Drawings Support Thought and Understanding

I was asked to comment on this tweet!

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 9.34.57 AM

I’m happy that someone (thank you Ryan Schultz!) asks me to comment. I appreciate that very much.

I know that for many years nowwe’ve lost count, right?  — has it been about 15 years now since this idea of ‘getting rid of drawings‘ started circulating, gaining adherents?

While of course change is slow, there may be something else at work preventing this from happening. Many people set it as a goal, a dream. But when you look closely, it turns out that the goal is not really met, and cannot be. And there are a bunch of really good reasons why.

It’s worthwhile to revisit this idea and ask, are we missing something here that matters? Have we made some assumptions that don’t hold up? Have we thought seriously about what drawings are, what they do, how they function, and how this is different from models? Have we asked in a serious way:

  • What is functionally unique about “drawing”?
  • What is functionally unique about “modeling”?

For 15 years, we’ve kind of assumed the desirability of replacing one with the other. But how can we have this goal (to replace drawings with models), if we skip over the part where we study what each of these things is, functionally?

I’ve thought about this, during and after many years of building elaborate digital building models and using them to (partially) automate sets of drawings.

Personally, I’ve found that after a certain point in model development, which comes pretty early, the model reaches a level of complexity beyond which it becomes difficult to understand, even for those most familiar with the model, those creating it. Pretty early in model building, complexity starts to overwhelm our ability to grasp it, understand it.

As I build a model I’m always asking myself very basic questions, like:

  • Is it done yet?
  • What does that mean, ‘done’?
  • Is it ‘good enough’?
  • It’s ‘good enough’ in some places, not others…
  • OK, where is it good enough?
  • Can I make any sense out of this model? Can I understand it in any meaningful way (beyond surface impressions)?

Obviously (once you think about it), the articulation, and actually, the assertion, that, “it’s good enough, here, in this area, this location“, that is the function of drawing, to assert that.

But, we can state the functional meaning of “drawing” in an even simpler way:

To draw is to take a closer look. Drawing is the act, of taking a closer look.


Models are large, expansive, whole things that are complex. Models, we can say, are “wide”, environments. Drawings, on the other hand, are for narrowing down, taking a closer look, somewhere, and articulating something, there, that matters.

This is an important point because it gets us to the last question above, that we need answered as we model:

  • Can I make any sense of this model? Can I understand it in any meaningful way (beyond surface impressions)?

If you’ve built models, I’m sure you recognize what I’m talking about. This process of understanding complex things is something we all do, and we all recognize the difficulty, and that the difficulty increases as complexity increases.

So how do we solve that? How do we understand things that are elaborate, large, complex?

The answer is that we think, to build up an understanding. But, so, what does it mean to think? What is that? What’s happening when we think? Here then is the essential point:

When we think, we engage in a back and forth, between wide and narrow, between the expansive whole, and the various acts of taking a closer look through narrowed focus, at various places within the whole.

These two distinct things (whole and focus) are THE constituent parts of thinking. From this thinking, understanding grows.

Understanding arises out of the mental interplay between:

  • the wide, expansive environment of a model, and
  • the various acts of narrowing down to take a closer look.

Ping ponging between those can be said to be the dynamic of thought, the process from which understanding develops.

Will anyone suggest that understanding can be developed without this back and forth dynamic? If anyone does suggest that, in a serious way, they’re going to recognize right away that they are in new territory, as they are proposing theories in a cognitive domain not related to human cognition. Cognition that arises out of something other than some kind of back and forth between wide and narrow, whole and part, environment and focus, is, I’ll assert, some kind of ‘never-before-conceived-of’ theoretical kind of thinking, unrelated to any currently proposed theories of mind and cognition, human or machine.

The answer is “no”; no one will suggest that, so perhaps it’s time after 15 years to step away from these assumptions about drawing and models and instead refresh our understanding of the functional essence of each. In so doing, we might unlock some useful new possibilities:

We can re-envision the function of drawing, and do so within digital models, to enable the functional expression of “drawing” in very powerful new ways, that take full advantage of all that today’s visualization has to offer. The result, if we do this, will be the amplification of this back and forth dynamic of thinking.

We can drive innovation in media, in very useful new ways, using this idea as motivation:

Amplify the back and forth dynamic between environment and focus, to better support the development of understanding of complex environments.

I talk about that more here https://tangerinefocus.com/2017/09/02/the-drawing-vs-model-debate-is-wasting-this-industrys-energy/

Does this interest you?

I will share my new innovation ideas with any software company that  shares an interest in the concepts.

Do you have a favorite modeling software company? Recommend me to them, please! I’ll share my media innovation spec with them and bring this to your favorite platform.

Thanks for reading!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s