Frame it simple! : towards a theory of conceptual designing

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


This study develops an empirically and theoretically grounded explanation of conceptual designing. Conceptual designing is a concept-mediated planning activity that is typically collaborative and involves the use of semiotic resources such as talk, text, figures, pictures, visualisations, diagrams, sketching, and gesturing. Central to conceptual designing is the intent to articulate high-level simplifications, design concepts, which guide the strategic decision-making over a thing-to-be-designed and inform detailed designing. The original main contribution of the study is an explanation of conceptual designing in terms of project-specific learning. It is assumed that the changes in the ways a project team articulates, talks about, refers to, and makes changes to a thing-to-be-designed, are indicative of project-specific learning. A novel method for the investigation of project-specific learning is presented, namely Framing Analysis of Design Articulation (FADA), and a set of analytical concepts for the investigation and conduct of conceptual designing are introduced. With FADA it is possible to investigate designers’ construction of semiotic resources, which are necessary when designers create a framing strategy for their project. As the result of investigating two real projects the study sheds light on to the deep dilemmas inherent in conceptual designing as well as delivers concrete insights for its facilitation. The work is conducted as part of the practice-based tradition, and aspires to be associated to such works that have been able to make a doubly methodological contribution; to the methodology of studying design practice by introducing theoretical insights, methods, and analytical concepts; and to the approach that designers employ in conducting conceptual designing. The key benefit of the present work for designers is the uncovering of the importance of the preliminary activities of developing semiotic resources for the construction of the design concept, i.e. the value of priming, and the significance of preliminary structuring of attention and articulation through what will be called pre-framing.
Translated title of the contributionFrame it simple! : towards a theory of conceptual designing
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Koskinen, Ilpo, Supervising Professor
  • Buur, Jacob, Thesis Advisor, External person
  • Hyysalo, Sampsa, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-5324-0
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-5325-7
Publication statusPublished - 2013
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • conceptual design
  • project-specific learning
  • design
  • planning


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