Sketching in HCI: Hands-on Course of Sketching Techniques

ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 4 May 2019 – 9 May 2019

Freehand sketching is of great value as a process, input, output, and tool but is often limited to personal expression. It is in our roots: from ancient cave paintings to modern graffiti. We learn to use tools and make marks before we learn to speak, our visual language is universal and may be as fundamental to development as language learning. The traditional view of the “sketch” is that of a visual representation of an idea, a short, fast drawing on paper – although it has more meanings depending on context. It can be used across multiple disciplines and all levels of research. In HCI it can take on roles as diverse as a section of code or rapid prototype, be recognized using algorithms, converted into digital representations, and even used as input.


Detailed Course Structure

Duration of course: Three 80 minute sessions

Audience: The content of this course is suitable for individuals from industry and academia that have an interest in learning and or improving their sketching skills. Novices, experts and those with an interest are welcome to attend.

Benefits: Often overlooked in many disciplines, or suggested as a ‘soft’ skill, sketching can support researchers to ideate, collaborate, document, and explore complex themes and spaces. The popularity of sketching can be seen across disciplines and at all levels of HCI research, so we intend not only to celebrate and promote this diverse role of sketching to all practitioners, but also to generate discussion – encouraging participants to adopt sketching in their everyday research.

Prerequisites: No prerequisites.

Course content: Participants will be guided through selected sketching techniques and strategies. These techniques will be based on well-established sketching, interaction design, and computer science material, but will also include additional techniques and examples. Participants will also be encouraged to bring an idea which they feel would benefit from a sketching approach, in order to make a start on their own work and gain helpful feedback from the instructors and their peers. As a result of CHI 2018 Applied Sketching in HCI course feedback, this course will consist of 8 parts and 14 hands-on activities:

  1. Warm up
  2. Sketching in HCI
  3. Visual language
  4. Objects
  5. Typography & lettering
  6. Photo tracing and hybrid sketches
  7. Visual Storytelling
  8. Reproducibility
  9. Application of new skills to relevant research topics

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The course will culminate in sharing of recommended tools, materials, books, teaching resources, e.g. methods to apply sketching in HCI for lectures/workshops – followed by group discussion around the skills learned, and give participants the opportunity to ask questions, exchange best practice, ideas, and make contacts for potential collaboration. Participants will also be invited to join our existing network, ‘Sketching in HCI’: engaging with sketching research and practice in HCI.

Course History

Applied Sketching in HCI course and a special interest group Sketching in HCI  has been previously given at CHI 2018 by the authors. Similar courses and workshops have been provided by the authors at CHI 2017, DIS 2017, NordiCHI 2016, TReSSPASS Summer School 2016, and CHI 2015. One author delivers an MSc module in sketching in HCI. Another author has provided industry tuition at UX Cambridge 2018, UX in the City: Manchester 2018, UX Oxford 2017, UX Scotland 2017, UX in the City: Oxford 2017, UX Leeds 2017, UX Bristol 2016, UCD 2015, and TCUK 2014. The CHI 2019 course will have a greater focus on applying sketching on an everyday basis to researchers’ own work and interests, an emphasis lacking in previous courses.

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Instructors biography

Makayla Lewis is a research fellow in HCI and smart money at Brunel University London, she uses visual methods to explore human factors in private data management. Makayla is also an accomplished visual thinker and sketcher who organizes monthly sketching events and courses and provides visuals and sketchnotes for international companies and conferences such as CHI and ISS.

Miriam Sturdee is a Post Doc at the University of Calgary, investigating sketching and data visualization. She holds an MFA in Illustration and is a member of ReOPen, the comics network at Lancaster University.

Nicolai Marquardt is Associate Professor in Physical Computing at University College London.

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Instructors resources

Makayla Lewis contains HCI sketchnotes, daily sketches and illustrations, and links to public engagement events e.g. SketchnoteHangout, SketchnoteLDN, sketching crib sheets and worksheets, and an Adobe XD sketching feature. Makayla’s email:

Miriam Sturdee co-authored our upcoming October 2018 ACM Interactions magazine features ‘Feeling SketCHI? The lasting appeal of the drawn image in HCI’ and ‘The rise and rise of the Sketchnote’, the latter is also ACM featured blog. Miriam’s email:

Nicolai Marquardt is well known for his collaboration on Sketching User Experiences: The Workbook (Morgan Kaufmann 2011, resources website at Nicolai’ email:

Other helpful resources include The Back of the Napkin,  Thes Sketchnote Handbook, Doodle Revolution, Visual Notetaking for Educators, and Visual Thinking: Empowering People & Organizations through Visual Collaboration books, which offer a beginner’s perspective on different sketching approaches. Course notes will be produced before the course and shared. Following the course, a visual summary ‘sketchnotes’ and crib sheet will be produced and shared.

CHI 2019 course listing: