Design cognition for conceptual design

Lassi A Liikkanen

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


    Creative competences are the major currency in 21st century product development domain. Consequentially, the number of new methodologies and working styles targeted for the fuzzy front-end constantly increases. In response, those responsible for managing the early phases of product design need to repeatedly question methods, the organization of work, and the constitution of a design team. In this dissertation I argue that the development of design practices can benefit from a science of design that can provide robust evidence about successful and purposeful ways of working. I particularly endorse a psychological science of design which concerns mental constructs that underlie design work regardless of the utilized tools and methods. This dissertation is motivated by an urge to understand the generation of ideas in conceptual design. By idea generation, I refer to the rapid production of seeds for future products or services, not necessarily very clever or unique yet. The goal is to develop a psychologically plausible view on how this kind of idea generation unfolds and particularly how human memory processes underlie this activity. This kind of cognitive, descriptive account is considered necessary to highlight the reality of design work in contrast to the prevalent prescriptive models of design. This thesis reviews the existing literature on design idea generation and general theories of idea generation. Based on several empirical studies and cycles of theoretical development, I develop a heuristic model of conceptual design; an example of design cognition for conceptual design. The model is utilized as an explanatory framework to argue why certain phenomena (e.g. incubation, inspiration, and fixation) arise and influence design idea generation as they do. The model emphasizes memory search, recognition, and analogical transfer as essential cognitive processes in idea generation. As a critical reflection of the work, I come to acknowledge the need to expand the cognitive theory beyond its present scope. I see that the design cognition needs to give up the problem solving perspective and consider new discourses to keep up with the accounts based on social constructivism. In future, I believe that establishing a science of design should help both educators and practitioners to advance their skills and help developing more effective and designer-centered practices.
    Translated title of the contributionDesign cognition for conceptual design
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor's degree
    Awarding Institution
    • Aalto University
    • Ekman, Kalevi, Supervising Professor
    • Ekman, Kalevi, Thesis Advisor
    Print ISBNs978-952-60-3024-1
    Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-3025-8
    Publication statusPublished - 2010
    MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


    • design cognition
    • conceptual design
    • idea generation
    • creativity
    • cognitive modeling


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