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

happiness

happiness

or isolation

isolation

or frustration over having someone else challenge your expertise.

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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