Key Questions

Can improvisational drawing exercises encourage and foster drawing participation?

To adequately explore this research question, additional questions need to be explored.

How is process drawing taught and encouraged as part of the design thinking process at WSU?

How is process drawing utilised in the creative visual thinking process of design students?

If they are not conducting a rough sketch to think through ideas – what other strategies are they employing?

What is the current attitude to doodling/drawing and sketching of design students?

Using my own visual arts and design practice, I aim to develop strategies to encourage and foster drawing participation.

How does sketching inform my creative visual practice?

How does improvisational drawing exercises inform my creative visual practice?

Many of the design students attending the Western Sydney University (WSU) are the first person in their family to attend university. WSU students are culturally diverse, with domestic students from more than 170 countries, including indigenous residents (Scott, Shah, Grebennikov, Singh, 2008).

There is no visual portfolio or previous art or design courses required to enrol in the Visual Communications Course at WSU, so students enter with varying degrees of visual literacy skills. This is not to say that those lacking skills cannot ‘catch up’ in their first year and go on to become competent designers. Many do, but others struggle, hiding their inadequacies, unable to express their creative concepts or appreciate the importance of the design process. Some copy, some turn to templates or ‘cheat unintentionally’ (Tabor, 2013).

If students don’t sketch, how do they communicate their ideas visually? A mood board and visual diary are encouraged as part of the design thinking process and are sometimes part of the assessment criteria at WSU. Many students favour mood boards but unfortunately, in my experience, they are often just a collection of images that students like or would like to copy. A ready-made solution.  Many students take examples directly from another persons image online collection found on sites like Pinterest. Despite direction, they rarely include sketches, found textures and photos taken from their own experience. Students often lack the skills to interpret the original message/s of found images leading to an unsuitable ‘match’ (Garner and McDonagh-Philp, 2001).

Some students rely on their mental imagery skills and written and verbal descriptions to express their concepts to others, only reaching for a pencil when the limitations of their mental processing require a sketch (Verstijnen, Hennessey, Van Leeuween, and Hamel, 1995).

Students are reluctant to show their lack of drawing skills fearing this may reflect their lack of visual literacy skills and an inability to design, thus exposing them as an ‘impostor’, (Brookfield, 2009).

Most students are ‘time poor’ and see making a slight variation to a found image or graphic as a valid shortcut to a design solution. I see this as ‘passive plagiarism’. Not quite unintentional plagiarism. With easy access to the Internet, the temptation to plagiarise is huge and the time required to investigate this, is a growing concern to many time-poor teachers.

Do professional designers use a rough sketch as part of their creative thinking practice? Despite the prevalence of templates and repurposing of images, evidence suggests that ‘process drawing’ remains an important tool in the design thinking process of some design professionals (Schenk, 2005). Indeed some design studios look for the ability to quickly sketch a concept in potential employees. Having some sketching skills may be a benefit for some WSU graduates entering the graphic design industry.


Brookfield, S. D. (2009). Understanding and responding to the emotions of learning. In The Skillful Teacher: On technique, trust and responsiveness in the Classroom (2nd ed., pp. 75-95). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Garner S., McDonagh-Philp, D. Problem Interpretation and Resolution via Visual Stimuli: The Use of ‘Mood Boards’ in Design Education, Journal of Art & Design Education, Volume 20, Issue 1. (pp 57–64), February 2001

Scott, G., Shah, M., Grebennikov, L., Singh. H. ((2008).  Improving Student Retention: A University of Western Sydney Case Study. Office of Planning and Quality, University of Western Sydney. Journal of Institutional Research, 14(1), 9–23.

Schenk, P. (2005) Before and After the Computer: The Role of Drawing in Graphic Design, visual:design:scholarship, Vol. 1, No.2, pp.11-20, online at:

Tabor, E. L. (2013). Is cheating always intentional? the perception of college students toward the issues of plagiarism. (Order No. 3557437, Capella University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 139. Retrieved from (1346009210).

Verstijnen, IM, Hennessey, J M and Leeuwen, C van. Sketching and Creative Discovery, Design Studies 19, (1998) 519-546

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