Creating Universal Form: Using Universals to Describe Design Solution Space

By Stuart Gerald English.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Studies of expert designers (Cross & Clayburn 1998, Cross 2004) suggest that the ability to ‘frame problems’ (Schon 1983) is ‘crucial to high level performance in creative design’ (Dorst & Cross 2001) ‘Design answers are generated as a consequence of the way we think about the problem and … Innovation occurs not by generating ideas but through our awareness of what is possible’ (English 2006). This Paper describes the nature of design problem space and solution space within dualistic and monistic philosophical frameworks and explores the concept of the ‘Universal’ as a tool with which to frame design parameters. Creativity occurs in the mind and is concerned with the designer’s perception of imagined reality rather than a specific embodiment in the physical world. This paper therefore deals with form in a platonic sense i.e. ‘universal form’ that occurs as an abstract perception of mind allowing the designer to model the particular physical form or interaction. The author explores the articulation of universal form within a number of case studies involving the co-evolution of problem space and solution space. The last and most detailed of these represents collaboration between Philips and Northumbria University and is concerned with the cognitive modelling of product personality.

Keywords: Universals, Forms, Platonic Realism, Problem Space, Solution Space, Gestalt, Innovation, Problem Framing

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.21-30. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.334MB).

Dr. Stuart Gerald English

Principal Lecturer, School of Design, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Trained as an Industrial Designer Stuart has worked the field of Design Innovation for 20 years. He Co-founded Glenelg Product Design in 1990 and at Northumbria has championed design learning innovation whilst leading BA and MA courses in Design for Industry and professional design practice. Stuart's research challenges the designer’s capacity to be both innovative in terms of product designs and design processes. His approach confronts theory with practice and vice-versa. His practice has facilitated new product development through an inclusive approach based on design led entrepreneurship. This addresses multi and cross-disciplinary contexts bounded by clarity of market objectives and has led to numerous filed patents. His theoretical research has led to the development of design collaboration tools and software e.g. the creation of a professional network for designers’ reflective practice and portfolio development at


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