The skill of drawing has been shown to develop along the same pathways as language [1]. As babies, our first forays into visual representations of the world around us are through picture books; as toddlers, we are encouraged to depict our world and our feelings using crayons, pencils and finger-paint on paper. Then – often to the dismay of our parents – we are often drawn to larger canvases such as furniture and walls. When we grow up however, we are introduced to verbal and textual communication and information and somehow forget or become ‘blinded’ to the value of pencil and/or pen-to-paper, sketches [2]:

Out go their loose, easy sketches, and in come the supposedly “real” tools, the power tools of numbers and words that will likely dominate their attention for the rest of their lives [3].

Hand-drawn sketching is often viewed as challenging due to an inherent belief that visual thinking and production is something practiced when young and is hard to achieve as an adult – because drawing is difficult [2, 3, 4]. However, hand-drawn sketching can be learned at any age and is not an innate ability or extraordinary coordination [5]. Researchers often feel incapable of creating sketches, or resort to written scenarios as a fast option. However, pencil to paper, or stylus to digital tablet (e.g. iPad, Surface Pro or Cintiq Companion) can be an easy way for HCI researchers to communicate and express ideas and the road maps of how to get there [6]. Sketches are often used to document, explore and communicate concepts and ideas between the researcher and researcher, the user, collaborator, manager or client.

  • User interface design: Low fidelity hand-drawn sketches, e.g. storyboards, site maps and wireframes, are used in the early stages of websites, applications and software design [16].
  • Interaction design and user experience design: Low fidelity hand-drawn sketches (e.g. storyboards) and visual notations are used to explore possible solutions within a current conception of the problem. For example, how interaction sequences can inform use and context of a system over time.
  • User-centered design: Hand-drawn sketches are used to quickly and inexpensively to explore concepts. For examples, users’ can be asked to step through a task using a sequence of paper prototypes.
  • Participatory design: Low to medium-fidelity hand-drawn sketches are used to gather user requirements i.e. making communication tangible, contextualizing design concepts, and unveiling underlying thoughts. Sketches created by the users can facilitate design by providing resources for idea exploration and allowing for further interpretations [1, 4, 11, 22].
  • Shape-Changing Interfaces: User-generated sketches demonstrate ideas for the future of shape-changing interfaces. Additionally, designers explore how to communicate shape-change in product sketches.
  • Information security: Low and medium-fidelity hand-drawn sketches are used to gather and understand user behaviors. The sketches created by the researchers and users depict a lived experience within organizations or when interacting with a digital service 11, .
  • Design fiction and speculative design: High-fidelity hand-drawn sketches are used to depict fictional research worlds through which HCI researchers might consider future interactions [19].
  • Reflective practice: hand-drawn sketches are often used to depict the way individuals make sense of ‘things’ through and with their bodies, tools, artifacts and the surrounding environment [14, 16].


Hand-drawn sketches are lightweight and easy to create and by varying the fidelity of sketches they can be an integral part of all stages of HCI research and the design process [10]. Such flexibility makes them a valuable tool that can increase access; break down boundaries to concept expression; support the thinking process; and communicate ideas to others [12]. As such, hand-drawn sketching has trickled into HCI researcher’s everyday practices – with a particular focus on the gathering or reflecting on user research data, designing of novel user experiences, [6, 8, 3, 7 & 9].

For example, Makayla Lewis and Lizzie Coles-Kemp. 2014b [11] created a visual artifact, current experience comic strip, based on interviews. The visual artifact depicted the everyday security behaviors of information security practitioners. The research discovered that low to medium-fidelity hand-drawn sketches could offer a way in which different professional roles can work together to share understanding of complex topics. Additionally, medium-fidelity hand-drawn sketches offer HCI researchers a way to reflect on, and participate with, user research data [11]. Whereas, Dixon, D, et. al. [5] developed a system for a computer to provide direction and feedback for assisting users to draw a human face as accurately as possible from an image; whilst Erkut and Rajala-Erkut, [13] used pen to paper sketches to explore embodied interaction for designing designedly knowledge.


  1. Neil Cohn. 2012. Explaining ‘I can’t draw’: Parallels between the structure and development of language and drawing. Human Development, 55(4), 167-192.
  2. Sunni Brown. The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently. Penguin, 2014.
  3. Makayla Lewis and Lizzie Coles-Kemp. 2014a. A Tactile Visual Library To Support User Experience Storytelling. DS 81: Proceedings of NordDesign 2014
  4. James A. Landay and Brad A. Myers. 1995. Interactive sketching for the early stages of user interface design. Human factors in computing systems (CHI ’95), 43-50.
  5. Daniel Dixon, Manoj Prasad, and Tracy Hammond. iCanDraw: using sketch recognition and corrective feedback to assist a user in drawing human faces. Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’10) 897-906.
  6. Mark Baskinger and William Bardel. 2007. Drawing Ideas: Visualization and Design Sketching. 2007. CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’07).
  7. Mark W. Newman, and James A. Landay. Sitemaps, storyboards, and specifications. 2000. In 3rd conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques (DIS ’00), 263-274
  8. Brock Craft and Paul Cairns. Sketching sketching: outlines of a collaborative design method. 2009. 23rd British HCI Group Annual Conference on People and Computers, 65-72.
  9. Jin-Yi Wang, Robert Ramberg, and Hannu Kuoppala. 2012. User Participatory Sketching: A Complementary Approach to Gather User Requirements. 10th Asia Pacific Conference on Computer Human Interaction (APCHI’12) 481-490.
  10. Nicolai Marquardt and Saul Greenberg. 2012. Sketchnotes for Visual Thinking in HCI. SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’12).
  11. Makayla Lewis and Lizzie Coles-Kemp. 2014b. Who says personas can’t dance?: the use of comic strips to design information security personas. CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’14), 2485-2490.
  12. Alexandre Fleury. 2012. Drawing and acting as user experience research tools. 10th Asia Pacific Conference on Computer Human Interaction, 269-278.
  13. Cumhur Erkut and Anu Rajala-Erkut. 2015. Beyond Command & Control: Sketching Embodied Interaction. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’15) 1681-1686.
  14. Van der Lugt R. How sketching can affect the idea generation process in design group meetings. Design studies. 2005 Mar 31; 26 (2):101-22.
  15. Bill Buxton. 2010 Sketching user experiences. Morgan Kaufmann.
  16. Verstijnen, Ilse M., Cees van Leeuwen, G. Goldschmidt, Ronald Hamel, and J. M. Hennessey. 1998. Sketching and creative discovery. Design studies. 31;19(4):519-46.
  17. Ova Demirbilek. 1999. Involving the elderly in the design process: a participatory design model for usability, safety and attractiveness. PhD diss., Bilkent University.
  18. Majken Kirkegård Rasmussen, Giovanni Maria Troiano, Marianne Graves Petersen, Jakob G. Simonsen, and Kasper Hornbæk. 2016. Sketching Shape-changing Interfaces: Exploring Vocabulary, Metaphor Use, and Affordances. 2016. CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’16) 2740-2751.
  19. Miriam Sturdee, Paul Coulton, Joseph G. Lindley, Mike Stead, Haider Ali, & Andy Hudson-Smith. 2016. Design Fiction: How to Build a Voight-Kampff Machine. 2016. CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’16), 375-386.