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Methodological investigations into design inspiration and fixation experiments



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Leite de Vasconcelos, Luis Arthur  ORCID logo


Designers often look for inspiration in their environment when exploring possible solutions to a given problem. However, many studies have reported that external stimuli may constrain designers’ imagination and limit their exploration to similar solutions, a phenomenon described as design fixation. Inspiration and fixation effects are traditionally studied with a similar experimental paradigm, which has produced a complex web of findings and explanations. Yet, when analysing the experiments and their findings closely, it becomes clear that there is considerable variation in how studies are conducted and the results they produce. Such variation makes it difficult to formulate a general view of how external stimuli affect the design process, and to translate the research findings into education and practice. Moreover, it raises questions about the reliability and effectiveness of the traditional experimental method. This thesis reports on a collection of studies that examine how design inspiration and fixation research is done and how it can be improved. It explores the research area by reviewing the literature and analysing data from a workshop; describes the research method by scrutinising experiments and their procedures; and explains the variation in research findings by testing experimental procedures empirically and suggesting new interpretations. My main findings are that: abstract stimuli can inspire or fixate designers to different degrees depending on how explicitly the stimuli are represented; external stimuli can inhibit the exploration of ideas that would otherwise be explored; the effect of experimental instructions varies depending on how encouraging the instructions are; and the way participants represent and elaborate ideas can moderate fixation results. Whilst this thesis offers insights into design practice and education, its main contribution is to design research, where it represents a fundamental material for those who are new to inspiration and fixation research, and for those who are already expert.




Crilly, Nathan


Design, Design Research, Creativity, Inspiration, Fixation, Research Methodology, Design Methodology, Idea Generation, Design Cognition, Experimental Design Research, Empirical Design Research, Creativity Research, Engineering Design, Engineering Design Research, Design Fixation, Design Inspiration, Problem Solving, Design Process, Conceptual Design, Creativity Evaluation, Example Design, External Stimuli


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
CAPES Foundation, Ministry of Education of Brazil (BEX 11468/13-0); The UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/K008196/1).