The Role of Abduction in Production of New Ideas in Design

  • Lauri KoskelaEmail author
  • Sami Paavola
  • Ehud Kroll
Part of the Design Research Foundations book series (DERF)


The pragmatist philosopher Peirce insisted that besides deduction and induction there is a third main form of inference, abduction, which is the only type of inference capable of producing new ideas. Also he defined abduction as a stage of the methodological process in science, where hypotheses are formed to explain anomalies. Basing on these seminal ideas, scholars have proposed modified, widened or alternative definitions of abduction and devised taxonomies of abductive inferences. Influenced by Peirce’s seminal writings and subsequent treatments on abduction in philosophy of science, design scholars have in the last 40 years endeavoured to shed light on design by means of the concept of abduction. The first treatment was provided by March in 1976. He viewed that abduction, which he called “productive reasoning”, is the key mode of reasoning in design. He also presented a three-step cyclic design process, similar to Peirce’s methodological process in science. Among the many other later treatments of design abduction, Roozenburg’s definition of explanatory and innovative abduction is noteworthy. However, an evaluation of the related literature suggests that research into abduction in design is still in an undeveloped stage. This research shows gaps in coverage, lack of depth and diverging outcomes. By focusing on the differences between science and design as well as on empirical knowledge of different phenomena comprising design, new conceptions of abduction in design are derived. Given the differences of context, abduction in design shows characteristics not yet found or identified in science. For example, abduction can occur in connection to practically all inference types in design; it is a property of an inference besides an inference itself. A number of the most important abductive inference types as they occur in design are identified and discussed in more detail.


Types of abduction Design Design reasoning 



The authors are grateful for the insightful comments and helpful suggestions by the editors and by Dr. Glenn Ballard.


  1. Aliseda, A. (2006). Abductive reasoning. Logical investigations into discovery and explanation, Synthese Library, vol. 330. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  2. Analogy. (2015, November 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved on Nov 28, 2015, from
  3. Aristotle (n.d.) Nicomachean ethics [electronic resource].
  4. Bartha, P. (2013). Analogy and analogical reasoning. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 11 Dec 2015.
  5. Bever, T. G., & Poeppel, D. (2010). Analysis by synthesis: A (re-) emerging program of research for language and vision. Biolinguistics, 4(2–3), 174–200.Google Scholar
  6. Boden, M. A. (1996). Dimensions of creativity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  7. Braha, D., & Maimon, O. (1997). The design process: Properties, paradigms, and structure. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, Part A: Systems and Humans, 27(2), 146–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Casakin, H. P., & Goldschmidt, G. (2000). Reasoning by visual analogy in design problem-solving: The role of guidance. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 27, 105–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chen, Y., Zhang, Z., Xie, Y., & Zhao, M. (2015a). A new model of conceptual design based on scientific ontology and intentionality theory. Part I: The conceptual foundation. Design Studies, 37, 12–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chen, Y., Zhao, M., Xie, Y., & Zhang, Z. (2015b). A new model of conceptual design based on scientific ontology and intentionality theory. Part II: The process model. Design Studies, 38, 139–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cramer-Petersen, C.L., & Ahmed-Kristensen, S. (2015). Reasoning in design: Idea generation condition effects on reasoning processes and evaluation of ideas. Proceedings of the 22nd Innovation and Product Development Management Conference, June 14–16, Copenhagen, European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management (EIASM).Google Scholar
  12. Dorst, K. (2006). Design problems and design paradoxes. Design Issues, 22(3), 4–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dorst, K. (2011). The core of ‘design thinking’ and its application. Design Studies, 32, 521–532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dorst, K., & Cross, N. (2001). Creativity in the design process: Co-evolution of problem–solution. Design Studies, 22(5), 425–437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dunne, D. D., & Dougherty, D. (2016). Abductive reasoning: How innovators navigate in the labyrinth of complex product innovation. Organization Studies, 37(2), 131–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Eco, U. (1983). Horns, hooves, insteps: Some hypotheses on three types of abduction. In U. Eco & T. A. Sebeok (Eds.), The sign of three. Dupin, Holmes, Peirce (pp. 198–220). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Eco, U., & Sebeok, T. A. (Eds.). (1983). The sign of three. Dupin, Holmes, Peirce. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Eekels, J., & Roozenburg, N. F. (1991). A methodological comparison of the structures of scientific research and engineering design: Their similarities and differences. Design Studies, 12(4), 197–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fann, K. T. (1970). Peirce’s theory of abduction. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Feibleman, J. K. (1969). An introduction to the philosophy of Charles S. Peirce: Interpreted as a system. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press.Google Scholar
  21. Flórez, J. A. (2014). Peirce’s theory of the origin of abduction in Aristotle. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 50(2), 265.Google Scholar
  22. Fregene, K., & Bolden, C. L. (2010). Dynamics and control of a biomimetic single-wing nano air vehicle. Proceedings of IEEE American Control Conference (ACC), pp. 51–56.Google Scholar
  23. Gabbay, D. M., & Woods, J. (2005). The reach of abduction. Insight and trial. A practical logic of cognitive systems (Vol. 2). Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  24. Gabbay, D. M., Thagard, P., Woods, J., & Meijers, A. W. (2009). Philosophy of technology and engineering sciences. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  25. Gero, J. S. (1999). Constructive memory in design thinking. In Design thinking research symposium: Design representation (pp. 29–35). Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  26. Goel, V. (1988). Complicating the ‘logic of design’. Design Studies, 9(4), 229–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Goel, A. K. (1997). Design, analogy, and creativity. IEEE Expert, 12(3), 62–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Goldschmidt, G. (1991). The dialectics of sketching. Creativity Research Journal, 4(2), 123–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Habermas, J. (1978). Knowledge and human interests (2nd ed.pp. 147–148). London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  30. Halle, M., & Stevens, K. (1959). Analysis by synthesis. In W. Wathen-Dunn & L. E. Woods (Eds.), Proceeding of the seminar on speech compression and processing (Vol. II.) Paper D7.Google Scholar
  31. Hanson, N. R. (1958). Patterns of discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Harman, G. H. (1965). The inference to the best explanation. The Philosophical Review, 74(1), 88–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Harman, G. (1968). Knowledge, inference, and explanation. American Philosophical Quarterly, 5(3), 164–173.Google Scholar
  34. Hintikka, J. (1999). What is abduction? The fundamental problem of contemporary epistemology. In Inquiry as inquiry: A logic of scientific discovery (pp. 91–113). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hintikka, J. (2007). Socratic epistemology: Explorations of knowledge-seeking by questioning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hintikka, J., & Remes, U. (1974). The method of analysis: Its geometrical origin and its general significance. Boston: D. Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hoffmann, M. H. (2010). “Theoric transformations”and a new classification of abductive inferences. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy, 46(4), 570–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hubka, V., & Eder, W. E. (1992). Engineering design. Zürich: Heurista.Google Scholar
  39. Hughes, J. (2009). Practical reasoning and engineering. In D. M. Gabbay, A. Meijers, P. Thagard, & J. Woods (Eds.), Philosophy of technology and engineering sciences (pp. 375–402).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Koestler, A. (1975). The act of creation. London: Picador.Google Scholar
  41. Kolko, J. (2010). Abductive thinking and sensemaking: The drivers of design synthesis. Design Issues, 26, 15–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Koskela, L., Codinhoto, R., Tzortzopoulos, P., & Kagioglou, M. (2014). The Aristotelian proto-theory of design. In A. Chakrabarti & L. T. M. Blessing (Eds.), An anthology of theories and models of design: Philosophy, approaches and empirical explorations (pp. 285–304). London: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kroll, E. (2013). Design theory and conceptual design: Contrasting functional decomposition and morphology with parameter analysis. Research in Engineering Design, 24(2), 165–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kroll, E., & Farbman, I. (2016). Casting innovative aerospace design case studies in the parameter analysis framework to uncover the design process of experts. Design Science, 2(e2).Google Scholar
  45. Kroll, E., & Koskela, L. (2015). On abduction in design. In J. S. Gero & S. Hanna (Eds.), Design computing and cognition ‘14. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  46. Kroll, E., & Koskela, L. (2016). Explicating concepts in reasoning from function to form by two-step innovative abductions. Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing (AIEDAM), 30, 125–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kroll, E., Condoor, S. S., & Jansson, D. G. (2001). Innovative conceptual design: Theory and application of parameter analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lagerlund, H. (2016). Medieval theories of the syllogism. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 ed..) URL = <>. Accesses 20 Apr 2016.Google Scholar
  49. Lawlor, L., & Moulard Leonard, V. (2013). Henri Bergson. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 ed..) URL = <>. Accessed 20 Dec 2015.Google Scholar
  50. Lawson, B. (1980). How designers think. London: Architectural Press.Google Scholar
  51. Lu, C.-Y., & Liu, A. (2012). Abductive reasoning for design synthesis. CIRP Annals – Manufacturing Technology, 61, 143–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Ma, M., & Pietarinen, A. V. (2016). A dynamic approach to Peirce’s interrogative construal of abductive logic. If CoLog Journal of Logics and their Applications, 3(3), 73–104.Google Scholar
  53. Magnani, L. (2001). Abduction, reason, and science. Processes of discovery and explanation. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Magnani, L. (2004). Model-based and manipulative abduction in science. Foundations of Science, 9(3), 219–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Magnani, L. (2005). Inductive generalizations and manipulative abduction. Department of Philosophy and Computational Philosophy Laboratory, University of Pavia. Accessed 11 Dec 2015.
  56. Maher, M. L., & Poon, J. (1996). Modeling design exploration as co-evolution. Computer-Aided Civil and Infrastructure Engineering, 11(3), 195–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. March, L. (1976). The logic of design and the question of value. In L. March (Ed.), The architecture of form (pp. 1–40). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  58. McAdams, D. A., & Wood, K. L. (2000). Quantitative measures for design by analogy. Proceedings of ASME Design Engineering Technical Conferences (DETC’00), September 10–13, Baltimore.Google Scholar
  59. McJohn, S. M. (1993). On uberty: Legal reasoning by analogy and Peirce’s theory of abduction. Willamette Law Review, 29, 191–235.Google Scholar
  60. Minnameier, G. (2004). Peirce-suit of truth – Why inference to the best explanation and abduction ought not to be confused. Erkenntnis, 60, 75–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Newton I. (2003) Opticks. (great mind series), Prometheus books.Google Scholar
  62. Nickles, T. (Ed.). (1980). Scientific discovery, logic, and rationality. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
  63. Niiniluoto, I. (1999a). Defending abduction. Philosophy of Science, S436–S451.Google Scholar
  64. Niiniluoto, I. (1999b). Abduction and geometrical analysis. Notes on Charles S. Peirce and Edgar Allan Poe. In L. Magnani et al. (Eds.), Model-based reasoning in scientific discovery. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.Google Scholar
  65. Paavola, S. (2004). Abduction as a logic and methodology of discovery: The importance of strategies. Foundations of Science, 9(3), 267–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Paavola, S. (2006). Hansonian and Harmanian abduction as models of discovery. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 20(1), 93–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Paavola, S. (2012). On the origin of ideas. An abductivist approach to discovery. Revised and enlarged edition of a dissertation (2006). Saarbrücken: Lap Lambert academic Publishing.Google Scholar
  68. Paavola, S., & Hakkarainen, K. (2005). Three abductive solutions to the Meno Paradox – With instinct, inference, and distributed cognition. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 24(3–4), 235–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Pauwels, P., & Bod, R. (2014). Architectural design thinking as a form of model-based reasoning. In L. Magnani (Ed.), Model-based reasoning in science and technology, Studies in applied philosophy, Epistemology and rational ethics (Vol. 8). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
  70. Peckhaus, V. (2002). Regressive analysis. Philosophiegeschichte und logische Analyse (Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy), 5, 97–110.Google Scholar
  71. Peirce, Charles S. [CP (volume.paragraph, year] (1931–1958). Collected papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol. 1–6, Hartshorne, C. and Weiss, P., (eds.), Vol. 7–8, Burks, A. W., (ed.). Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Peirce, C. S. (1967). Manuscripts in the Houghton library of Harvard University, as identified by Richard Robin, Annotated catalogue of the papers of Charles S Peirce. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.Google Scholar
  73. Peirce, Charles S. [W (volume: page numbers, year)] (1982–) Writings of Charles S. Peirce: A Chronological Edition, 6 vols. (to date), the Peirce Edition Project (eds). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  74. Peirce, Charles S. [EP (volume: page numbers, year)] (1992–8) The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, 2 vols., the Peirce Edition Project (eds). Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Peirce, Charles S. [PPM (page numbers, year)] (1997) Pragmatism as a Principle and Method of Right Thinking. The 1903 Harvard Lectures on Pragmatism, Ann Turrisi (ed.). Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  76. Pietarinen, A. V. J. (2014). The science to save us from philosophy of science. Axiomathes, 1–18.Google Scholar
  77. Poeppel, D., Idsardi, W. J., & van Wassenhove, V. (2008). Speech perception at the interface of neurobiology and linguistics. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 363(1493), 1071–1086.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Pray, L. (2008). Discovery of DNA structure and function: Watson and Crick. Nature Education, 1(1), 100.Google Scholar
  79. Psillos, S. (2009). An explorer upon untrodden ground: Peirce on abduction. Handbook of the history of logic: Inductive logic, 10, 117–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Reichenbach, H. (1938). Experience and prediction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  81. Roozenburg, N. F. M. (1993). On the pattern of reasoning in innovative design. Design Studies, 14, 4–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Roozenburg, N. F. M., & Eekels, J. (1995). Product design: fundamentals and methods. Chapter 4. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  83. Schickore, J. (2014). Scientific discovery. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 11 Dec 2015.
  84. Schön, D. A. (1993). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  85. Schurz, G. (2008). Patterns of abduction. Synthese, 164(2), 201–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Smith, G. F., & Browne, G. J. (1993). Conceptual foundations of design problem solving. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, 23(5), 1209–1219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Snyder, L. J. (1997). Discoverers’ induction. Philosophy of Science, 64(4), 580–604.Google Scholar
  88. Suh, N. P. (1990). The principles of design. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  89. Suwa, M., Gero, J., & Purcell, T. (2000). Unexpected discoveries and S-invention of design requirements: Important vehicles for a design process. Design Studies, 21(6), 539–567.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Takeda, H. (1994). Abduction for design. In J. S. Gero & E. Tyugu (Eds.), Formal design methods for CAD (pp. 221–244). Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  91. Takeda, H., Veerkamp, P., Tomiyama, T., & Yoshikawa, H. (1990). Modeling design processes. AI Magazine, 11(4), 37–48.Google Scholar
  92. Takeda, H., Sasaki, H., Nomaguchi, Y., Yoshioka, M., Shimomura, Y., Tomiyama, T. (2003). Universal abduction studio–proposal of a design support environment for creative thinking in design. Proceedings of the 14th Int. Conf. Engineering Design (ICED 03), Stockholm, Aug. 19–21.Google Scholar
  93. Thompson, K. R., Hochwarter, W. A., & Mathys, N. J. (1997). Stretch targets: What makes them effective? The Academy of Management Executive, 11(3), 48–60.Google Scholar
  94. Tomiyama, T., Takeda, H., Yoshioka, M., Shimomura, Y. (2003). Abduction for creative design. Proceedings of ASME Design Engineering Technical Conferences (DETC’03), (pp. 543–552), Sept 2–6, Chicago.Google Scholar
  95. Ullah, A. M. M. S., Rashid, M. M., & Tamaki, J. (2012). On some unique features of C–K theory of design. CIRP Journal of Manufacturing Science and Technology, 5, 55–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Velázquez-Quesada, F. R., Soler-Toscano, F., & Nepomuceno-Fernández, Á. (2013). An epistemic and dynamic approach to abductive reasoning: Abductive problem and abductive solution. Journal of Applied Logic, 11(4), 505–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Verene, D. P. (1981). Vico’s science of imagination. London: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  98. Verene, D. P. (2008). The history of philosophy: A reader’s guide. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  99. Vermaas, P. E. (2013). The coexistence of engineering meanings of function: Four responses and their methodological implications. Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing, 27(3), 191–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Wilson, C. S. J. (1979). Alvar Aalto and the state of modernism. International Architect, 1(2), 27–32.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Huddersfield, School of Art, Design and ArchitectureHuddersfieldUK
  2. 2.Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  3. 3.Department of Mechanical EngineeringORT Braude CollegeKarmielIsrael

Personalised recommendations