The Art of “Stepping Back”: Studying levels of abstraction in a diverse design team

Pergamon Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Design Studies, 2016, 46 pp. 79 - 94
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A review of the literature on the design thinking processes of expert designers reveals that when given a design brief, expert designers often “Step Back” from that brief. That is, they analyse the brief/problem from a broad context or frame of reference. In his research of expert designers, Cross (2003) indicates that experts tend to take a broad ‘systems approach’ to the problem. Moreover, experts often go beyond mere interpretation and reframe the brief [see: Kokotovich (2008); Mathias (1993); Lloyd & Scott (1994); Ho (2001); Paton (2011)]. In order to “Step Back” from the brief, expert designers often draw/reflect upon their personal experiential knowledge and observations. Indeed they use their previous experiences to develop and critically analyse abstract concepts which may inform both a reconceptualisation (reframing) of the brief/problem as given, and inform the creation of a final solution. In this paper we seek to investigate IF and HOW a mixed group of undergraduate and Post-graduate students from diverse backgrounds [some of which were from creative professions] demonstrate the capacity to use their previous experiences to collectively mimic the levels of abstraction and the framing capabilities of expert designers.
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