This thesis describes an interview study of forty five professionally accomplished male and female designers and architects. The study considers how each respondent designs and makes discoveries throughout conceptual design. How they start designing, what they attempt to achieve, the means they employ, how they cope with getting stuck, their breakthroughs and discoveries and the circumstances of these experiences, are the main ingredients of the study.
The aim of the research is to estimate the extent to which designing may be regarded as an insightful activity, by investigating experiences of discoveries as reported by the respondents. Throughout the thesis, discoveries or ideas occurring to respondents when they are not actively designing, an apparent outcome of a latent designing or preparation activity, are referred to as cold discoveries. This label is used to distinguish these discoveries from discoveries that emerge in the run of play, when individuals are actively designing. The latter are referred to as hot discoveries. The relative insightfulness of hot and cold discoveries is also investigated.
In general, the evidence from the research suggests that designing is significantly insightful. Most respondents (39:45) reported experiences of insights that have contributed to their designing. In addition there is strong evidence that cold discoveries are considerably more important, both quantitatively and qualitatively, than is currently recognized. More than half of the respondents (25:45) reported the experience of cold discoveries, many after disengaging from designing, when they had been stuck. Being stuck means they were experiencing frustration, or had recognised they were not making satisfactory progress in attempts to resolve some aspect of conceptual design. Typically these respondents reported experiencing discoveries while doing other work, performing some physical activity, resting, or very soon after resuming work. They had elected to let ideas come to them, rather than persist in searching and this strategy was successful. Moreover, many respondents (10:45) described positive attributes of cold discoveries using terms such as stronger, more potent, or pushes boundaries, which suggest their cold discoveries are more insightful than their hot discoveries.
Many respondents associated their cold discoveries with mental activities such as incubation, a concept identified by Gestalt theorists nearly a century ago. They used a range of informal terms, such as ideas ticking over, or percolating away. These apparently uncontrolled mental experiences, which I refer to generically as latent preparation, varied from one respondent to another in when, where and how they occurred. Latent preparation or its outcomes, in the form of interruptive thoughts, apparently takes place at any time and during different states of consciousness and attentiveness. It appears to be, at different times, unplanned, unintentional, undirected, unnoticed, or unconscious, in combinations, not necessarily all at once. It is clearly not only an unconscious process. This suggests one, or more of the following; 1) that incubation is only a component of latent preparation, or 2) that the conventional view of incubation, as an unconscious process, does not adequately account for the range of insightful experiences of mentally productive people, such as designers, or 3) that the old issue of whether incubation is a conscious, or an unconscious process, is not vital to a systematic investigation of insightful discovery.
The thesis concludes by considering prospects for further research and how the research outcomes could influence education. Apart from the findings already described, statements by the respondents about personal attributes, designing, coping with being stuck and discoveries, were wide ranging, resourceful and down-to-earth, suggesting there are many ways for individuals to become proficient, creative designers at the high end of their profession. A major implication for future research is that latent preparation may be found as readily among highly motivated and skilled individuals in other occupations unrelated to architecture or designing. The evidence of the research so far suggests there is much to be learned about latent preparation that can be usefully applied, for the benefit of individuals aiming to be designers, or simply wanting to become more adept at intervening, transforming and managing unexpected and novel situations of any kind.