Back to Basics: Sketching, Not CAD, Is the Key to Improving Essential Engineering Design Skills Conference Paper uri icon


  • The ability to visually communicate ideas and the willingness to generate free-hand sketches are critical skills for engineers. With the advent of CAD, schools no longer teach drafting, prompting a concern over the lost art of free-hand sketching. Recent empirical data from senior design indicates they do not sketch until forced to do so and this agrees with much anecdotal data. This paper describes a novel approach to teaching sketching in a freshman CAD course using an industrial design methodology during the first six weeks of the semester. As expected, sketching skills improved, but there was concern that this may be at the expense of spatial visualization skills typically taught through isometric drawing. Spatial visualization skills are critical for engineers and have been linked to success in engineering programs. The current study measured spatial visualization skills at three points during the freshman CAD course. The industrial design approach to perspective sketching led to significant improvements in spatial visualization scores that were not statistically different from the more traditional approach within engineering. Overall, it was the sketching portion, not the CAD, that significantly improved the students spatial visualization scores. Including free-hand sketching in engineering not only improves sketching ability, but also improves the spatial visualization skills crucial for success in engineering in a way that CAD alone does not.

name of conference

  • ASME 2018 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference

published proceedings

  • ASME Conference Proceedings: International Design Engineering Technical Conference & Computers and Information in Engineering

author list (cited authors)

  • Hilton, E. C., Gamble, T., Li, W., Hammond, T., & Linsey, J. S.

citation count

  • 4

complete list of authors

  • Hilton, Ethan C||Gamble, Taylor||Li, Wayne||Hammond, Tracy||Linsey, Julie S

publication date

  • August 2018