Drawing for designing : the development of purposive drawing in children during the primary school years
The usefulness or otherwise of drawing as a strategy in design thinking for primary children is a
contested topic in the field of design and technology education. Previous studies have
concentrated on analysing the drawings that children make, but there has been little prior work
considering the understandings that children themselves hold about design drawing/sketching.
The purpose of this study is to clarify the ways in which children themselves understand the use
and purpose of drawing or sketching as part of design activity, and to determine key factors in
developing in children a sense of purpose in making sketches and drawings during design and
The parameters of the debate are explored, and related to rationales for the inclusion of design
and technology as a component of general education. Understandings about the nature of
children's drawing, and the purposes that children themselves may bring to the act of drawing,
are also reviewed.
The study draws on evidence from observation and interview of 136 children between the ages
of 4 and 11, some of them engaged on self-directed drawing tasks ('free' drawing) and others on
design and technology activities in which they have been asked to draw during the process. In
considering children when drawing freely, their talk about the drawing, and while drawing, was
analysed to clarify the purposes which they appeared to have when drawing. During designing,
children were interviewed about the usefulness of the drawings they had made, and how they
expected to use it.
The majority of the children interviewed during design activities saw the purpose of the
drawing as a means of remembering ideas. There appeared to be little progression away from
this notion between the children in Year One and the children in Year Six. Although memory
may be an important function of drawing, it is argued that it is not the most important function
when designing. Teacher interaction with children is suggested as the key to enabling children to
use drawing and sketching in more productive ways during their design activity.