Designers Who Don’t Draw: An Investigation into Sketch Inhibition among Undergraduate Designers




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


Sketch inhibition in undergraduate designers is a phenomenon widely acknowledged by educators, yet one garnering little attention from the academy. Defined as a reluctance or inability to use sketching effectively, it impacts negatively upon design ideation and the representation, evaluation and communication of information essential for successful design. The uniqueness of sketching was confirmed by the study; as a personalised icon-based language, a method of cognitive support for mental imagery and a tool for analysis. Ideation - the combination of intrinsically linked micro-activities within mental imagery and their representation - relies upon effective offloading of the working memory, the sketch being an irreplaceable tool for this purpose. Sketch inhibition is a complex behavioural phenomenon with single or multiple causes. These include, but are not limited to, skill-set deficiency, social anxiety and previous negative educational experience. Symptoms include reluctance to engage, deferral to other tools and poor quality design output. Effects are embodied in the inability to conceptualise and develop design information effectively, with impact graduate employability and commercial activity. Although purported to be integral to design higher education, considerable problems exist regarding its teaching and use at strategic, institutional and pedagogic levels. This includes the erroneous assumption that sketching is an intuitive activity that need not be taught. Examples of best practice suggest that, much like language, it needs to be formally taught and practised in order to develop both vocabulary and fluency in its use, in order that it can support design ideation successfully. This study applies a Grounded Theory approach to investigation of sketch inhibition and subsequently formulates a theory of the phenomenon. A pedagogic framework for sketch inhibition within design education is presented and evaluated, suggesting the command of it is possible - and on the part of the sufferer, even enjoyable.





Research Institute