Creativity and the Design Process

Creativity is a quality that is highly valued, but not always well understood. Those who have studied and written about it stress the importance of a kind of flexibility of mind. Studies have shown that creative individuals are more spontaeous, expressive, and less controlled or inhibited. They also tend to trust their own judgement and ideas-- they are not afraid of trying something new.

A common misunderstanding equates creativity with originality. In point of fact, there are very few absolutely original ideas. Most of what seems to be new is simply a bringing together of previously existing concepts in a new way. Psychologist and author Arthur Koestler referred to this merging of apparently unrelated ideas as bissociation. The fact that creative thinking is based on a knowledge of previous work in one's field is the justification for teaching the history and foundations of a given field as a resource for future research and creative work. It is possible to develop ones ability to think intuitively and creatively. The exercises assigned in this class are in part intended to expand these skills.

Thus creativity is the ability to see connections and relationships where others have not. The ability to think in intuitive, non-verbal, and visual terms has been shown to enhance creativity in all disciplines. It has also been shown that the creative process is very similar in all fields.

Essentially the design process is a problem-solving process, and the designer, just like the laboratory scientist, will be most successful if the problem is approached in a systematic manner. Successful fine artists generally follow the same pattern in developing their creative ideas, though they may be less conscious of the process they are following. Initially the researcher or designer/artist will tend to experiment in a rather random manner, collecting ideas and skills through reading or experimentation. Gradually a particular issue or question will become the focus of the reading and experimentation. The next step is to formulate a tentative problem, and begin to explore that topic. Eventually the problem is refined into a research question or design problem that the person will then pursue through repeated experimentation. In design or fine arts production, this takes the form of works created in a series. Each effort solves certain problems, and suggests issues to be dealt with in the next work (or experiment). Working in a series is the most important stage of the design process. The ability to experiment, to value and learn from mistakes, and build on the experience achieved is the hallmark of a the truly successful and creative individual, whatever the field.

The table that follows outlines the parallels between design process and classic scientific method.

A Comparison of Scientific Research method and Design Process models
Research methodDesign process
Preparation for researchLiterature reviewStudy historic and contemporary examples, media
Information gathering. Goal: to limit variables and identify problemCollection of preliminary field dataExperimentation with materials and visual ideas
Identification of problem and hypothesisInformation correlated; problem defined; educated guesses made; hypotheses stated; research design preparedDesign problem identified through visual analysis and recognition
Exposition of facts and interpretation Research plan is carried out; results are analyzed, plan is modified as necessary based on results; experiments are replicatedWork is created in a series, with each work suggesting problems to explore in subsequent work
Presentation of results and findings Publication of findingsExhibition of work or production of design

Reference: Beveridge, W.I.B. The Art of Scientific Investigation, (New York; Vintage Books) n.d.

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