variety of awareness drawing exercises. Awareness of design history, exercising several points of view, visual appearances of materials and challenging to draw emotional aspects of products (accessibility, speed, elegance, comfort, affordability) are most important in the drawing course. Required are the knowledge and the skills of ‘ID-Drawing 1, 2 and 3’, the obligatory drawing subjects in the Bachelor program.


3.1 How does it work?

The method includes three steps:

1. Make a more or less meaningless doodle. This meaningless shape is the start of your drawing.

Figure 4a. The first step: a doodle.


2. Looking at this form you will lead your movement spontaneously through the lines and surfaces in the doodle. What do you see in this form? Try to ‘pull’ that out of the form and try to use it as inspiration.


Figure 4b. A possible next step.


By doing so the form changes in a direction, which was not known in advance. It’s very important not to reflect yet: don’t think of what you are doing or what it will be in the end. So try to switch off your intellectual faculties like rational, verbal, logical and sequential thinking or capacities. Just act, look in a global way, react intuitively. React visually in a direct and motorically sensed and guided way. Just play with the shape, in an abstract and direct way. This step requires great concentration.


Figure 4c. The arrows in the top picture are showing some ‘visual-thinking’ drawing actions: adding airbrush colour in left (side-) surface, adding white airbrush stroke (suggestion of rounding), erasing at the top (contours of top surface) and at the bottom left (suggestion of contour of casting shadow).


Figure 4d. The ‘last’ step, just before the ‘forced-fit’ can take place.


3. After a while, there is a moment that you can’t stop interpreting what is growing. The designer ‘sees’ a real form, a suggestion of an object, more or less ‘specified’ in 3D. At that moment the form has to be directed to a specific product, with a specific function and specific details (for example a viewer). This step is related to the ‘forced fit’ step in synectics [11].


3.2 The difference in impact of a meaningless and a emotive start

Exploring the method the designers noticed that they mostly add, wittingly or unwittingly, a feeling or emotion to the doodle. A real meaningless doodle in fact doesn’t exist. Instead of aiming at a doodle which is more or less meaningless, like a Rorschach ink blot, it is better to explore the impact and usefulness of the emotion, that is unwittingly added to the doodle.

Different persons, with different characters and / or in different moods, seem to make different doodles. The forms coming out of these different doodles seem to keep in a way the character or mood of the drawer. It’s more or less like a signature.





Figure 5. Examples of viewers as results of exploring the method with a different signature (the two drawings on the previous page) and with an emotive start (drawings above).


Much more interesting is adding the emotion or feeling on purpose. By adding an emotion intentionally, this technique turned out to be a method to work up emotions and feelings in an abstract way and to involve them from the first step in an idea generating process.




Our main professional interest is in visual spatial thinking in intuitive sketching as a method in the design process. For that reason further empirical and participating research imbedded in the design- and education practice is needed. In our opinion it has no use to separate the method from the designer, nor to exclude the personal feelings.

During the course Computer Sketching in the past few years, we’ve already found that there is a great difference in the drawing results, as you can see in the drawings of students in fig 6.

On account of these differences, we assume that the drawings can lead to an improvement in quantity as well as quality, if using it as a brainstorm method.



Figure 6. Three viewers drawn with the intuitive sketching method by different students; mind the great differences, in comparison with the viewers started from two lying cylinders.


Conclusions can be drawn, based on the results in the course:

Š       There will be a great difference in the idea-generation process started from a ‘meaningless’ doodle, as compared to a starting form, which has already a certain basic shape, more or less characteristic for the product to be designed;

Š       There will be more variation in forms, when drawing from the same starting point, if it is a ‘meaningless’ doodle, than if it has a certain basic shape, more or less characteristic for the product to be designed;

Š       The method is especially suitable for setting yourself free in idea generating phases or for what is called ‘revolutionary’ design;

Š       It is a supplementary method for all designers, irrespective innate or acquired learning styles or strategies;

Š       The method is especially interesting for visual-spatial thinking designers.


As this method is strongly related to other recent developments in design practice and design education, it will be interesting to explore both existing and possible links with these developments. In the first place with Automotive Design, now an elective course, in which students already apply the computer sketching techniques, but in the near future a specialisation in the Master program ‘Integrated Product Design’.



The intuitive sketching method turned out to be a challenging and inspiring tool for visual spatial thinking in a direct way. It enables the designer to freely intervene in a drawing, while exploring a form in an idea generating process. The experience of people who have worked with the method has demonstrated that it offers a supplementary and intuitively based visual approach for designers.






Figure 7. Another example of the method: step 1, 2, 3, 4, …. and the last one.



[1]    Eissen J.J., Kuijk E. van, Wolf P. de. Product presentation drawing techniques, Delft University Press; 1984 (fifth print 1994): 48-63.

[2]     Eissen J.J. The computer sketch: an additional drawing technique in the preliminary stages of the design process, Conference proceedings of the 30th International Symposium on Automotive Technology and Automation (ISATA), Automotive Automotion Limited, Croydon; 1997: 235-241.

[3]     Muller W. Order and Meaning in Design, Lemma, Utrecht, Netherlands; 2001.

[4]     Van der Lugt R. Brainsketching and how it differs from brainstorming, Creativity and Innovation Management, 2002; 11 (1): 43-54.

[5]     Arnheim R. Visual thinking, Berkeley: University of California Press; 1969.

[6]     McKim R.H. Experiences in Visual Thinking, Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole; 1972.

[7]     Silverman L.K. Upside-Down brilliance: The visual-spatial learner, Denver, CO: Delton; 2002.

[8]    Unauthorized publication, in Dutch: Leren kijken naar vorm, handleiding 1e jrs project, Industrial Design, Delft University of Technology, Delft; 2003.

[9]     Verstijnen I.M. Sketches of Creative Discovery, A Psychological Inquiry into the Role of Imagery and Sketching in Creative Discovery, Thesis, Delft University of Technology, Delft; 1997.

[10]   Schoen, D. A. & Wiggins, G. Kinds of seeing and their functions in designing, Design Studies, 1992; 13 (2): 135-156.

[11]   Gordon W.J.J. Synectics, The development of creative capacity, New York, Harper and Row; 1961.