Skip to main content

Sketching across design domains: Roles and formalities

  • Claudia Eckert (a1), Alan Blackwell (a2), Martin Stacey (a3), Christopher Earl (a1) and Luke Church (a2)...

To complement studies on design sketching within particular phases of design processes in specific design domains, this paper analyzes descriptions of design processes given by designers from a wide variety of fields. This research forms part of a wider project on comparisons across design domains and draws attention to the many types and properties of sketches in different contexts. Further, it focuses on the multiple roles that sketching can take in idea generation, as well as in reasoning and communicating design ideas. In particular this paper examines how the different types and roles of sketches can be more or less formal and how this can lead to misunderstandings.

Hide All
Bertin J. (1983). Semiology of Graphics: Diagrams, Networks, Maps [Sémiologie graphique: les diagrammes, les réseaux, les cartes] (Berg W.J., Trans). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Black A. (1990). Visible planning on paper and on screen: the impact of working medium on decision-making by novice graphic designers. Behaviour and Information Technology 9(4), 283.
Blackwell A.F. (2011). Visual representation. In Encyclopedia of Human–Computer Interaction. Accessed February 1, 2011, at
Blackwell A.F., Church L., Plimmer B., & Gray D. (2008). Formality in sketches and visual representation: Some informal reflections. In Sketch Tools for Diagramming (Plimmer B., & Hammond T., Eds.), workshop at VL/HCC 2008, pp. 1118.
Blackwell A.F., Eckert C.M., Bucciarelli L.L., & Earl C.F. (2009). Witnesses to design: a phenomenology of comparative design. Design Issues 25(1), 3647.
Blackwell A.F., & Green T.R.G. (2003). Notational systems—the cognitive dimensions of notations framework. In HCI Models, Theories and Frameworks: Toward a Multidisciplinary Science (Carroll J.M., Ed.), pp. 103134. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann.
Blackwell A.F., Hewson R.L., & Green T.R.G. (2003). Product design to support user abstractions. In Handbook of Cognitive Task Design (Hollnagel E., Ed.), pp. 525545. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Bly S.A. (1988). A use of drawing surfaces in different collaborative settings. Proc. CSCW'88, pp. 250–256. Portland, OR: ACM Press.
Boujut J.-F., & Blanco E. (2003). Intermediary objects as a means to foster co-operation in engineering design. Computer Supported Cooperative Work 12, 205219.
Bresciani S., Blackwell A.F., & Eppler M. (2008). A collaborative dimensions framework: understanding the mediating role of conceptual visualizations in collaborative knowledge work. Proc. 41st Hawaii Int. Conf. System Sciences (HICCS 08), pp. 180–189. New York: IEEE Computer Society Press.
Bucciarelli L.L. (1994). Designing Engineers. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Carlile P.R. (2002). A pragmatic view of knowledge and boundaries: boundary objects in new product development. Organization Science 13, 442455.
Church L.E., & Blackwell A.F. (2011, March). Computation, visualisation and critical reflection. Proc. Visualisation in the Age of Computerisation, pp. 33 and 46. Available at
DeLahunta S., McGregor W., & Blackwell A.F. (2004). Transactables. Performance Research 9(2), 6772.
Do E.Y.-L. (2002). Drawing marks, acts and reacts: towards a computational sketching interface for architectural design. Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing 16, 147171.
Downie M. (2008). Field—a new environment for making digital art. Computers in Entertainment 6(4), Article 54.
Eckert C.M. (2001). The communication bottleneck in knitwear design: analysis and computing solutions. Computer Supported Cooperative Work 10(1), 2974.
Eckert C.M., Blackwell A.D., Bucciarelli L.L., & Earl C.F. (2010). Shared conversations across design. Design Issues 26(3), 2739.
Eckert C.M., & Stacey M.K. (2000). Sources of inspiration: a language of design. Design Studies 21(5), 523538.
Engelhardt Y. (2002). The language of graphics. A framework for the analysis of syntax and meaning in maps, charts and diagrams. PhD Thesis. University of Amsterdam.
Ferguson E.S. (1992). Engineering and the Mind's Eye. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Finke R.A. (1990). Creative Imagery: Discoveries and Inventions in Visualization. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Goel V. (1995). Sketches of Thought. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Goldschmidt G. (1991). The dialectics of sketching. Creativity Research Journal 4, 123143.
Goldschmidt G. (1994). On visual design thinking: the vis kids of architecture. Design Studies 15, 158174.
Goldschmidt G. (1996). The designer as a team of one. In Analysing Design Activity (Cross N.G., Christiaans H.H.C.M., & Dorst K., Eds.), pp. 6591. Chichester: Wiley.
Goldschmidt G. (2003). The backtalk of self-generated sketches. Design Issues 19(1), 7288.
Green T. R. G. (1989) Cognitive dimensions of notations. In People and Computers V (Sutcliffe A., & Macaulay L., Eds.), pp. 443460. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Green T.R.G., & Petre M. (1996). Usability analysis of visual programming environments: a ‘cognitive dimensions’ approach. Journal of Visual Languages and Computing 7, 131174.
Henderson K. (1991). Flexible sketches and inflexible databases: visual communication, conscription devices, and boundary objects in design engineering. Science, Technology, & Human Values 16, 448473.
Henderson K. (1999). On Line and on Paper: Visual Representations, Visual Culture, and Computer Graphics in Design Engineering. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Hendry D.G. (2004). Communication functions and the adaptation of design representations in interdisciplinary teams. Proc. 5th Conf. Designing Interactive Systems, pp. 123132. Cambridge, MA: ACM.
Hisarciklilar O., & Boujut J.-F. (2009). An annotation model to reduce ambiguity in design communication. Research in Engineering Design 20, 171184.
Heylighen F. (1999). Advantages and limitations of formal expression. Foundations of Science 4, 2556.
Hollands K., Wing A., & Daffertshofer A. (2004). Principal components in contemporary dance movements. Proc. Society for Neuroscience Conf., pp. 23–27, San Diego, CA.
Herold J., & Stahovich T.F. (2011). Using speech to identify gesture pen strokes in collaborative, multimodal device descriptions. Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing 25, 237254.
Katz A.N. (1983). What does it mean to be a high imager? In Imagery, Memory and Cognition: Essays in Honor of Allan Paivio (Yuille J.C., Ed.), pp. 3963. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Ko A.J., Abraham R., Beckwith L., Blackwell A.F., Burnett M., Erwig M., Lawrence J., Lieberman H., Myers B., Rosson M.-B., Rothermel G., Scaffidi C., Shaw M., & Wiedenbeck S. (2011). The state of the art in end-user software engineering. ACM Computing Surveys 43(3), Article 21.
Love T. (2002). Constructing a coherent cross-disciplinary body of theory about designing and designs: some philosophical issues. Design Studies 23(3), 345361.
McFadzean J., Cross N.G., & Johnson J.H. (1999). Notation and cognition in conceptual sketching. Proc. VR'99, Visual and Spatial Reasoning in Design. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Macomber B., & Yang M.C. (2011). The role of sketch finish and style in user responses to early stage design concepts. Proc. 2011 ASME Int. Design Engineering Technical Conf., Paper No. DETC2011-48714. Washington, DC: ASME.
Minneman S.L. (1991). The social construction of a technical reality: empirical studies of group engineering design practice. PhD Thesis. Stanford University, Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Morand D.A. (1995). The role of behavioral formality and informality in the enactment of bureaucratic versus organic organizations. Academy of Management Review 20, 831872.
Neilson I., & Lee J. (1994). Conversations with graphics: implications for the design of natural language/graphics interfaces. International Journal of Human–Computer Studies 40, 509541.
Olofsson E., & Sjölén K. (2005). Design Sketching. Sundsvall, Sweden: Keeos Design Books.
Pache M., Römer A., Lindemann U., & Hacker W. (2001). Re-interpretation of conceptual design sketches in mechanical engineering. Proc. 2001 ASME Design Engineering Technical Conf., Paper No. DETC2001-21711. Washington, DC: ASME.
Pei E., Campbell I.R., & Evans M.A. (2010). Development of a tool for building shared representations among industrial designers and engineering designers. CoDesign 6, 139166.
Pei E., Campbell I.R., & Evans M.A. (2011). A taxonomic classification of visual design representations used by industrial designers and engineering designers. Design Journal 14, 6491.
Prats M., Earl C.F, Garner S., & Jowers I. (2006). Shape exploration of designs in a style: towards generation of product designs, Artificial Intelligence in Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing 20, 201215.
Purcell A.T., & Gero J.S. (1998). Drawings and the design process. Design Studies 19, 389430.
Reymen I.M.M.J. (2001). Improving design processes through structured reflection: a domain-independent approach. PhD Thesis. Technische Universiteit Eindhoven.
Schön D.A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books.
Schön D.A., & Wiggins G. (1992). Kinds of seeing and their function in designing. Design Studies 13, 135156.
Schütze M., Sachse P., & Römer A. (2003). Support value of sketching in the design process. Research in Engineering Design 14, 8997.
Searle J.R. (1969). Speech Acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Shannon C.E., & Weaver W. (1949). The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Song S., & Agogino A.M. (2004). Insights on designers' sketching activities in product design teams. Proc. 2004 ASME Design Engineering Technical Conf., Paper No. DETC2004-57474. Washington, DC: ASME.
Stacey M.K., & Eckert C.M. (2003). Against ambiguity. Computer Supported Cooperative Work 12, 153183.
Stacey M.K., Eckert C.M., & McFadzean J. (1999). Sketch interpretation in design communication. Proc. 12th Int. Conf. Engineering Design, Vol. 2, pp. 923–928. Lafayette, CO: WDK.
Star S.L., & Griesemer J. (1989). Institutional ecology, ‘translations’ and boundary objects: amateurs and professionals on Berkeley's museum of vertebrate zoology. Social Studies of Science 19, 387420.
Tang J.C. (1989). Listing, drawing and gesturing in design: a study of the use of shared workspaces by design teams, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center Report SSL-89-3. PhD Thesis. Stanford University, Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Tang J.C. (1991). Findings from observational studies of collaborative work. International Journal of Man–Machine Studies 34, 143160.
Tang J.C., & Leifer L. (1988). A framework for understanding the workspace activity of design teams. Proc. CSCW'88, pp. 226–232. Portland, OR: ACM Press.
Ullman D.G., Wood S., & Craig D. (1990). The importance of drawing in the mechanical design process. Computers & Graphics 14, 263274.
Van der Lugt R. (2005). How sketching can affect the idea generation process in design group meetings. Design Studies 26, 101122.
Weber M. (1947). The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (Henderson A.M., & Parsons T., Trans.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Yang M.C. (2009). Observations on concept generation and sketching in engineering design. Research in Engineering Design 20, 111.
Yang M.C., & Cham J.G. (2007). An analysis of sketching skill and its role in early stage engineering design. Journal of Mechanical Design 129, 476482.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0890-0604
  • EISSN: 1469-1760
  • URL: /core/journals/ai-edam
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 1
Total number of PDF views: 32 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 221 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 18th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.