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An Overview of
Design Process

I recommend first reading the summary` of this page.
My models of Design Process {& Science Process} are intended to :

1) accurately describe the thinking-and-actions used by designers & scientists when they are solving problems;

2a) help students improve their UNDERSTANDING of the problem-solving process used by expert designers & scientists.

2b) help students improve the thinking-and-action SKILLS (and strategies for coordination of skills) used by expert designers & scientists.


Goal 1 (accurate description) is the foundation for Goals 2a & 2b (effective education for UNDERSTANDING & SKILLS).

A series of pages about "why, what, and how?" begins by explaining why we should teach Design Process.  It continues with what-and-how in this page, which describes what Design Process is, and how to teach it using a progression that begins with simplicity and then explores in more depth.  And for "how" in more detail, how to teach Design Process suggests using the Progression-Sequence (of Cycles & Comparisons, plus Modes) in this page, along with an Activity-Sequence of Experience, Reflection, and Principles:

First, students do Design Activities [design-inquiry or science-inquiry] so they gain Experience in a process of design.  Second, they think about their Experiences by asking “what did we do, how, and why?”, with Reflection on their Experiences.  Third, you guide them in understanding the Principles of Design Process, helping them learn from discovery supplemented by clarifying & organizing.  Lively discussions, in student groups or as a whole class, can occur in all three phases.
While you are studying the explanations of principles (below) and diagrams (left side), "imagine a classroom in which students already have done everything in Design Process" and have reflected on their experiences, so the thinking-and-actions in Design Process are "concrete personal experiences, not abstract concepts."

a reminder:  I recommend first reading the summary` of this page.

A Progression for Teaching

We can think about the logical framework of Design Process in different ways — as a Two-Step Cycle and 3 Comparisons, involving 10 Modes of Thinking-and-Action — that can be taught using a progression, beginning with simplicity and moving on to deeper explorations, as in Stages 1-4 below.



1. Two-Step Cycles of Design — this is Stage 1, with Diagram 1`

Learning and Teaching:  As described in Stage 2, a teacher can gently guide students so they will self-discover principles of Design Process.

During a process of design, shown in Diagram 1, you creatively GENERATE ideas-for-Options, and critically EVALUATE these ideas:

• To begin a Design Project, you recognize a Problem (it’s an opportunity to make things better) and Choose an Objective (for a better product, activity, strategy, or theory) for a problem-solving Design Project, and you Define your Goals for the properties (characteristics + constraints) you want in a Solution for the Problem, based on old information that you already know.  And you can Prepare by finding additional old information.

• Two-Step Cycles of Design occur when you use creative thinking to GENERATE OPTIONS (that are potential Problem-Solutions) and you use critical thinking to EVALUATE OPTIONS.  You continue the creative-and-critical thinking in iterative cycles of design, over and over, trying to find an option that will be a satisfactory Solution.


PRINCIPLES — for Stage 1

Stage 1 (and Diagram 1) introduces concepts-and-terms for the foundations of design (Choose an Objective, Define Goals, Prepare) and for a two-step cycle (Options, GENERATE Options, EVALUATE Options).



2a. Two-Step Cycles of Design — this is Stage 2a, with Diagram 2a`

Learning and Teaching:  Students can discover* essential principles of Evaluation during guided Reflection on their Experiences when, during Stage 1 and Stage 2, you encourage them to ask "what did we do [to make Predictions & Observations, and use them], and how [by comparing our Predictions & Observations with our Goals-for-an-Option], and why [to evaluate the quality of an Option, with quality defined by our Goals]."  In this way, students first will understand the concepts and functional relationships.  Then you explain the terms-for-concepts and representations-of-relationships verbally (as in the summary below) and visually/verbally (as in Diagram-2a).

* Students already know these principles from their prior experience of using design-thinking in everyday life and in school, plus their most recent Design Experiences, so in this “discovery learning” they are just making their own prior knowledge more explicit-and-organized within the logical framework of Design Process.

Earlier, I ask you to "imagine a classroom in which students already have done everything in Design Process."  During any appropriate Design Activity, they will do everything in Stages 1 and 2.  They will know the Goals (defined by the teacher or themselves), make Predictions in Mental Experiments (by “imagining what would happen”), make Observations in Physical Experiments (by “seeing what happened”), and compare “what they want” with “what they predict” and “what they observe” in Quality Checks.  Then you can encourage them to ask "what did we do, how, and why?" in Reflection, and learn the following Principles. 


Comparing Diagrams 1 and 2a:  During design, typically you GENERATE many OPTIONS — which can be old or new, generated by selecting an existing option or inventing a new option — and, as described above using Diagram 1, in many cycles you EVALUATE OPTIONS.  But in each single cycle, shown in Diagram 2a, you evaluate only one Option;  you Choose an Option, and then EVALUATE THIS OPTION.   How?

Using Goals:  An option is evaluated by using the "Goals for a Solution" you have defined as the Goal-properties you want in an ideal Solution, or at least a satisfactory Solution.  How do you determine if an Option has these properties?

Using Mental Experiments:  You can imagine using the chosen Option in some situation, and this Mental Experiment lets you make Predictions about the Option’s properties.  Then you compare your Goals (desired properties) with your Predictions (expected properties) in a Mental Quality Check so you can determine the Option’s overall quality, with quality defined by your Goals — i.e., by how closely the Goal-properties (desired properties) are matched by the Predicted properties (expected properties).

Using Physical Experiments:  Or you might be able to actually use the chosen Option in a Physical Experiment that lets you make Observations about the Option’s properties.  Then you compare your Goals (desired properties) with your Observations (observed properties) in a Physical Quality Check so you can determine the option’s overall quality, with quality defined by your Goals — i.e., by how closely the Goal-properties are matched by the Observed properties.

You continue a process of generating-and-evaluating — by evaluating options one at a time, and sometimes making comparative evaluations by comparing the overall quality of different options — until you decide to accept one option (or maybe more) as a solution, or you put the project “on hold” for awhile, or you abandon it.


PRINCIPLES — for Stage 2a

Stage 2 (and Diagram 2a) includes all concepts from Stage 1, and more:  two ways to GENERATE (old or new), Choose an Option to EVALUATE, Comparisons of Goals with Predictions (from a Mental Experiment) in a Mental Quality Check, or with Observations (from a Physical Experiment) in a Physical Quality Check.



2b. Designing Strategies for Learningthis is Stage 2b, with Diagram 2b`

This optional stage can be taught any time after Stage 2a, to supplement the main progression in Stages 1-4.  Stage 2b explains — visually (with Diagram 2b, which extends Diagrams 1 & 2a by placing their basic design-cycles of GENERATE-and-EVALUATE within larger design-cycles of PLAN-and-MONITOR) and verbally — how a process of design is used to develop a cognitive-and-metacognitive Strategy for Learning.


To make my explanation of using Design Process to develop a Strategy for Learning more concrete and easier to understand, the process of design is illustrated by imagining that your design-objective is to develop a Learning Strategy that will help you learn more from lectures.

The paragraph below describes A Process of Design that is just a way to Learn from Experience:  you make a plan for what to do;  you do it and observe what happens;  using this experience, you adjust (if you think it will help) when you plan for "what to do" the next time, when you do-and-observe, ... and you continue using these iterative cycles of design.   /   This "learning from experience" occurs naturally for all of us, in all areas of life.  But we can help students learn how to do it more effectively by teaching the principles of Design Process:

A Process of Design  —  To more effectively describe a "learning from experience" process of design, the ideas in Diagrams 1 & 2a are extended in 2b by distinguishing between two aspects of the GENERATE-and-EVALUATE Cycles in 1 & 2a:  in 2b, to PLAN you GENERATE-and-EVALUATE (using two kinds of Quality Checks, as in Diagram 2a for Stage 2a) so you can CHOOSE a Strategy to use;  then, to MONITOR during your first lecture, you USE your chosen Strategy and OBSERVE the lecture-Situation, your Strategy-Applying Actions, and your learning-Results;  before the second lecture, in a re-PLAN you again GENERATE-and-EVALUATE Options (based on your current knowledge, which combines what you knew before the first lecture with your observations from the first lecture) and you CHOOSE a Strategy (it could be your first-lecture Strategy, as-is or adjusted, or a new Strategy) to use for your second lecture;  you MONITOR (in your second lecture), then PLAN again for your third lecture.  You continue this cycle of PLAN-and-MONITOR throughout the semester.


If you want to dig deeper, Diagrams 2c & 2d (each combining ideas from 2a & 2b) provide interesting perspectives on interactions between Generating and Evaluating (operating in cycles, within cycles of Planning and Monitoring) using information (Predictions & Observations) that is old and new.  We generate new information by designing new Mental Experiments (to make new Predictions) or new Mental Experiments (to make new Observations).

Diagrams 2c & 2d invite deeper thinking about how to use multiple sources of information (old and new) for goal-based Evaluation in Mental Quality Checks (comparing Predictions with Goals) & Physical Quality Checks (comparing Observations with Goals).  Another description of using all available information (old and new, from multiple Mental & Physical Experiments) shows how, during a thorough Evaluation, we mentally combine multiple Quality Checks to assign a Quality Status for various options, to help us make decisions in a Design Project.



3. Three Comparisons — this is Stage 3, with Diagrams 2e and 3`

I.O.U. — Stages 3 & 4 need to be revised, and until they are you should read the "page summary" versions.

Learning and Teaching:  As in Stages 1 and 2, students can discover essential principles of Design Process during guided Reflection on their Experiences.  To guide their learning, choose appropriate times (which can occur during Design Activities for Stages 1 & 2, before you explicitly teach the principles in Stage 3) to ask a science question:  “when you compare your Predictions and Observations, what do you find, and what do you conclude?”  You also can ask “how many things are being compared in Diagram 2a?” and “how many ways can these be compared?” and “why is each comparison useful?” and “can you show all of these things and comparisons in a diagram?” to let them self-construct Diagram 3, or something similar-and-related.  You can ask students to compare Diagrams 2a & 2e, and think about the yellow-green box, □ .  In these ways, students can learn by guided discovery while they build an experiential basis for understanding the concept of Reality Checks (that are the logical foundation of Science) before this concept is given a name in Diagram 3.


Evaluation:  Diagram 3 shows 3 key elements (Goals, Predictions, Observations) being used in 3 comparisons.  Of the 3 possible ways to compare two elements,...

two comparisons are Quality Checks — the Mental Quality Check and Physical Quality Check described above in Stage 2 — that use comparisons with Goals "so you can determine the option’s overall quality, with quality defined by your Goals."  These two Quality Checks are in the top part of Diagram 3, in Evaluate Option.

one comparison is a Mental-and-Physical Reality Check (Theory Check), in a comparison of Predictions with Observations, so you can determine the quality of a Theory.  In a Reality Check, a Theory's quality (in letting us make accurate Predictions) is defined by Reality — i.e., by how closely Reality-based Observations are matched by Theory-based Predictions.  You can see this comparison in the bottom part of Diagram 3, in Evaluate Theory;  below this is an explanation of how we use a Theory and if-then logic to make Predictions.


Design and Science:  The principles in "3 Comparisons" are essential for understanding the process of design, and also the relationships between general design (focused on Quality Checks, but also using Reality Checks) and science (focused on the hypothetico-deductive logic of Reality Checks, but also using Quality Checks).  Notice the color coding in diagrams 2a/2e and 3 (and also 4a-4b) with dark blue for the two Quality Checks that are used mainly in General Design, and yellow-green for a Reality Check that is used mainly in Science.

The close relationships between Design and Science (with many similarities, and some important differences) are useful for building educational bridges between Design and Science.


PRINCIPLES — for Stage 3

Stage 3 (and Diagram 3) includes many concepts in Diagrams 1-2, and more:  a new Comparison (of Reality-based Observations with Theory-based Predictions that are made by using if-then logic) in a Mental-and-Physical Reality Check.  These new terms allow a discussion of relationships between...



4. Using "Three Comparisons" to Generate Options — this is Stage 4, with Diagrams 4a and 4b`

I.O.U. — Stages 3 & 4 need to be revised, and until they are you should read the "page summary" versions.

Stage 4, especially in Diagram 4b, will help you develop a deep understanding of Design Process and its logical structure.

In it you'll find new ideas about Designing Experiments (mental & physical) that are used to Generate Options (for a problem-solution in general design, a question-answer in science, or an experimental system in either) by using the valuable thinking skill of Retroduction in which creative Generation is guided by critical Evaluation, by evaluative feedback from Quality Checks or Reality Checks.


Learning and Teaching:  Diagram 4b, which shows the entire process of design, is complex, but is easy to understand for you (and your students) if you study it one part at a time, and build on your knowledge from Stages 1-3.  As with Stages 2 & 3, you can guide students in discovering principles of Design Process by asking thought-stimulating questions during a Design Experience or when they are Reflecting on Experience.


I.O.U. — I recommend reading the page-summary for Stage 4 first, because it and the diagrams (3e, 4a, 4b) have been revised, and this section has not yet been revised, but it will be sometime, maybe by the end of June.


Diagram 4a contains no new ideas, but it's a useful transition, serving as a “visual bridge” between 2e and 4b.  If you clicked the link above you'll notice that Diagram 3 is gone (but you can see its 3 Comparisons in 4a) because this makes it easier to compare 2e with 4a.

The spatial arrangement of 4a is similar to 2e, except Goals are at the bottom, and the order-of-actions is changed to match their typical order in a process of design:*  on the left side, in yellow, you do a Mental Experiment to make Predictions that are used in a Mental Quality Check;  on the right side, in green, you do a Physical Experiment to make Observations that are used in a Physical Quality Check.  Between them (in both 2e & 4a) is the third way to compare, introduced in Stage 3, using a Reality Check (Theory Check) that combines Mental-and-Physical so it's yellow-green.

As usual, before you discuss-and-explain you can ask students to compare Diagrams 2e and 4a, looking for similarities & differences, to promote mental activity that will help them learn more effectively.  Or you also can include 4b in comparisons & discussion.


* Showing actions in "their typical order" is one way that Diagram 4b (which contains 4a and more) shows the logical structure of Design Process, which is useful for developing Coordination Strategies based on Conditional Knowledge.


Diagram 4b shows the two parts of a cyclic Design Process — GENERATE and EVALUATE — that also are in Diagrams 1 and 2a/2e;  but 4b shows extra details of the cycle, in Experimental Design and Retroduction.  We'll look at these four aspects of a design cycle:


• EVALUATE has the same structure in Diagrams 4a and 4b.

But 4b has more details.  Later, we'll look at the 3 line-arrows emerging from Quality Checks and Reality Check.


• GENERATE — a Generation of Options occurs in two contexts of design:

in General Design we GENERATE Solution-Options (in upper-left corner of Diagram 4b`) because the objective is to design a Solution (a better product, activity, or strategy) to solve a Problem;

in Science-Design we GENERATE Model-Options (upper-right corner) because the objective is to solve a special kind of problem, to make our knowledge better by designing an Explanatory Model that is a better answer for a question, a better explanation for observed phenomena.

For each of these Generations, typically you Design an Experiment so you can Evaluate an Option by using Observations, or by using Predictions as in the cyclic process of creative-and-critical Retroduction described below, following this sub-section:


• Design an Experiment is in a box between GENERATE and EVALUATE because it connects them, sequentially and functionally.  Experimental Design leads to choosing Experiments (with Experimental Systems, aka Situations) that are used to Evaluate Options in Quality Checks & Reality Checks, and to Generate Options in the "creative-and-critical Retroduction" that is explained below.

On the left side of this box, in General Design an Experimental System is an Option (for a product, activity, or strategy) operating in a particular SituationThen in a Mental Experiment, to make Predictions you imagine what will happen with this Option-in-Situation.  Or in a Physical Experiment you physically actualize the Option-in-Situation (by constructing or acquiring the Option and other components of the Situation, and assemble them) so you can make Obervations.

On the right side, in Science you choose a Model-Situation in which a Model-Option can be used to explain what happens.  Then you imagine so you can predict (by mentally constructing a System-Model and using if-then logic in model-based deduction, model-based simulation, or experience-based induction) what will happen in this experimental Situation.  Or in a Physical Experiment you physically actualize the Situation and make Observations.

The "and/or" shows that some experiments can help you evaluate the quality of a Solution-Option, and also understand (by developing a better Model-Option) the factors that affect this quality.


I.O.U. — I recommend reading the page-summary for Stage 4 first, because it and the diagrams (3e, 4a, 4b) have been revised, and this section has not yet been revised, but it will be sometime, maybe by the end of June.

creative-and-critical Retroduction (near the top of Diagram 4b`) is a process of creative Generation guided by critical Evaluation, "when you are trying to GENERATE Options whose PREDICTIONS match known GOALS (for a Solution) or OBSERVATIONS (for a Model)."

In General Design, a Quality Check (Mental or Physical) shows the ways in which a Solution-Option's properties (predicted or observed) fail to match the desired properties you have defined as Goals.  Then in an effort to find a better Option, with Retroduction you "do mental experiments, over and over, each time ‘trying out’ a different Solution-Option (old or new)* with the goal of finding an Option whose Properties match your desired Goal-Properties," in a Guided Generation of Options.  In this way, EVALUATION guides GENERATION, as indicated by the blue arrows going down from the two Quality Checks, then over-and-up to GENERATE Solution-Options.   /   * To supplement this strategy of Retroductive Reasoning, you can use other strategies for generating ideas.  During a Guided Generation of Options (used in evaluation-guided Retroduction) or independent from it, you can aim for a Free Generation of Options by "reducing restrictive assumptions... about the way things must be," using creativity-stimulating strategies that can occasionally include de-emphasizing critical Evaluations.

In Science-Design, a Mental-and-Physical Reality Check shows the ways in which the PREDICTIONS of a Model-Option fail to match already-known OBSERVATIONS.  In yellow-green arrows go from Reality Check to GENERATE Theory-Options, analogous to the blue arrows pointing outward from Quality Checks.  This type of Guided Generation is used in Science when you "do mental experiments, over and over, each time ‘trying out’ a different Model-Option (being generated by selecting an old model, or inventing a new model) with the goal of producing Predictions that match the known Observations."

Both kinds of arrows — blue from Quality Checks, and yellow-green from Reality Checks — are surrounded by a purple border, as a reminder that both kinds of feedback are being used for a Retroductive Generation of Options for Solutions and Models.

Feedback from evaluations also can be used to Design an Experiment (so blue & yellow-green arrows also point toward its box) to help you Generate-and-Choose experiments that will be useful for your process of design.  Diagram 4b "shows extra details of... Experimental Design and Retroduction" so (in addition to explaining the process of creative-and-critical Retroduction here) the process of creative-and-critical process of Experimental Design is examined earlier in this section.

There is a connection between all blues (with Quality Checks being the main EVALUATIONS used for General Design, both to GENERATE & Choose) and between all yellow-greens (with Reality Checks being the main EVALUATIONS used for Science, to GENERATE & Choose).  But these two sets of connections are not exclusive, used only for General Design or for Science, due to crossovers (because designers sometimes do science, and scientists sometimes do design) as in the "and/or" for Experimental Design, and also because the goal-criteria for theories include more than just Reality Checks that show the Degree of Agreement between Predictions and Observations, to help you estimate the Predictive Accuracy of a Model.

The thinking used in Retroductive Generation is shown with purple text, which you see on the lower-left (using Mental Experiments) but not lower-right (for Physical Experiments) because mental predicting is required for retroductive Guided Generation.  The blue arrow pointing away from Physical Quality Check is dotted, because although Observations can provide evaluative feedback to indirectly guide Retroduction, the actual Generation of Options is directly guided by Predictions made in Mental Experiments.  This requirement for mental Predictions is also shown on Diagram 3` when you click on it, because one of its three lines for "retroductive logic" is a dotted line that symbolizes indirect guidance.


But in Diagram 4b some blue & yellow-green lines are dotted for a different reason, to show that evaluative feedback is being used in other ways (not for Retroduction) when it's used to Make Action-Decisions by using Coordination Strategies throughout a process of design, or to Make Decisions about Overall Project in one type of Response to Evaluation.



Diagram 4b shows combinations-of-actions that often occur together to form Sequences of Design-Actions that are useful for Coordination Strategies.  Expert designers use these sequences flexibly (not rigidly) which is possible because many choices for “what to do next” are available due to branching & cycles, and other options for action.

It's interesting to compare Diagram 4a with 2d and 2c.  These comparisons are convenient in the diagrams-page used for Stage 2b, because 2c-2d-4a are in sequence, making it easier to see how they are connected, to understand how they offer similar-yet-different perspectives on the same Design Process.


PRINCIPLES — for Stage 4

Stage 4 includes principles from Stages 1-3, plus:  GENERATE Solution-Options (in General Design) and GENERATE Theory-Options (in Science);  Design Experiments (mental or physical) by generating ideas and choosing an idea for an Option-and-Situation (in General Design) or a Theory-Situation (in Science);  Retroduction is a creative Generation of Options (old or new) that is guided by Predictions made in Mental Experiments, using feedback from all critical Evaluations (old and new), from Mental Quality Checks and Physical Quality Checks, mental-and-physical Reality Checks.   /   Also, as described in "MORE" above, Stage 4 shows the most commonly used Sequences of Design-Actions.




10 Modes of Thinking-and-Action


The 10 modes are not 10 steps.  The distinction between modes and steps is important because Design Process is not a rigid sequence of steps.*  The modes are thinking-and-actions typically used by designers when they are trying to solve a problem by using a flexible process of goal-directed improvisation.  Design Process shows the interactive relationships between modes` and the coherent integration of creative-and-critical thinking skills to form a productive thinking process.  We want to help students improve both types of skills, including the valuable whole-process skill of Coordinating a Process of Design by making Action Decisions in Mode 4A.

* When we ask “Is there a ‘method’ for design?”, why is “no and yes” the best answer?


Here are 10 modes of thinking-and-action used in a process of design:


1A. Choose an Objective (what you want to design) for a Design Project

1B. Define Goals (for the desired properties of a problem-Solution)


2A. Prepare (find old information about Options & Predictions + Observations, Theories)

2B. Invent Options (by modifying old Options, or with innovative new types of options)

2C. Design Experiments (to use for Mental Experiments, Physical Experiments, or both)

2D. Predict (using a Mental Experiment, make Predictions that are new information)

2E. Observe (using a Physical Experiment, make Observations that are new information)


3A. Evaluate Options using Quality Checks (compare Goals with Predictions or Observations)

3B. Evaluate Theories using Reality Checks (compare Predictions with Observations)


4A. Evaluate the Process and Make Action-Decisions (for what to do & when in Modes 1-4)


Using the Modes for Teaching:  The logical framework of "10 Modes" makes it easier to help students understand-and-improve their use of skills within each mode, and in the many productive interactions between modes.  For example,...

In the 3 Comparisons you EVALUATE ideas.  But how do you GENERATE ideas, in the first part of the Two-Step Cycle of Generate-and-Evaluate?  The most common way to generate useful ideas is by using a process of creative-and-critical Retroductive Reasoning in which creative GENERATION (in Modes 2A-2E) is stimulated-and-guided by critical EVALUATION (in Modes 3A-3B), as explained in Stage 4.


Design:  What happens in the modes?  For a deeper understanding,
you can explore the 10 Modes of Thinking-and-Action in Design Process.
Teaching:  The page-introduction summarizes ideas from Strategies for Teaching Design Process which suggests combining the progression-sequence in this page (in Stages 1-4, plus Modes) with an activity-sequence (for Experience + Reflection + Principles, and Discussions).