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Freehand Sketching for Engineers: A Pilot Study

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Using graphics in the rest of the engineering courses

Tagged Division

Engineering Design Graphics

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.616.1 - 23.616.14



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Paper Authors


Richard W Marklin Jr Marquette University

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Richard Marklin is a Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI). and is a Certified Professional Ergonomist. He has had a successful research program in Ergonomics for over 20 years, but he found that students, both undergradute and graduate, do not know how to express their design ideas visually through freehand sketching. This phenomenon is due to the prevalance of Computer Aided Design (CAD) software, which, starting in 1990, supplanted mechanical drafting and freehand sketching skills that were traditional taught to engineering students.

Prof. Marklin developed a short course to teach engineering students how to express their ideas and concepts with quick freehand sketches that require only a pencil (no instruments such as rulers or compasses are required). This course does NOT require visual art talent. He taught the 5-week course twice in Milwaukee (University of WI-Milwaukee and Marquette University) and is teaching the course at the U. of Costa Rica during Jan. and Feb. 2013. He plans to make a commercial grade video of the course and distribute it on YouTube. In addition, he will continue to teach the course at Marquette University because the course is very popular among engineering students.

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Jay R. Goldberg P.E. Marquette University

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JAY GOLDBERG, Ph.D., P.E. is Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Lafferty Professor of Engineering, and Director of the Healthcare Technologies Management Program at Marquette University where he teaches courses involving new product development and design. Before moving into academia, he was director of technology and quality assurance for Milestone Scientific Inc. (Deerfield, IL). Dr. Goldberg is a registered Professional Engineer in Illinois and Wisconsin. In 2012 he received the National Society of Professional Engineers Engineering Education Excellence Award for linking professional practice to engineering education.

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Mark Nagurka Marquette University

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MARK NAGURKA, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering and Lafferty Professor of Engineering Pedagogy at Marquette University. He received his B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from M.I.T. He taught at Carnegie Mellon University before joining Marquette University. His professional interests are in the design of mechanical and electromechanical systems and in engineering education. He is a registered Professional Engineer in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and a former Fulbright Scholar.

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Freehand Sketching to Improve Creativity and Innovation of Student Design ProjectsFreehand sketching is a form of “visual thinking” and is a necessary part of the design processfor engineers (Ullman et al., 1990). Sketching is a perceptual skill that enables students tospatially visualize many ideas during the conceptual stage of a design project (Sorby, 2009).During the 1950’s, engineering education in the United States was reformed and the GrinterReport (ASEE, 1955) emphasized the importance of graphical expression, including sketching,as a means for creative thinking, spatial visualization, and the ability to convey ideas. Researchhas shown that engineering students who sketched early in the design process were able toachieve a higher quality of design outcomes than those students who did not sketch (Schutze etal., 2003). A higher number of brainstormed ideas generated from sketches drawn in the earlystage of a design project resulted in higher quality design outcomes (Yang, 2009).During the last twenty years, due to the advent of computer aided design applications, lessimportance has been placed on the role of visual thinking in engineering curricula (Sorby, 2009).In many curricula, freehand sketching is no longer taught to undergraduates, despite the reportedbenefits.This paper describes a new one-credit hour class that focused on teaching 22 undergraduateengineering students how to freehand sketch objects with the following methods: • 2-D Orthographic (front, top, and side views) • 3-D Isometric • 3-D Oblique (plan (top) and frontal)The short term goal of this class was to teach students how to sketch existing objects freehand,and the long term goal of this project was for students to use sketching to improve the creativityand innovation of design projects.Students used only #2 wooden pencils and blank white 8.5 x 11 in. paper in the class. Noinstruments such as rulers, compasses, etc. were used. This class met for 75 min twice a week for5 weeks. Students sketched objects, following the instructions and drawings of the instructorwho used a document camera to project his drawings. Homework consisted of drawing objectswith various views. The final project included at least 5 pages of freehand sketches withdifferent views of a more complex object, such as a motor boat or fishing reel.Homework sketches were evaluated, along with the final project, in order to quantify thestudents’ progress. In addition, a controlled pre- and post-test experiment was setup to quantifythe students’ progress during the course. On the 1st day of class, students were instructed tosketch a PVC pipe fitting without any help from the instructor. During the 8th class, studentssketched the same pipe fitting. The pre- and post- sketches were evaluated by two externalindustrial designers on a scale from 1 (poor) to 7 (excellent). The quality of sketches improvedfrom pre- to post- by a median of 1 and 0.5 from both evaluators, respectively (p < 0.001). Thedifference in pre- and post- scores ranged from -2 to +4. These results demonstrate that the classmet the short term goal. References:ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education) (1955). Report of the committee onevaluation of engineering education. Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 46, 25-60.Schutze, M., Sachse, P., and Romer, A. (2003). Support value of sketching in the designprocess. Research in Engineering Design. Vol 14, 89-97.Sorby, S.A. (2009). Educational research in developing 3-D spatial skills for engineeringstudents. International Journal of Science Education. Vol. 31, No. 3, Feb. 1, 2009, pp 459-480.Ullman, D., Wood, S., and Craig, D. (1990). The importance of drawing in the mechanicaldesign process. Computation and Graphics, Vol. 14, No. 2, pp 263-274.Yang, M. (2009). Observations on concept generation and sketching in engineering design.Research in Engineering Design. Vol. 20, 1-11.

Marklin, R. W., & Goldberg, J. R., & Nagurka, M. (2013, June), Freehand Sketching for Engineers: A Pilot Study Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19630

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