Design Intuition as Competitive Advantage

Wayne Chung
School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University


Wayne Chung, Associate Professor
School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

Intuition in design education is a difficult concept to justify because it is hard to quantify, lacks classic scientific rigor, and few definitive methodologies.  However, there has been historical precedence from almost every type of profession giving credit to intuition as their key insight to a difficult problem.  Albert Einstein references this innate trait and credits it in many ways: "All great achievements of science must start from intuitive knowledge. I believe in intuition and inspiration...." Not only do geniuses or scientists give praise to this attribute.  Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning economist's publication 'Thinking Fast and Slow' proposes the mind works in two main modes.  Methodical mental work such as discerning statistics and figures is the equivalent of analytical slow thinking. Comparatively, the mind almost instantly allows for natural decision making when working in the fast or intuitive state.  

From a designer's perspective, we use our intuition on a daily and possibly hourly basis depending the context of your situation.  In the model lab we are deciding on what type of material to choose, how robust does a support member need to be, or will it have the sound intended as a prototype? These are the constant meta and micro interconnected problems being considered throughout a project.  It's the culmination of these highly analytical pieces of information coupled with our designer's tacit knowledge and experiential senses that allow us to make predictive decisions.  And when utilizing the entire range of our experiential and reflective cognition, we can gain significant insights and hopefully that next big innovative move that most others cannot perceive.

This paper will share methods that were employed in hopes of enhancing and bringing to attention the need for a balance of intuitive and analytical thinking in Product Design Studio education.  The relevancy of this tenet is critical for people in the creative profession.  As other disciplines are claiming themselves as designers, the Product Design studio experience is unique in achieving insights unattainable by others.  It is the inherent application of material knowledge through making, the sensitivity and sensibility to manipulating and treating form, and an understanding of our discipline's craft which enables us to be future forecasters of product, systems, and services.  And with methodologies that enable a spectrum of comparative ranges of thinking, we can be even more adept in enhancing our current tactile senses with our strategic decisions and insights.