Quick sketches are made to visualize certain shapes, textures, materials or curves.



Simple mock-ups out of foam are quickly created to explore features that are difficult to evaluate in two dimensions, such as volume proportions.



The interior arrangements of the design studio’s varied considera-bly; designers use this to create their own working atmosphere, style etc.




Appealing images are cut out and put into a special folder or binder for later browsing or reference.




Existing products, here organized by product class, are important sources of inspiration and knowledge.




Collages or mood boards are composed to convey the product’s atmosphere.




Various types of depictions, using different perspec-tives, in color or black & white are placed on the same sheet of paper.



Computer tools offer only very limited possibilities for creating expressiveness, making their results look ‘dead’.



Many activities, such as drawing, require the use of both hands. Computer tools, however, just make use of one finger to operate them.



An other distinct feature of design is that a considerable amount of work is done standing up.

CHAPTER 1 +2 pdf (1.4 Mb)

To create new product forms a designer has to translate an abstract functional description of the product, which reflects no decisions regarding a material form, into a structure that represents a materialized solution. In this form-creation phase designers still very much rely on traditional tools and media, such as felt pens, paper, markers, foam, cutters etc. Although these lack processing capabilities, they score high in terms of flexibility, agility and expressiveness, thus not hampering the fluidness of the thought process of the designer. Computer tools, on the other hand, although potentially offering tremendous possibilities for generating and manipulating design representations, tend to slow down the designer in his creative process through their emphasis on rigid rules and (sometimes unnecessary) precision.


This observation led to the belief that a better understanding of the form-creation phase, with it’s characteristic techniques, tools and physical environment, was needed to identify the requirements computer tools should fulfill to successfully support the designer in this phase. Using the method of Contextual Inquiry, a synthesis of ethnographic, field research, and participatory design techniques, two series of interviews with designers at their work place were conducted. The statements, observations and remarks acquired in these interviews were interpreted and processed into several areas of interest, which, in turn, then structured and focused the second series of interviews, which involved only professional industrial designers and concentrated more specifically on the actual, visual creation of product concepts.

Clustering and interpreting the data from these interviews resulted in a set of seven design considerations regarding cognitive, perceptual-motor and methodological aspects for designing a computer environment to support conceptualizing.

1) Support Rapid and Rough Capturing of Ideas

All activities characteristic of the form-creation phase, are based on the quick, rough and flexible externalization and manipulation of simple shapes and images. Sketches are created rapidly, without going into much detailing or evaluation. Rough models, made of materials which just happened to be at hand, are made to test out certain spatial arrangements or to explore certain forms by tactile feel.

2) Afford a Personalized Environment

The subjects all work in an information-rich and highly individual-oriented environment, which is expressed in the way they organize their workplaces. Models, material samples, parts of products and other interesting objects are being put on the desktop, arranged in an apparently unorganized manner. Clippings from newspapers or magazines are collected and stored or, together with old sketches, jottings and doodles, hung on the walls. The ways in which the subjects described their favorite pens, papers, materials or tools, suggests a kind of ‘designer-tool intimacy’ that has been developed through extensive and intensive use.

3) Use Rich Information Resources

Design is a visual task. This is not only expressed in the many visual depictions designers make throughout the design process, but also in the visual character of the information gathered in the form-creation phase, as represented in the form of photographs, product catalogues, glossy magazines, videos, slides etc. All subjects reported the collection of these kind of visual references to be a major activity. They browse through design magazines, go through their collection of photographs, slides or old sketches, watch MTV or visit museums, shops and exhibitions. Appealing images are cut out and put into a special folder or pinned on the walls, thus becoming a striking element in the work environment of the designer. Various collected images and notes are combined into a collage or ‘atmospheric’ picture, to visualize the context of the future product, serving as a source for new ideas as well as a means for evaluating them.

4) Enable High Level of Communicability

Although essentially the actual design task is done by the individual designer, there is a considerable need to communicate ideas, thoughts and views to others throughout the form-creation phase. A number of meetings are held with the client to clarify the initially vague project requirements or to discuss possible concepts. During these meetings the designer presents his sketches, slides, models or other representations of his work to the client. When working in a team, sketches of generated ideas are shown to other team members for comments, group meetings are held to brainstorm on new ideas, with everyone sketching on one common paper or in their private sketchbooks.

5) Support Individualistic Styles

Throughout their years of education and practice each subject has developed his personal ‘design style’, which is expressed in their sketching and presentation habits, their affinity for certain tools and techniques, their preferences for certain shapes and materials etc. This style makes their work stand out form others and designers are therefore very keen on preserving it. Some of our subjects expressed the fear that by using a computer they would lose this ‘personal touch’, because they would be limited by what the computer offers them. This fear has turned out to be true today as many designers readily accept the limitations of their computer software and adapt to them…rather than the other way around.

6) Afford a Smooth Shifting of Activities

While conceptualizing the designer will regularly shift his attention to different activities on more than one level, sometimes without the designer being actually aware of it. Since our subjects handled multiple projects, usually three to four, it often happens that, while sketching ideas for a certain project, ideas for another product come spontaneously into mind, which are quickly captured on the current sheet of paper. When an idea can not be sufficiently explored through sketching, the switch to making a cardboard model can sometimes be made. This changing of activities also involves movement: reaching out to grab a piece of paper, moving one tool to replace it with another, changing from a sitting to a standing position or going to a different place in the room.

7) Support Motor Skills

An interesting observation from both studies was that almost all design activities are done using two hands, the non-dominant hand being used for positioning and orientation while the tool used for generating or modifying the design, is held in the dominant hand. An other striking fact was that a number of activities, such as collage making or modeling, were performed standing-up, using tables, easels or walls. Probably this position gives designers with a better overview and physical freedom, to easily compare or dynamically arrange design materials. It allows designers to work on a larger, often horizontal, surface and provides the ability to easily move from one part of a project to another or from project to project within the studio.

Pieces of card-board are combi-ned into very simple mock-ups to get a feeling for spatial arrangements.



Designers have chosen a set of preferred tools and have developed their skills in exploiting the particular strengths of these tools.



In their immediate vicinity many designers surround them-selves with inspiring visuals, product samples or other collected objects.



Designers keep a rich set of visual resources, invitingly and conveniently arranged for quick reference.




Presentations to clients or other designers, using slide projectors or beamers, are milestones in the design process.



Cardboard displays involving human figures are created to communicate the scale of a design.




A personal visuali-zation style makes a designer’s presentations distinct from others.




A large desktop affords sufficient space to smoothly shift between sketching, modeling, organizing and evaluating.




The computer environment leaves no space for any other activities.





Tools are arranged conveniently, showing their variety and applicability at a single glance.