Interior design drawing education in the digital age

Interior design drawing education in the digital age by Valerie Mace 
I originally presented this short paper at a Spatial Communication programme symposium at London College of Communication

Design process visuals

Example of mixed media spatial design development visualisation. From left to right: sketch drawing, CAD, card model, digital visual, hand drawing with collage. 

Over the last 20 years, the advent of personal computers and the development of CAD software have precipitated a polarisation of skills in architectural and interior design drawing and visualisation. It could even be alleged that it created two distinct camps, those against and those in favour of using computers.

In this paper I briefly underline the fundamentals of design drawings and visualisation as well as the role of sketching in the digital age from a students centred perspective. I also reason that a rise in computer use doesn’t automatically lead to a drop in design quality and that the ideal outcome is for both methods to coexist alongside each other.
In the advent of computers, students learnt to draw 2D and 3D projections as well as measured perspective in order to communicate their design intent. These drawings were an art form in their own right and took considerable time and effort to perfect.

Being able to draw however doesn’t make an architect or designer. In the early 1900’s principles of draftmanship came under attack from architects such as John Ruskin and William Morris. They argued that architecture was too often judged on the quality of the drawing, not the merit of the design.

Today similar claims are being made in the educational debate between hand drawing and digital drawing where, in the words of Davis Clews, ‘one form of production, say manual, is placed in opposition to another, say digital’1.

When computers entered the scene, they were bulky unsightly boxes with complex and awkward design software to match. It isn’t difficult to see why initially only the most enthusiastic found any interest in their use as design and visualisation tools. However, with more advanced developments in computer systems and a rise in affordable yet sophisticated design software, computers began to take over.

In architecture software such as Autocad lead the way. The technical nature of orthogonal projections and the level of precision required was consistent with computer technology and today all architects and working drawings are produced using some form of CAD software. So far so good although as a result, students often perceive CAD as an essential skill towards employability, to the detriment of sketching and drawing.

This notion snowballs into the field of 3D visualisation where the polarisation of skills becomes more endemic. Students, dazzled by the prospects offered by the software and their new found skills, often discard drawing and sketching as an irrelevant and tedious process and hide a lack of design acumen behind a false sense of achievement offered by computer visuals.

So making a parallel with John Ruskin and William Morris, the drawback of using computers is that students may only judge their work on the quality of the drawing, not the merit of the design. The problem is compounded by the fact that as with drawing, digital visualisation requires considerable time and effort to perfect so early outcomes are often clumsy and fail to impress anyone but the student.

Sketching on the other hand is quick, informal and looked upon by the majority of teachers and practitioners as an integral part of the design process. It is the universal language of design development and no self-respecting architect or designer would be seen leaving the comfort of their studio without a notebook and pencil. Failing that they could always rely on the availability of a trustee napkin.

Sketching is perceived as critical because it enables students to learn about the world around them, taking time to observe and reflect. It also enables them to visually articulate their ideas, to themselves and others. Sketches don’t have to be works of art but to convey ideas and provide a platform to focus the design and develop sound concepts.

Losing the ability to sketch produces, according to Peter Eisenman, passive architects (and designers). Such passive attitudes concede to the software considerable ownership of the design process and design intent, with obvious adverse consequences to the development of emerging designers. In my experience, it isn’t uncommon for students to abandon an idea simply because they didn’t know how to draw it digitally. Those who rely too much on computers for their design concepts and don’t possess sufficient knowledge of the software limit themselves to what they can draw, leading to weak and inappropriate design solutions.

It doesn’t mean that computers shouldn’t be part of design education. Many design software are now industry standard and when used effectively, they do provide considerable advantages. They offer substantial prospects for exploration and experimentation in a virtual world. They facilitate seamless workflows and make the revision process easier and faster. They can replicate realistic lighting conditions and textures. In some cases they can even test structures and weather conditions. Without computers and software some of the more innovative architecture and design to emerge in the last 10 to 15 years wouldn’t exist.

CAD software can also be used as design development tools to test and experiment in the same way as traditional model making does. They can be used to produce quick floor plans or perspectives to work as underlay for sketches or even presentation drawings, facilitating the design process. In addition, software manufacturers have developed more intuitive processes and enable users to emulate a variety of sketch styles, aiming to bridge the gap between the flexibility of work in progress and the rigid nature of the outcome often associated with digital drawing.

However, no matter how sophisticated the software, a computer is a machine and a machine can only do what we tell it to do. So although initially the issue may have been with the machine and its limitations, as it becomes more advanced, it is shifting towards users and their limitations. As I previously commented upon, a machine is only as good as its user.

Which is why learning how to visualise creative ideas should still be at the heart of design education and sketching instrumental to the design process. To enable students to develop critical design visualisation skills and gain confidence in their ability as designers while computer visualisation software will enable them to push the boundaries of 3D exploration.

Drawing and computers are therefore not mutually exclusive. They complement each other, they are integral to the design process and indispensable constituents of the designer’s tool kit. Each have their own strengths. Used together and appropriately they are a catalyst for strong design solutions and visual outcomes with soul and personality.


Porter T. (1997) The architect’s eye, Taylor & Francis

Eisenman P. & Spiller N. (2008) Have computers damaged architects’ design quality? [Last visited 29 December 2012]

Visual. Report on the 2nd Art Design Media Subject Centre Annual Forum (2007) <> [Last visited 29 December 2012]

EVA 2012


EVA stands for Electronic Visualisation and the Arts, an interdisciplinary conference in the field of digital visualisation. It was the first time I attended and I could only attend 1 of the 3 days of the conference last July, which is a shame because there were some really interesting papers presented across all 3 days: museum studies, digital performance, augmented reality, simulation, 3D scanning, digital archaeology, etc.

The papers area available as a publication and on-line. Click here for more information. The web archive includes all abstracts and pdf versions of the papers.