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Designerly Ways of Knowing in 2013

posted 15 Feb 2013, 01:39 by Manish Abraham   [ updated 15 Feb 2013, 02:49 ]

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This is a very short article on the  Designerly Ways of knowing written for the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria. Please like my Facebook page and also reference this article in case you use it:

 M.Abraham "Designerly ways of knowing in 2013", available: [accessed put today's date ]

I am Manish Abraham and I am studying MSC in Innovation and Product Management in University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria. Please do read about me and share my profile.


The study is to show the various designerly ways of knowing, to call attention to what might be overlooked as significant forms of design thinking, and to understand and take advantage of the methods that designers use to gain knowledge. The aspects explored are the ways designer’s think and the ways they know, there has been an investigation made for the various approaches. The anticipated goal of this paper is to create a different whole system approach of design knowing. The findings may be useful in understanding how designers gain knowledge.

Designerly ways of knowing 2013 - by manish abraham

Designer tend to say things differently, designers in general are known to produce their designs, make sketches and other representations to demonstrate and promote their ideas (Henderson 1991, Eckert and Boujut 2003), the real act of designing is in the ability of the designer to attract people, technologies and other objects together so as to develop a situation and future that works as the designer put it.
This paper traces the development of my personal research. Initially the research did not have a clear goal of what I wanted to achieve. The key insight was to develop a discipline of designerly way of knowing which would articulate the nature of design thinking, activity and behavior. I build up a network of arguments for the designerly way of Knowing. In the same way, good designer’s ways of thinking express their ideas what makes an environment work. Such a way of thinking is beyond finding solutions to a particular design problem.
The Initial aim of the designerly way of knowing as I understood was the theoretical basis for treating design as a coherent discipline in studies. Initially in the 60s there were two cultures which were prevalent:
The study of Science
The study of Humanities.
The third which developed was the design culture. We see that the main concern of design is the realization of the new thing. Design encompasses the appreciation to materials and application of art, planning and innovation. Designers have their own way to know them and find more about them. To understand designerly way of knowing we would first differentiate it with the two disciplines as per Nigel cross.

 ScienceHumanitics Design
 Natural WorldHuman Experience Artificial World 
 Controlled Experiment and analysisEvaluations Modeling and Synthesis 
Objectivity, Rationality Subjectivity, Imagination Practicality, Ingenuity, Empathy

I think of designing as ‘human purposeful activity’ (Checkland and Poulter 2006) aimed at ‘initiating change in artificial things (Jones 1992).


In designerly ways of knowing and thinking, Cross (2001) states that designers have specific knowledge, methods of knowing them and ways of finding about them that are specific to design activities. Designers must have their own inner coherence the same way science and humanities does but the process is different, I went through various papers which gave an over view of how designers work. This helped me to analyze the various ways of knowing between all the three different cultures.
The ways of knowing and thinking are based on an understanding of what people need and want in their daily lives (Brown 2008) and also of the designers ability to draw inspiration from various areas of life (Buchanan 1992). Lawson performed two experiments in the 1979 and 1980 which explained that scientists solve problem by analysis whereas designers solve it by synthesis. Many researchers have an opposite saying like the Simons (1969) who says that design is a process of satisfying rather than optimizing, one of the main reasons that I think is that designers have to produce practicable results within a specific time limit whereas the scientists have an option to suspend till they know more. I understood that the design problems are ill structured and ill defined (Rittel and Webler 1973). Design solutions are not a kind of puzzle which the scientists set up themselves hence we don’t get exhaustive analysis. It was noted that the strategies that designers focus on is a solution focused strategy rather than a problem focused strategy. Since most of the tasks are ill defined the designers should have self-confidence to define to define or sometimes redefine or change the problem. Jones (1970) said that the most challenging part of designing is to change the problem. The solution to designers knowledge is not the information lying in the data but in an active information by designers own effort.


One of the Approaches is in the products. A vast amount of knowledge is present in the materials which are around us. One way is to simply copy (learn) from the objects, to explain this we see the example of the past where craftsmen generated complex products out of simple crafts. This theory is also backed by Alexander (1964) & Jones (1970). I also learnt that designers gain the knowledge from an object which is also clear from the fact that great inventions come before theory (pye(1978)).
Designerly ways of knowing rests on manipulation of nonverbal codes which informs of the objects and requirements. It depends on the solution focused creative thinking of the designer.
The other methods which were analyzed were simulation trials, observation, protocol studies, theorizing, case studies, reflections and after reading the whole book of Nigel Cross I came to a conclusion that there was very less on how designers design. I analyzed and found that designers tend to use solution conjectures as a means to develop their understanding of a problem since the problem is impossible to be understood in isolation, this helps the designer to explore and understand the problem formulation and gain more knowledge. Designer’s way of knowing is also that what makes it interact and engage with the user. Individual designers do not know everything about people’s needs, and they do not know everything about the techniques. Rather, they overcome this knowing and study more in practice (Gherardi 2010), by getting in contact with teams of designers with the objects of their work (Knorr Cetina2001). It is this deep, unfolding knowing that helps designers deal with troublesome issues. Designers develop an “ability to see” (Schön and Wiggins 1992) opportunity that others have not thought of.
A WHOLE SYSTEM APPROACH OF DESIGN KNOWING After going through the materials and looking at the various goals I would advocate a method by which designers could enhance the way they know, this is possible when designers actively engage with people both upstream (marketing plans and related to business strategy) and downstream (materials, manufacturing, and distribution) from the traditional designer’s area of expertise. One another way of designer’s way of knowing is to design backwards where they could brainstorm the whole process before they undertake that this would help them to analyze the possible road blocks.


1.Brown, T. (2008), ‘Design thinking’,Harvard Business Review. Available
2.Buchanan, R. (1992), ‘Wicked problems in design’,Design Issues, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 5-21. 
3.Checkland, P. and Poulter, J. (2006),‘Learning for action: a short definitive account of softsystems methodology, and its use for practitioner, teachers and students’, John Wiley &Sons, New York.
 4.Cross, N. (2001),‘Designerly ways of knowing: Design discipline versus design science’.Design Issues, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 49-55. 
5.Cross, N. (2006), ‘Designerly ways of knowing’, Springer: London. 
6.Designing backwards Available at:
7.Eckert, C. and Boujut, J-F. (2003),‘The role of objects in design cooperation:Communication through physical and virtual objects’,Computer Supported CooperativeWork, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 145-151. 
8.Henderson, K. (1991),‘Flexible sketches and inflexible databases: Visual communication,conscription devices, and boundary objects in design engineering’,Science, Technologyand Human Values, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 448-473.
10.J. C. Jones, “How My Thoughts About Design Methods Have Changed During the Years,” Design Methods and Theories 11:1 (1977). 
11.Jones, J.C. (1992),‘Design methods’,John Wiley & Sons, New York 
12.Lawson, B. (2006), ‘How designers think:The design process demystified’, Elsevier Architectural Press, Amsterdam. 
13.Schön, D. and Wiggins, G. (1992), Kinds of seeing and their functions in designing’, Design Studies, vol.13, no. 2, pp. 135-156 

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