Research in Engineering Design

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 127–145 | Cite as

On the imaginative constructivist nature of design: a theoretical approach

  • Akın O. KazakçıEmail author
Original Paper


Most empirical accounts of design suggest that designing is an activity where objects and representations are progressively constructed. Despite this fact, whether design is a constructive process or not is not a question directly addressed in the current design research. By contrast, in other fields such as Mathematics or Psychology, the notion of constructivism is seen as a foundational issue. The present paper defends the point of view that forms of constructivism in design need to be identified and integrated as a foundational element in design research as well. In fact, a look at the literature reveals at least two types of constructive processes that are well embedded in design research: first, an interactive constructivism, where a designer engages a conversation with media, that allows changing the course of the activity as a result of this interaction; second, a social constructivism, where designers need to handle communication and negotiation aspects, that allows integrating individuals’ expertise into the global design process. A key feature lacking these well-established paradigms is the explicit consideration of creativity as a central issue of design. To explore how creative and constructivist aspects of design can be taken into account conjointly, the present paper pursues a theoretical approach. We consider the roots of constructivism in mathematics, namely the Intuitionist Mathematics, in order to shed light on the original insights that led to the development of a notion of constructivism. Intuitionists describe mathematics as the process of mental mathematical constructions realized by a creative subject over time. One of the most original features of intuitionist constructivism is the introduction of incomplete objects into the heart of mathematics by means of lawless sequences and free choices. This allows the possibility to formulate undecided propositions and the consideration of creative acts within a formal constructive process. We provide an in-depth analysis of intuitionism from a design standpoint showing that the original notion is more than a pure constructivism where new objects are a mere bottom-up combination of already known objects. Rather, intuitionism describes an imaginative constructivist process that allows combining bottom-up and top-down processes and the expansion of both propositions and objects with free choices of a creative subject. We suggest that this new form of constructivism we identify is also relevant in interpreting conventional design processes and discuss its status with respect to other forms of constructivism in design.


Design Mathematics Brouwer Intuitionism Imaginative constructivism 



The author would like to thank Joop Niekus, Mark van Atten, Anne-Françoise Schmid, Thomas Gillier, Armand Hatchuel and the anonymous referees for helpful comments on earlier versions.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre de Gestion Scientifique, Design ChairMines ParisTechParis Cedex 06France

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