If you have ever struggled to explain why design thinking is important, why it is different than other forms of thinking, I can recommend you read “Designerly Ways of Thinking” by Nigel Cross. Since the 1970’s Professor Cross has investigated the evidence for design cognition as an essential aspect of human intelligence and whether design can stand as a third “coherent discipline of study” alongside the sciences and humanities. To avoid being subsumed by these, he suggests that Design needs to establish clear insights into the nature of design activity, behavior and cognition.

This book collects his research into a single integrated body of work and explores the following topics:

  • The Nature and Nurture of Design Ability
  • Natural and Artificial Intelligence in Design
  •  Creative Cognition in Design, from Creative Leap to Creative Strategy
  • Understanding Design Cognition, and
  • Design as a Discipline.

The author summarizes his ambition as follows: “My goal has been to understand how designers think, or the nature of design expertise, trying to establish its particular strengths and weaknesses, and giving credit where it might be due for design cognition as an essential aspect of human intelligence.” The book is eminently readable (academic writers can be somewhat obtuse) and will provide designers with ample evidence to support the value and practices of design thinking.

The author, in collaboration with many others, has spent several decades on this, and believes there is still a lot of work still to be done to understand and grow the discipline of design. The truth of this was starkly evidenced in an article this morning on Design Week (UK) entitled “Proposals for teaching design in schools ‘not fit for the 21st century’”, which makes it clear that we are still a long way from the vision for design education held by Professor Cross and his colleagues.

Sir James Dyson observes that when “life skills such as how to grill a tomato and what to do if your bike chain falls off take pride of place” in a curriculum with “Art and Design” and “Design and Technology” it is missing the academic rigor needed to encourage the designers and engineers of the future.

 Designerly Ways of Knowing (Board of International Research in Design) is published by Birkhauser.

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