Award spotlights need for design students to understand sketching

Todd Kelley, associate professor in the Department of Technology Leadership and Innovation, won the 2017 Gerald F. Day award from the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association. His peer-reviewed article, “Design Sketching: A lost skill,” appeared in the association’s publication “Technology and Engineering Teacher Journal,” and was voted the top publication of the year by its readers.

Todd KelleyKelley’s article addressed an unexpected problem that K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers are encountering: sketching – or more specifically, design sketching – has become a lost skill.

Generations of adults who grew up doodling in the margins of their school notebooks or on message pads while trapped at their kitchen tables by corded phones might find that statement befuddling. However, the situation becomes understandable when one realizes that today’s students are growing up with tablets and computers rather than with paper and pencils. “In many cases, students are able to sketch on an iPad or on the computer, but they do not learn basic sketching skills,” explained Kelley. “When instructors skip teaching sketching and just move to CAD (computer-aided design), it’s a big problem because students need to learn how to visualize objects before they can draw objects on a computer.”

Sketching not only allows designers to visualize new objects that are still in their design phases, the act of sketching also enables designers to troubleshoot the objects’ configurations in regard to their assemblies and purposes. Sketching also enables designers to communicate information about the objects to others – builders, for example – by including symbols, labels, annotations and multi-views within the designs.

To help refine their sketches (and ultimately, the designs themselves), Kelley proposed student designers address five elements of their designs:

  1. Explain the design. (What will it do?)
  2. Simplify the design. (What can removed but still allow it to work?)
  3. Enhance the design. (What can be added so that it works better?)
  4. Specify the design. (How big is it? What’s it made of? How are its parts connected?)
  5. Is the design feasible? (Can a prototype be built with materials available?)

Said Kelley, “It is not enough for students to know how to create design sketches. They also need to know the purpose of sketching in design.”

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