In my day-to-day life, I instruct people to deal with problems that have a geometrical or topographical nature. And usually there is a critical step in the process that requires one to draw a picture to explain the problem to oneself and others.

Now if I tell people to draw an image, most people will seemingly gravitate into thinking that when I say draw, it means pen and paper. To be honest I don’t really say that that is necessarily a bad option, just not my intention to give a narrow picture like this. People in this case are most often a mix of engineering, business and art students. Though quite often also people that have already graduated.

So how do I talk about drawing and make it clear that i am not only talking about traditional methods? While I have nothing against having the discussion of what to use, it is often not so fruitful to the task at hand. Also I do not want devolve the discussion into I don’t know how to draw or I don’t know any software, because again I’m not always there to talk about tools.

So how do I – politely and without insulting the intelligence of the audience – convey this message that I mean drawing in the broadest of possible terms?

  • Can you give a specific example, like a sentence that you would use and that is misunderstood? – Wrzlprmft Jun 28 '17 at 12:01
  • Surely "create imagery" – Fattie Jun 28 '17 at 20:09

"Create an image...." then you could add... "...using whatever method you prefer."

By merely swapping the word "draw" with "create" you broaden the perception of the processes. "Draw" to most will just inherently mean by hand... and most never see holding a mouse as "drawing", and few ever think of a tablet (unless they use one). I'm not stating that's accurate, just how I've seen people perceive "draw".

By using "create" you free the listener up to immediately jump to their preferred method for creation in their mind. Some will jump to pen and paper, some to digital means.

Someone tells me to "Create a circle" I think digital, until more info is received... someone tells me to "create a logo" I think pen and paper, at least for initial phases.

  • Yeah this seems likethe best option, still waiting a while. – joojaa Jun 29 '17 at 9:17

Draw / Drawing is a less than ideal word. Illustrate / Illustration would be more appropriate.

From wikipedia:

Drawing: Drawing is a form of visual art in which a person uses various drawing instruments to mark paper or another two-dimensional medium. Instruments include graphite pencils, pen and ink, inked brushes, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoal, chalk, pastels, various kinds of erasers, markers, styluses, various metals (such as silverpoint) and electronic drawing.


Illustration: An illustration is a decoration, interpretation or visual explanation of a text, concept or process,[1] designed for integration in published media, such as posters, flyers, magazines, books, teaching materials, animations, video games and films.

From Merriam-Webster:

Draw: a (1) : to produce a likeness or representation of by making lines on a surface

From Merriam-Webster:

Illustrate: a : to make clear : clarify b : to make clear by giving or by serving as an example or instance c : to provide with visual features intended to explain or decorate

While the two are similar there's a subtle difference that is amplified by connotative meanings. A drawing is generally perceived as an actual hand marking on paper. An Illustration is a better term for you in that it has the connotative meaning of making something clear through any visual means necessary.

  • Yeah i dont think illustrate is a good option in this case though. But i find it interesting that drawing still means physical media to most people while writing does not. Much in the same way you could describe writing by the physical aspects you do instead of the mental ones. So nobody in their sane mind writes a 100 word explanation on paper with hand these days. BTW it does open the possibility of computer drawing in webster its just hidden becase there is so much other options. – joojaa Jun 28 '17 at 14:34

I'd be explicit. I don't think there's a single word that expresses what you're trying to get across (I know this isn't [single-word-request] at English.se, but it could be).

So verbally say something like "Draw a diagram, whether you use a pencil or a computer". If you're showing slides, illustrate it with both (you could even do something really nice that morphs from a pencil sketch to a fairly crude inkscape block diagram).

I don't think you need to worry too much about insulting people's intelligence if you make the point simply and briefly. This is especially true if the audience know that they come from a wide range of backgrounds. An engineer might hear "draw" and think "CAD, fully dimensioned", while an artist might think of their favourite medium (other than paint)

  • 1
    heh we could migrate it to an SWR over there :) – Fattie Jun 28 '17 at 20:09

Maybe just avoid using the word drawing as this may (still) naturally imply paper to most people. As much as we are nowadays connected to devices and such, young children still use paper, pencils, etc as a first step so the mental connection is still being built and still exists between drawing and paper.

Try using an alternative term like 'mockup' or 'diagram' when discussing this stage of the work. These words are not directly linked with paper, so at least you can challenge people to inquire about ways to achieve that, instead of just reaching for the paper.

If this is a common issue, consider preparing some handouts (black and white prints, or flyers or something) recommending alternatives. This way you don't spend time explaining the issue every time, just hand out the paper and each person can research this on their own.


Instead of "I have drawn X" say "I have created a drawing of X". Then at least you have not specified any method.

  • @joojaa if you say "mie oon viäntätännä tähän yhen piirustukksennii" then only about 0,1% of the people can uderstand it wrongly. – user287001 Jun 28 '17 at 14:07
  • more like 0.012% though locally it would be maybe 40-60%. NB i didnt downvote. I did actually consider saying make images. – joojaa Jun 28 '17 at 14:30

I would use a different term whose implication includes computer modeling, sculpting and other additive processes, including 2D drawing: Now "Construct" the idea. Now "Model" the idea. Now "build" a diagram of it. "Assemble your ideas into a model" but don't say how. "Now take these things and build them into a diagram" Etc.

  • Yes but i dont want to exclude doing it on paper either. Because that is in fact what the art students do. (but that's fine they are like plotters anyway) – joojaa Jun 28 '17 at 16:37
  • Yes, I hoped it would be clear that 2D drawing is an option if you ask them to model, diagram or build out their idea. It seems like someone would ask and then you can say "It is okay to use pen and paper, computer drafting program, paper cut outs, clay or whatever medium you can best express the relationship of ideas". – Webster Jun 28 '17 at 16:41
  • no not doing the pictures is not an option because the alternative is to redo the entire work process in 99% of the cases: but theya re people at different technological levels on the ladder. So you can not expect them to all use software X – joojaa Jun 28 '17 at 16:44
  • So the result needs to be a picture (2d) but you want them to use either hand drawing or computers? "Construct a Picture" "Build a Picture" "Develop a Drawing" by any means you know how. – Webster Jun 28 '17 at 16:48
  • Its not an assignment as such so i can not dominate them, they can choose to fail and work extra x weeks its entirely up to them. – joojaa Jun 28 '17 at 16:56

If you leave out the verb it might be easier for the subject to select for themselves.

"Provide me an example/picture of X, then it might be easier for me to help you"


"Use a diagram to show ..." leaves the possibility that you can even just find one on the Internet, and not have to draw anything.

There is always the verb to draft. If the students think they should go out and get a drafting table instead of firing up software, that's their silly interpretation.

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