Horseville Design Hideout

Ideation sketching in design


This research project examines and explains the role of sketching as part of the creative design process, especially during its concept phase, when the new idea/solution is formed. The main focus of the study is the visual form of ideation, known as “sketching." This thesis also presents examples of practical ideation sketching techniques, analyses them, proposes the scientific explanation of mental mechanics behind them, and provides the perspective of cognitive psychology.

Opening research includes a review of the current understanding and positioning of ideation sketching, the literature that covers the given subject, and validates these findings by an online survey, followed by interviews with twenty experienced professionals in the field of car and entertainment design.
This research is intended primarily for students and creative practitioners of disciplines such as design or architecture; however, the content can likely be beneficial in a broader context despite the resources and examples typical for these disciplines.

Last but not least, the work concludes with a critical evaluation of the research results, addresses the lack of shared understanding and terminology, and proposes a systematic approach to ideation sketching at the level of practical exercises and formal education.

Keywords: Design, ideation, sketching, concept, design research, research for design, creative cognition, cognitive psychology, creativity, education, art


The BBC's TV documentary “The secret of drawing” mentions Dr Francis Wells, who uses sketching to plan a heart surgery. He uses sketching to support his thinking during the surgery planning process. It turns out he is not alone who uses sketching daily. In fact, we all sketch, doodle, or scribble.

With this research, I introduce the role of sketching in its contribution to finding and generating new unique ideas. I aim to describe the mental and neural processes associated with this activity. Last but not least, I'm also determined to propose methods and practices to help designers ideate at the level of education and training on one side and technology on the other.

The main reason for my interest in this topic was nearly 20 years of experience in transportation, product, and entertainment design. There, I had the opportunity to observe how drawing and sketching spread through every stage of the design process, from early concepts, thought-through proposals to physical or virtual prototypes that ultimately support production readiness. It was fascinating to see how something as simple as rough sketching affects the final product without being a direct part of it, how it shapes it without being visible in it, and how it refines and defines it.

The presence of the sketch seemed ubiquitous and essential, without in any way being the goal itself. This apparent paradox indeed stipulated an explanation.

The second trigger was the personal experience of design reviews with clients or team members. When discussing ideas, an unfinished, emerging sketch often became a source of additional inspiration and space for further exploration. At first, I perceived these moments as a source of frustration, demonstrating my inability to capture an excellent idea in a given time and required clarity. Gradually, however, it turned out that such incompleteness and ambiguity were superb generators of new ideas. Thus, the paradox between the creator's frustration and his current pleasure in newly discovered ideas became another attention-deserving topic.

However, yet another personal reason made me focus focus on the theory of creativity. In addition to design, my practice included live presentations and demonstrations of techniques and procedures primarily associated with digital creativity. Designer software companies used to hire me to give public presentations about their products and teach professionals and beginners how to use them. Quite often, the general audience also had access to these performances. They mostly responded positively to the demonstrations, positioning them within terms such as talent or the gift of fantasy. We all have certain physical and mental predispositions, but the will and perseverance to focus on the topic are critical parameters. However, as it turned out, it was challenging to convince the audience otherwise. The desire to dispel this ancient myth of talent, imagination, and muses has become the motivation to study the phenomenon of ideation sketching systematically.

The Metasketching research has materialised as an exhibition of related artwork (Dedicated to Syd Mead)
Exhibition, in a doctoral thesis: Thesis draft and also as a creative workshop, which has been delivered at various universities and is available also for the professional clientele.