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Linear Design Model : Cyclic Design Model : Spiraling Design Cycle : Dialectical Model                           
Conversation-with-Materials Model : Learning By Design™ Cycle : Symmetric Design Cycle                            

7 Models of the Design Process

There are many models that attempt to describe designing, including DITC's Generic Design Model. Each inevitably simplifies this highly complex, creative activity. One researcher has shown that beginning designers benefit from being introduced to a simplified design model -- so it can be of benefit to talk to students about their designing. After getting one model under their belts, they can be shown another and then a third. Rand Spiro's Cognitive Flexibility Theory says that flexible understanding is achieved when people operate from multiple models of a concept or procedure.

This section of What Is Design presents seven models of design behavior. Each has strengths and weaknesses and tells a different part of the design story. Look each over and see if you can pick and choose elements of different ones as they fit the different design situations you encounter in and outside the classroom.

  • Linear Design Models - This model portrays different design strategies that are done once, in a fixed order.
  • Cyclic Design Model - This model, available in interactive form in the opening page of Learn About Design, has strategies in a specified order but which can be repeated through various iterations.
  • Spiraling Design Cycle - This improved cyclic model shows the evolution of ideas as they move through iterations of design strategies in a given order.
  • Dialectical Design Model - The back-and-forth (dialectical) movement between design idea and concrete reality shows how designers progress from early brainstorming work to the making of final products.
  • Conversation-with-Materials Model - MIT's Jeanne Bamberger talks about a model that Don Schon and she created which emphasizes how designing involves interacting with materials while ideas emerge and develop.
  • Learning By Design Cycle - The movie with Janet Kolodner has her describing her LBD cycle where student designers move between inquiry and design in meeting their on-going "need to know" and "need to do".
  • Symmetric Design Cycle - Nigel Cross proposed a series of design strategies done that are in no particular order and are framed within the overall process of finding and solving main design problems and their sub-problems.
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