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Braindrawing is a type of visual brainstorming in which a group of participants sketch ideas for designs, icons, screen layouts, or other visual concepts.

The method involves drawing quickly and sharing the results with others in the group. Like other ideation methods, the focus is on the quantity of ideas generated rather than the quality. The process operates in rounds with participants starting with a blank page and then using others' drawings as inspiration for subsequent rounds. The output of braindrawing is a set of sketches combining the ideas of everyone in the group that can be used as input for subsequent designs.

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Detailed description

Outcomes and Deliverables

The outcomes of braindrawing are:

  • Sketches that combine ideas from everyone in the group.
  • Lists of good ideas and themes that emerge during a group debriefing that can be mined for the final design.

Benefits, Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Many design ideas can be generated in a short time.
  • In addition to ideas for visual designs, the method can also elicit requirements that traditional brainstorming may have missed.
  • Low cost and requires few resources.
  • Ideas are elaborated and refined by a diverse group of participants.


  • Inclusive method that allows many people to contribute to the design of visual elements
  • Anyone can participate in this method
  • Themes, good ideas, and best practices can emerge from the results


  • Some individuals may be intimidated by being asked to draw.
  • It is possible to not converge on a good solution to the design problem.
  • There is no definitive technique for analyzing the drawings.
  • Managers may consider the activity frivolous.

Appropriate Uses

Braindrawing is useful for collaboratively generating ideas for interface elements when designing new icons, GUI features, and screen layouts. It is particularly useful for creating visual representations for abstract concepts like "render" or "filter documents".

How To


  1. Decide on the concept the group will sketch. The concept needs to be defined well enough for the group to start sketching quickly, while still allowing creativity.
  2. Decide on the participant list and invite participants to the braindrawing session. Include a variety of perspectives to encourage creative ideas. Similar to brainstorming, the ideal group size is likely between five and twelve participants though it is possible to do braindrawing with both larger and smaller groups.
  3. When the meeting begins, describe the general concept that the group will be drawing and allow a few minutes for questions and answers. Also, provide an example of braindrawing that shows the participants that you do not have to be artistic to be a contributor.
  4. Explain the procedure for the session, including the time allowed for each round and the procedure for passing the drawings to another participant. Encourage the group to focus on getting ideas down quickly rather than on perfecting their drawings; rough sketches are the goal.
  5. Make sure each participant has paper and a drawing implement.
  6. Each round of braindrawing proceeds as follows:
    1. Start the timer for the round. Time limits should be relatively short: for a simple problem, the first round or two might be two minutes long with subsequent rounds lasting one minute. For a more challenging problem, the first rounds might last ten minutes, with later rounds lasting five minutes. (Subsequent rounds can be shorter, because everyone has started drawing and there are ideas available for inspiration.)
    2. Each participant begins drawing ideas for the concept.
    3. When the time expires, each participant passes the paper with his/her sketches to the person next to them. (A variation on this step is for the facilitator to collect and redistribute all papers to preserve the anonymity of the participants.)
    4. The next round of braindrawing begins.
  7. After several rounds, collect all the papers and arrange them on the wall or a table so the group can review them.
  8. Facilitate a group discussion of the results, noting good ideas, themes, possible requirements, and challenges. Assign a note-taker to record the group's comments.
    1. Pass the notes and sketches on to the person who is responsible for the final design. Archive the results by taking digital photos or making scanned images since some ideas might be useful in the next round.

Participants and Other Stakeholders

Participants can include anyone from the project team as well as other stakeholders. Including individuals with different roles or different points of view may increase the variety of ideas that result. People from any of the following groups are candidates to participate in braindrawing:

  • Engineers/software developers
  • Usability or human factors specialists
  • Interaction designers
  • Marketing specialists
  • Technical writers and editors
  • Graphic design specialists
  • Quality assurance
  • Project managers
  • User representatives or surrogates (e.g. technical support staff or technical sales consultants)

Materials Needed

Braindrawing requires a location where the group can sit at tables to draw, and be close enough to pass the drawing to the next person. Materials required include plenty of blank paper and pens or pencils. Variations such as the Gallery Method call for stations with flip charts on easels or a large roll of paper hung on the wall, and markers for drawing. Braindrawing also requires a way to keep time for each round, such as a watch, clock, or other timer.

Who Can Facilitate

Anyone with basic facilitation skills can facilitate a braindrawing session. Through the use of rounds of individual sketching, the method avoids some of the challenges related to social dynamics that can occur with brainstorming and other group methods. A usability or human factors specialist is in a good position to facilitate braindrawing.

Common Problems

  • "Fixation" can be a problem since the first round of drawing is the only round where all ideas are original. Participants in the same “chain” of passes may start drawing variations on one theme based on an early drawing on the page. The facilitator should encourage creativity.
  • Some participants may be shy about their drawing skills. The facilitator should be aware of this and encourage the group to focus on rough sketches. Keeping the rounds short limits the time available to polish and refine drawings. The facilitator can also collect the pages and redistribute them after each round to provide a level of anonymity.
  • The group may run out of new ideas after a few rounds. One solution to this is to stop the session at this point and review all the resulting sketches (as you would for the final debrief); then start with clean pages for several more rounds of braindrawing.
  • It is possible that the order of individuals in the “passing chain” may inhibit some participants; for example if staff members are seated so that they pass their drawing on to their manager, they may feel pressured to produce good ideas or polished drawings. Facilitators should avoid inviting participants in hierarchical relationships or take care to make sure they are not seated next to each other. Collecting and redistributing the pages after each round or allowing participants to put drawings into a pile in the middle which is shuffled by the facilitator may also address this issue.

Data Analysis Approach

Affinity diagramming – As with other brainstorming data, the resulting sketches can be grouped into an affinity diagram by the braindrawing group or another group. After the affinity groups are formed, they can be prioritized so the best ideas emerge.

Participants can vote on, rate, or rank visual ideas according to a set of criteria. For a formal rating of drawings, you could scan in each drawing and have people choose sketches based on important criteria.

Next Steps

After the braindrawing session, the best ideas from the many different drawings can be combined or used as input to design problems. The facilitator should also follow up with participants to share the results of the event, as appropriate given the situation.

Special Considerations

Costs and Scalability


The equipment costs for braindrawing are low. The only materials needed are a simple set of standard office supplies and a timekeeping device.


The only people required are the facilitator and a group of five to twelve participants. While braindrawing could be used with a larger group to collect ideas from many participants, the group debrief described above would not be possible and the data analysis effort would increase significantly.


Braindrawing focuses on rapid generation of ideas through sketching, and as such, can be done very quickly. Sessions can range from twenty minutes to two hours, with most taking about an hour. It's best to keep sessions short (under an hour) or take frequent breaks. If you plan to do a group debrief after the drawing ends, extra time should be built into the session to accommodate the discussion.

International Considerations

Braindrawing should work in cultures that are normally reserved about expressing unusual or divergent ideas, because the creative expression is done individually on paper. When working with individuals in a risk-averse culture, the facilitator may want to collect and redistribute the papers between rounds to preserve the anonymity of all participants.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

Participants many feel pressure if their managers are observing or participating in the braindrawing session. Facilitators can reduce that pressure by having sessions without managers, by arranging the environment so managers are not sitting next to their direct employees and their managers next to each other, or by collecting and redistributing the pages between rounds.

Political Issues

Participants may feel ignored if their ideas are not used in the final design. Fostering a true collaborative atmosphere on the team and in the session can help alleviate this concern. Also, results should be preserved so that good ideas can be used in the future, even if not to solve the immediate design problem.


Lifecycle: Requirements
See also: Brainstorming
Sources and contributors: 
Amy Kidd, Shermin Ekhteraei, Chauncey Wilson.
Released: 2011-06
© 2010 Usability Professionals Association