Compendium of Design

A Body of Knowledge
Learn from those who designed before you.

The Skill of Drawing

The ability to draw is the most critical skill a Visual Communication & Design student must possess if they are to design any product, space or visual communication. Without the ability to draw, the picture within a designer's mind cannot be visually explored, developed and refined or communicated to a client. Ironically, the method of design drawing is perhaps the hardest of all skills to master as it takes time, persistence and practice. Perhaps ironically, it is a skill that requires the student to start slowly and precisely, retraining the brain to visualise the mind's image and then control the hand to draw with accuracy and intent. When and only when control has been mastered the student can then adopt a quicker and intuitive sketching style to express their ideas. Once you become confident with a range of design drawing styles the process of designing has the potential to become a fluid and enjoyable experience.

Drawing Styles

The method of Design Drawing is specifically used by designers to explore, develop and refine their ideas. Although not without conventions, design drawing is a more formal style than that used in Art but less restrictive style than that used in Drafting or Instrumental Drawing. Naturally, students often find it difficult to distinguish between the first two drawing styles, Design Drawing and Artistic Drawing, particularly when studying both Visual Communication & Design and Art or Studio Arts. The following definitions may help you distinguish the three drawing styles.

Drawing for Art

Artists use drawing as a means to freely record or depict an individual dramatic, historic or creative event. Their drawings are a self expression of their experiences, an interpretation of an event or another's personal experience. Artistic works are often valued by their resemblance to reality and convention. When these images are viewed, their meaning is interpreted by the viewer's own experiences. Artistic drawings are predominately 'exhibited' in galleries or showcased as piece of art.


scratch sketches 

Drawing for Drafting

Drafting or Instrumental Drawing is the drawing method used to communicate plans, patterns or records that are mechanically accurate and obey technical standards and rules. This style of drawing can be referred to as drafting, instrumental or mechanical drawing. In Visual Communication & Design these drawings are called Instrumental Drawings and can include Plans, Elevations or Sections. These types of drawings are used by a designer to precisely instruct a manufacturer, builder or user about how an object should be made, assembled or used. Instrumental or technical drawings are generally copied for use as instructions and the original drawings are filed by the designer as official records. This method of drawing is discussed in detail in the Drawing Systems and Australian Standards AS100.


Drawing for Drafting 
Drawing for Drafting 
Drawing for Drafting 

Drawing for Design

This style of drawing is used to design objects and environments that do not currently exist or have not been fully imagined. They allow a concept, the idea of a design, to be generated, evaluated and improved. Unlike the previous styles, design drawings many never be completed or finished, however, a designer will rely on their design drawings to accurately represent the experience of the proposed product, visual communication or environment. Once the object or space has been designed and drafted, professional designers may dispose of their design drawings. Of course, you, as a design student need will need to compile your design drawings to validate and support your final presentations.

Scratch Sketches


Concept Drawings


Presention Drawings





Freehand Drawing


Learning to Draw

Learning to develop 'Design Drawing' skills requires you to forget about any inhabitations you may have about your drawing ability. For a period of time, you will need to accept the way you draw and which drawing methods you can draw. In this time, your teachers and those more skilled will critic the flaws of your drawing in order for you to improve. Always remember that the advice given to you is never personal, it is only a comment on what they see and how you can improve. While learning to improve, you will need to concentrate on breaking down your drawing habits and learn techniques that will allow you to observe, conceptualise, develop and refine objects, spaces or graphics with freedom, accuracy and clarity. Speed will come in time. However, speed will only come with the condition of discipline and regular practice.

The right pose for drawing

The different drawing methods require you to call upon different drawing poses and ways of handling your media. When you are freehand drawing there are a number of things to consider that will help you develop the correct techniques in drawing for design.

Convince Yourself

A common mistake by all students is that convince themselves that they can't draw, even before they start or after only one sketch. Before you begin developing and practicing your drawing one thing is paramount, you must convince yourself that you can draw.

It is important to understand that there isn't a drawing gene or natural talent for drawing. Like any other skill, drawing comes with practise and patience.

Erase the Eraser

Draw without using an eraser! Erasers are a safety net and only encourage repeated mistakes. While learning to retrain your mind, eyes and hand to draw, if you make a mistake draw over it . Correct your mistake with darker lines or annotate your sketch about what when wrong and then start again - but never rub it out. There are two reasons for this. One, you cannot identify the mistakes you're making if you can't see them on the paper. Two, only a folio of drawings can prove your efforts, one drawing on a piece of paper with the comment, "but I drew it 50 times and this is the best one" doesn't prove how many drawings you have actually done, only 50 drawings can do that.

Using your Arm to Draw

It is important to understand that design drawing comes from the whole arm and not just the wrist. The following figures illustrate what part of the arm draws what styles.

Drawing Lines

Horizontal and vertical line-work should look crisp clean and drawn in one movement. To achieve this will take time and practice. It's all about visualising what you want to draw, simulating the drawing with your hand and arm moving over your drawing surface and then, once its right in your mind, your arm is moving in a straight line, placing media to material and drawing the intended image in one quick and deliberate motion.

The convention for drawing lines is to ensure that your shoulder acts as a pivot point and your wrist remains locked. The elbow is then used as a flex point to ensure that the hand travels perfectly along the same path.

This technique for drawing varies from artistic drawing. With artistic drawing it is often accepted that objects are drawn using small sketchy lines to build and develop the drawing, with design drawing objects are build up using shape and form with line work that is direct, intentional and clean.

Practice your skills

On a separate sheet of A3 paper practice freehand drawing;

  • A series of parallel vertical lines 10, 20, or 50 mm apart
  • A series of parallel horizontal lines 10, 20 or 50mm apart


Drawing a freehand circle should be done by allowing your shoulder to act as a pivot point and by locking your wrist in one position. The motion of your arm should then mimic the desired diameter of the circle. It is worth while visualising and practicing the circle you want to draw before lowering the media to the material and then draw the circle in one motion, lifting the media away once the circle has been drawn.

For larger circles use your elbow and shoulder as the pivot points to form the desired diameter.


Drawing an ellipse should be done by allowing your shoulder to act as a pivot point and by locking your wrist in one position. The motion of your arm should then mimic the desired ellipse. It is worth while visualising and practicing the ellipse you want to draw before lowering the media to the material and then drawing the ellipse.

For larger ellipses use your elbow and shoulder as the pivot points to form the desired ellipse.

Practice your skills

On a separate sheet of A3 paper practice freehand drawing:

  • A series of perfect circles of varying diameters e.g. Ø 5mm, Ø 10mm, Ø 20mm, Ø 40mm, Ø 80mm, Ø 160mm,
  • A series of perfect ellipses of varying maximum and minimum axes

Using your wrist

Short lines or details are best using short flicks of your wrist. This can provide a drawing with a sense of flare, speed or motion.