Freehand sketching is a critical tool for engineering design. Particularly during conceptual design, freehand sketches allow a designer to communicate complex or ambiguous ideas to teammates, sketching offloads working memory allowing a designer to develop further concepts, and freehand sketching supports a critical feedback loop that enables design decisions to be made in real time. Sketching is a free and flexible tool for visual representation, and more frequent sketching has been connected to positive design outcomes. However, even given the importance of sketching for the design process, sketching is only taught minimally in the engineering curriculum. It has been noted in literature for some time that engineers have the need for both formal drafting skills and informal freehand sketching skills. Given the lack of focus on developing this critical skill, do engineers have the skills necessary to reap the benefits of sketching in the design process? This dissertation seeks to further understand the benefits of sketching skill for engineers. This dissertation presents three studies focused on improving sketching education and understanding the benefits of sketching skill for engineers. The first study explores improving sketching skills through improved freehand sketching instruction, an intelligent tutoring software for sketching, and instruction length. The second study looks at the relationship between sketching skill and idea generation abilities. The final study examines sketching behavior in design project courses, and to what extent they are predicted by sketching skill and other measures. The results of this dissertation provide the costs or resources associated with improving sketching skill and benefits gleaned from improving them. This cost-benefit comparison helps to inform the practice of sketching for engineers and the prioritization of freehand sketching in the engineering curriculum.
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