Making sense through hands: design and craft practice analysed as embodied cognition

Camilla Groth

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Design and craft practitioners’ thinking has been researched in design cognition studies; however, lately research on the embodied mind has also begun to influence the field of design and craft. While this theoretical frame situates knowing in actions and thus ties design practice to cognition, few empirical studies on embodied cognition have been made in relation to design and craft practices. This doctoral thesis opens up empirically-based aspects of what embodied cognition theory could mean for design and craft practice. The general research question is: How do design and craft practitioners think through their hands? Through three case studies, notions of body-based knowing, especially related to haptic experiences were studied. The first case involved ceramic workshops with deafblind makers, conducted at the IIRIS Service and Activity Centre for the visually impaired in Helsinki and the Tampere Resource Centre for the Deafblind. The second case involved a practice-led self-study on tactile augmentation in ceramic craft practice. The third case examined Masters’ students’ use of their embodied knowing during a design and material exploration process. A multimethod for studying experiential knowledge was developed during the research process. Since much of knowing is situated in action and in relation to previous experiences and material skills, embodied cognition theory was considered to lend itself well to informing research on design and craft practice. Because ideation and concepting also rely upon these embodied experiences, a conceptual separation between making and thinking in design is not feasible. The practice-led research setting was found to be an efficient way of studying experiential knowledge as it includes the practitioner’s perspective, thus allowing for sensory experiences and emotions to be studied in action. The use of video documentation was found to be especially useful in both the effective study and dissemination of experiential data and research results due to its multimodal potential. Emotions were at the fore in all three cases, in different contexts and on several levels and especially in the different decision-making processes that the practitioner was confronted with. The research thus puts forward four theoretical and practical implications: 1) Embodied cognition theory lends itself well to informing design and craft related practice. 2) Design processes include embodied knowledge even in the cognitive and immaterial stage of creating mental images of the intended physical designs. 3) Making may be seen as a way of negotiating meaning through interaction between the embodied mind and the material environment, thus it may affect intrapersonal growth and provide a useful platform in educational settings. 4) Design and craft research benefit from a combination of research approaches that aid in investigating both representational and non-representational aspects of the practice.
Translated title of the contributionMaking sense through hands : design and craft practice analysed as embodied cognition
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Mäkelä, Maarit, Supervising Professor
  • Seitamaa-Hakkarainen, Pirita, Supervising Professor, External person
Print ISBNs978-952-60-7131-2
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-7130-5
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • experiential knowledge
  • haptic experiences
  • embocied cognition
  • design and craft research
  • design and craft practice
  • ceramic practice


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