of what is doesn't open the door directly to what should be.
Colums of Design
version of the articles "Design intelligence: the use of codes and
language systems in design" (Anita Cross. DESIGN STUDIES, Vol. 7
N° 1, January 1986), "The nature and nurture of design ability"
and "Designerly ways of knowing" (Nigel Cross. DESIGN STUDIES,
Vol. 11 N° 3 July 1990 & Vol. 3 N° 4 October 1982).
Case for Design as a Third Culture
in General Education
Features of Design Ability
Ways of Knowing
Core Features of Design Ability
views of intelligence and ability as developed in academic psychology
tend to view them in relation to the acquisition of verbal and numerical
language systems. Intuitive thought, symbolic meaning and concrete learning
are not presented as aspects of a high form of intelligence in its own
right, but as aspects of a developmental sequence, the end point of which
is a learned ability to perform abstract, logical operations.
The knowledge which designers acquire, value and use is ill-explained
by these theories. Nigel Cross argues that the intrinsic value of learning
in design derives from ways of knowing and proceeding, which are distinctive
to design and are essentially non-verbal. He suggests that 'designerly'
ways of knowing rest upon the manipulation of non-verbal codes in the
material culture: "These codes translate messages either way between
concrete objects and abstracts requirements; they facilitate the constructive,
solution-focused thinking of the designer in the same way that the other
(e.g. verbal and numerical) codes facilitate analytic, problem-focused
From a review of a wide variety of studies of design activity and designer
behavior, design ability is summarized as comprising resolving ill-defined
problems, adopting solution-focussed cognitive strategies, employing abductive
or appositional thinking and using non-verbal modeling media. These abilities
are highly developed in skilled designers, but are also possessed in some
degree by everyone. A case is therefore made for design ability as a fundamental
form of human intelligence (7).
a number of observational studies have been made of how designers work.
These studies tend to support the view that there is a distinct 'designerly'
form of activity that separates it from typical scientific and scholarly
Lawson's studies of design behavior, in particular, have compared the
problem-solving strategies of designers with those of scientists (8).
He devised problems which required the arrangement of 3D colored blocks
so as to satisfy certain rules (some of which were not initially disclosed),
and set the same problems to both postgraduate architectural students
and postgraduate science students. The two groups showed dissimilar problem-solving
strategies, according to Lawson. "The essential difference between
these two strategies is that while the scientists focused their attention
on discovering the rule, the architects were obsessed with achieving the
desired result. The scientists adopted a generally problem-focused strategy
and the architects a solution-focused strategy. Although it would be quite
possible using the architect's approach to achieve the best solution without
actually discovering the complete range of acceptable solutions, in fact
most architects discovered something about the rule governing the allowed
combination of blocks. In other words, they learn about the nature of
the problem largely as a result of trying out solutions, whereas the scientists
set out specifically to study the problem." (9)
have especially warned against confusing Design with Science. "The
scientific method is a pattern of problem-solving behavior employed in
finding out the nature of what exists, whereas the design method is a
patter of behavior employed in inventing things of value which do not
exist yet. Science is analytic; design is constructive." (Gregory,
10). "The natural sciences are concerned with how things are
design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things ought to be."
(Simon, 11). "To base design theory on inappropriate paradigms of
logic and science is to make a bad mistake. Logic has interests in abstract
forms. Science investigates extant form. Design initiates novel forms."
The emphasis in these admonitions is on the constructive, normative, creative
nature of designing. Design is a process of pattern synthesis, rather
than pattern recognition. The solution is not simply lying there among
the data, like the dog among the spots in the well known perceptual puzzle;
it has to be actively constructed by the designer's own effort. The concrete/icon
modes of cognition are particularly relevant in design, whereas the formal/symbolic
modes are relevant in sciences.
This pattern-constructing feature has been recognized as lying at the
core of design activity by Alexander, in his 'constructive diagrams' (13)
and 'pattern language' (14). This kind of thought differs from abstract
thinking, but can be engaged, externalized and progressed by 'modeling'
language systems, e.g. drawings, diagrams and construction. The designer
learns to think in this sketch-like form, in which the abstract patterns
of user requirements are turned into the concrete patterns of an actual
object. It is like learning an artificial 'language', a kind of code which
transforms 'thoughts' into 'words': "Those who have been trained
as designers will be using just such a code
which enables the designer
to effect a translation from individual, organizational and social needs
to physical artifacts. This code which has been learned is supposed to
express and contain actual connections which exist between human needs
and their artificial environment. In effect, the designer learns to 'speak'
a language -to make a useful transaction between domains which are unlike
each other (sounds and meanings in language, artifacts and needs in design)
by means of a code or system of codes which structure that connection."
(Hilliar and Leaman, 15).
ways of knowing are embodied in these 'codes'. The details of the codes
will vary from one design profession to another, but perhaps there is
a 'deep structure' to design codes. We shall not know this until more
effort has been made in externalizing the codes.
As a matter of fact, it has been suggested that graphic systems contain
their own type of 'reflective' component, associated with the semantics
of a given graphic tasks. Van Sommers suggests that competent drawers
often employ learned strategies. But when these strategies are inadequate
or lacking, a type of graphic intelligence is exercised to solve new problems
of perceptual analysis posed by complex subject matters (16). Graphic
intelligence involves engaging with the meanings or semantics of a task.
These meanings are released by the act of drawing. Thus, the act of drawing
makes meanings accessible to conscious attention and focusing. This process
needs not necessarily be associated with verbal language. On the contrary,
drawing may be viewed as a descriptive code containing particular types
of spatial concepts not contained in verbal language. The manipulation
of graphic marks therefore involves a particular type of thinking, which
may be inhibited by, and in conflict with rational verbal conceptualization
Ways of Knowing
from the Royal College of Art report on 'Design in general education'
was that 'there are things to know, ways of knowing them, and ways of
finding about them' that are at the core of the design area of education.
The authors believe that there are designerly ways of knowing, distinct
from the more usually-recognized scientific and scholarly ways of knowing;
however, they do little to explicate this belief in designerly ways of
knowing, and are less than precise about what design should include. Why
it should be such a recognizably 'designerly' way of proceeding is probably
not just an embodiment of any intrinsic inadequacies of designers and
their education, but is more likely to be a reflection of the nature of
the design task and of the nature of the kinds of problems designers tackle.
The designer is constrained to produce a practicable result within a specific
time limit, whereas the scientist and scholar are both able, and often
required, to suspend their judgements and decisions until more is known
-'further research is needed' is always a justifiable conclusion for them.
However, the world of design has been badly served by its intellectual
leaders, who have failed to develop their subject in its own terms. Too
often, they have defected to the cultures of scientific and scholarly
inquiry, instead of developing the culture of designerly inquiry. Design
must have its own inner coherence, in the ways that science and the humanities
do, if it is to be established in comparable intellectual and educational
terms. Understanding the nature of design ability can better enable design
educators to nurture its development in their students.
So what can
be said about these ill-defined 'designerly ways of knowing'? There has,
in fact, been a small and very slowly-growing field of inquiry in design
research over the last 30 years or so, from which it is possible to begin
to draw some conclusions.
Nigel Cross has identify five aspects of designerly ways of knowing (1):
tackle 'ill-defined' problems
mode of problem-solving is 'solution-focussed'
mode of thinking is 'constructive'
- They use
'codes' that translate abstract requirements into concrete objects.
- They use
these codes to both 'read' and 'write' in 'object language'.
ways of knowing, he drew three main areas of justification for Design
in General Education:
develops innate abilities in solving real-world, ill-defined problems.
sustains cognitive development in the concrete/iconic modes of recognition
offers opportunities for development of a wide range of abilities in
nonverbal thought and communication.
we can say that designerly ways of knowing rest on the manipulation of
non-verbal codes in the material culture; these codes translate 'messages'
either way between concrete objects and abstract requirements; they facilitate
the constructive, solution-focused thinking of the designer, in the same
way that other (e.g. verbal and numerical) codes facilitate analytic,
problem-focused thinking; they are probably the most effective means of
tackling the characteristically ill-defined problems of planning, designing
and inventing new things.
From this, we can move on to a justification for the inclusion of Design
in General Education, based on the recognition that there are large areas
of human cognitive ability that have been systematically ignored in our
Western education system. This 'Third Culture' of Design relies not so
much on verbal, numerical and literary modes of thinking and communication,
but on nonverbal modes (18). This is particularly evident in the designer's
use of models and 'codes' that rely so heavily on graphic images -i.e.
drawings, diagrams and sketches that are aids to internal thinking as
well as aids to communicating ideas and instructions to others.
there is still a long way to go before we can begin to have much sense
of having achieved a real understanding of design as a discipline -we
have only begun to make rough maps of the territory. The arguments for,
and defense of, Design in General Education must rest on identifying the
intrinsic values of design that make it justifiable a part of everyone's
Following on from his comments on nonverbal education as the prime justification
for design in general education, French points out that there are certain
implications arising from this: "If design teaching is to have this
role it must meet certain requirements. It must 'stretch the mind', and
ideally this involves a progression from step to step, some discipline
of thought to be acquired in more or less specifiable components, reflected
in a growing achievement of the pupil that both he and his teacher can
recognize with some confidence. At present, there does not seem to be
enough understanding, enough scholarly work on design, enough material
of suitable nature to make such teaching possible. I believe we should
strive to remedy this state of affairs. (19)"
We need a 'research program', in the sense which Lakatos (20) described
the research program of science. At its core is a 'touch-stone theory'
or idea -in our case the view that 'there are designerly ways of knowing'.
Around this core is built a 'defensive' network of related theories, ideas
and knowledge. In this way both design research and design education can
develop a common approach to design as a discipline.
What I hope we shall achieve through academic design studies is that Design
Education will become a reliably successful means for the development
of design ability in everyone.
N. 'Designerly ways of knowing'. DESIGN STUDIES, Vol. 3 N° 4 (October
College of Art, 'Design in general education'. Royal College of Art,
B. 'The three Rs'. DESIGN STUDIES Vol.1 N° 1 (July 1979) pp 18-20
N. Naughton, J. and Walker, D. 'Design method and scientific method'.
DESIGN STUDIES, Vol. 2 N° 4 (October 1981) pp 195-201
A.N. 'Technical education and its relation to science and literature'
in Whitehead ,A.N. THE AIMS OF EDUCATION, William and Norgate, London
(1932) Second edition: Ernest Benn Ltd. London (1950)
A. 'Design and General Education' DESIGN STUDIES Vol.1 N° 4 (July
1980) pp 202-206
N. 'The nature and nurture of design ability'. DESIGN STUDIES Vol.11
N° 3 (July 1990) pp 127-140
B. 'Cognitive strategies in design studies'. ERGONOMICS, Vol.22 N°
1 (1979) pp 59-68
B. 'How designers think'. ARCHITECTURAL PRESS, London (1980)
S.A. 'Design and the design method' in Gregory, S.A. THE DESIGN METHOD,
Butterworths, London (1966)
H.A. 'The sciences of the artificial'. MIT Press, Cambridge MA USA 1969
L.J. 'The logic of design and the question of value' in March, L.J.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF FORM, Cambridge University Press UK (1976)
C. 'Notes on the synthesis of form'. Harvard University Press, Cambridge
MA USA (1964)
C. et Al. 'A pattern language'. Oxford University Press, New York (1979)
B. and Leaman, A. 'Architecture as a discipline'. J.ARCHIT. RES. Vol.5
N° 1 (1976) pp 28-32
- Van Sommers,
P. 'Drawing and cognition'. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK
A. 'Design intelligence: the use of codes and language systems in design'.
DESIGN STUDIES Vol.7 N° 1 (January 1986) pp 14-19
E.S. 'The mind's eye: non-verbal thought in technology', SCIENCE Vol.193
N° 4306 (1977)
M.J. 'A justification for design teaching in schools'. ENGINEERING (design
education supplement) May 1979 pp25.
I. 'Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes'
in Lakatos, I. And Musgrave, A. CRITICISM AND THE GROWTH OF KNOWLEDGE,
Cambridge University Press (1970).