How can drawing clarify your thinking?

I like drawing.

To be fair, I did spend a couple of years in architecture school… you pick it up fairly quickly when you have to pin your drawings on the wall three times a week. But even before architecture school, I’ve always been a visual thinker. I’m the one who brings her own dry-erase markers to meetings and only books the conference rooms with whiteboards. Rather than “think out loud,” like many of my extroverted colleagues, I “draw out loud” to process complex ideas and create a starting point for discussions.

But I also know that it doesn’t come easily to everyone. Most people don’t have the practice I’ve had with my daughter, who routinely asks me to draw impossible things: “Can you draw a unicorn with a ninja on its back? How about a family of birds living in a castle?” And most people haven’t literally had their drawings ripped apart by some of Chicago’s most famous architects.

Drawing is a quick way to capture the essence of an idea. It keeps you from overthinking, or trying to wordsmith your way around a complicated idea. When you’re beginning to map user experiences as a part of the design thinking process, sketching out what they’re doing, thinking, and feeling is that much easier when you don’t have to rely on words. With just a few gestures, you can represent



or isolation


or frustration over having someone else challenge your expertise.


Your drawings might not be immediately comprehensible to other people (is that a baseball mitt on that guy’s head?), but that’s okay; “drawing out loud” is more for your benefit than for anyone else’s.

For all that I appreciate drawing as a way to release ideas out into the the world, I still struggle with creating drawings that speak for themselves. I find myself “captioning” my drawings, or adding too many details in the margins. I suppose this is another artifact of my thought process: My head has both images AND words waiting to get out, and I’m happy to let them roam free on whatever paper (or whiteboard) is at hand.

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