A Theoretical Approach to Intuition in Design: Does Design Methodology Need to Account for Unconscious Processes?

  • Petra Badke-Schaub
  • Ozgur Eris


Design theory is the body of knowledge that provides an understanding of the principles, practices, and procedures of design. That knowledge leads to hypotheses on how designers should work, which constitute the basis of the prescriptive part of design methodology. Decision making is one of the central design activities, and has been predominantly conceptualized as a structured, explicit, and rational thinking process in the literature. From this knowledge, various decision support methods have been developed. However, there is rich empirical evidence highlighting unconscious and mainly inaccessible processes that allow the designer to make quick and often effective decisions without building on explicit rationale. Given designers construct, apply, and internalize knowledge in a variety of different situations and time frames in their daily work, advocating the use of explicit and structured processes in all situations seems unrealistic. This claim implies that comprehensive design theories need to take into account unconscious processes such as intuition. From a methodological perspective, design methods should acknowledge the designer’s need to rely on intuition in certain situations—especially under time pressure. At a more advanced level, design methods should support the designer in assessing the limitations and benefits of utilizing intuitive approaches. In order to broaden the mono-disciplinary view, it would be beneficial to utilize knowledge from other disciplines such as relevant findings of neurophysiological research on the processes of the unconscious. For instance, in the early 1990s, neurophysiologists identified a group of nerve cells that are responsible for transmitting a signal when the brain detects an error before the person is even aware of the error. Connecting this type of information with the world of the designer might lead to advances in how designers relate to and manage their own processes.


Rational decision making Design intuition Design process Methodology 



We would like to thank the industrial design engineering master’s students of the DTM course at Delft University of Technology, who helped to collect the data referenced in the empirical dimension of this work. We would also like to thank the reviewers for their valuable feedback.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Delft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands

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