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The aim of this paper is analysing the effect of knowledge and creativity on the overall result of a design process, in order to investigate how to apply these two principles to produce the best outcome.
After defining these two concepts, different kinds of methods and approaches will be deepened, drawing a parallel between knowledge-based, convergent thinking, and creative, divergent thinking. These two methods use different tools and therefore pursue different results.
Nevertheless, facing a design problem relying only on one of these two methods is in itself limiting, since they allow to analyse only a part of the overall question.
In the end, a new approach will be outlined, in which the creative and knowledge-based approaches intertwine, so that the designer can both rely on his or her previous knowledge, but also create new ideas by finding hidden correspondances.
It is not uncommon to hear the words “knowledge” or “creativity” in an everyday conversation, even if it’s involving people unrelated to design activities.
All people share a general idea about the meaning of these terms, an idea clear enough to make them use these words and be understood by others: yet, if anyone was asked to give their own definition of knowledge or creativity, each of them would have a slightly different answer.
Defining knowledge and creativity is troubling not only for people not involved in design, but for all sorts of experts, that have produced different explanations over the course of history.
Since it would be difficult to compare two concepts that are unclear, like this paper aims to do, it would be appropriate to start by framing each of them in a clear definition.
The writer Eric Jerome Dickey compared explaining creativity to asking a bird, ‘How do you fly?”. Despite its simplicity, this quote embodies the problem: the result of creativity is visible (the bird flying), the process is not.
In recent times, one of the academic institution striving to explain this concept in a univocal way is Marconi Institute for Creativity (MIC), based in Bologna, Italy. They pursued a well-structured process of definition, starting from the so-called standard definition of creativity: “Creativity requires originality and effectiveness”. (fonte: Runco, Garrett)
Based on that, they then proposed the Dynamic definition of creativity: “Creativity requires potential originality and effectiveness”. The need for the word “potential” is explained as follows: first of all, it must be born in mind that creativity is not necessarily a successful process. Someone can invest time and resources in a creative action, and eventually end up with a failed result. This doesn’t mean that the creative process was useless (as Corazza claims, it would be like saying that a football team that did not score in a match did not actually play football)
Secondly, the potential has also a temporal meaning: the creativity of an object, a piece of art, a design choice is inevitably bound to the judgement of a specific historical time. Many artists were not appreciated during their lifespan, despite their creativity being undeniable.
So, to sum up this definition, creativity is a potential that, even when it’s present, it can be expressed only when the outcome is successful and recognized by society.
The discussion about knowledge is immensely more ancient, as classical age philosophers first tried to give it a definition: one of the earliest examples is Plato’s Theaetetus (fonte: Stefanov), in which various attempts are made, but in the end the author left the question open. The general definitions is: human faculty resulting from interpreted information; understanding that germinates from combination of data, information, experience, and individual interpretation (businessdictionary.com, 2015).
Nevertheless, over the course of history, it was variously defined as, “Things that are held to be true in a given con-text and that drive us to action if there were no impediments” (Andre Boudreau). “Capacity to act” (Karl Sweiby). “Justified true belief that increases an entity’s capacity for effective action” (Nonaka and Takeuchi). All these definitions point out an idea of knowledge allowing action: therefore, without knowledge, a person (or, in a broader sense, a team, a company…) is not entitled to act in any way, or his actions have no meaning.
Otherwise, by seeing it the other way round, it means there’s no reason for knowledge if it doesn’t lead to action. So, like creativity, also knowledge can be seen as a potential, that cannot be expressed but by applying it concretely. This leads us to design. Another aspect that cannot remain ignored is the relativity of knowledge, since it’s an ever-changing concept whose parts can be reformulated, expanded or removed. That’s possibly what makes this term so difficult to grasp.
Knowledge and creativity are undoubtedly two key components in any design process: what is less obvious is how these two principles blend together to create a successful result. The effects of knowledge and creativity on design have been mapped individually, as their application is embodied by two different approaches, convergent and divergent thinking.
Convergent thinking is more intimately related to knowledge, namely using existing knowledge to produce new knowledge, leaving no room for unknown possibilities. Convergent process rely on methods based on the designer’s previous knowledge, like evaluation matrix
The result is typically one, or very few, answers to a given problem. It can lead to knowledge-based mistakes, when the designer’s evaluation is affected by his previous knowledge, that makes him or her ignore other important aspects of the problem.
Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is the ability to explore off the beaten path, creating a variety of possibilities from available informations. Usually it uses free-flow methods (brainstorming, bodystorming…), therefore the solutions given are numerous.
Although convergent and divergent thinking were often seen as competing processes (Getzels and Jackson, 1962), in more recent there has been a recognition of their mutual usefulness (Rickards, 1993; Brophy, 1998). The aim of this paper is to prove, like many other sources, that the best approach is a mixture of the two.
Several methodologies and approaches have been developed so that these two ways of thinking are used together in a fruitful way: one of the most preminent is undoubtedly C-K theory (Concept-Knowledge theory) (fonte: Le Masson): it is not by chance that this theory was first developed during the 1990s, just when traditional innovation was facing an unprecedented crisis. For this reason, new approaches to design and production were needed, while knowledge and know-how were not enough anymore.
Considering that, in the information revolution, new knowledge was available to every company, the true competitive difference is made by what is now yet known. Le Masson refers to that as “desirable unknown”, that’s always linked to what already exists. In this way, there’s a perfect balance between creativity and knowledge, and each of them gains more strength from the other.
Another example is the Double Diamond method: developed by the British Design Council in 2005, it shows how the flows of convergent and divergent thinking are intertwining (fonte British Council) knowledge base of creativity (Feldhusen), Lubart (2000-2001) expressed the link between knowledge and creativity in a homely but convincing way: He suggested that there may well be no difference between the processes of divergent and convergent thinking, but that differences in outcome may depend instead on ” … the quality of the material (e.g., knowledge) (p. 301)”. Lubart extended this thought with the concrete metaphor: “The engine is the same, but some people use better grade fuel (p. 301).”
A practical example: professor Giovanni Emanuele Corazza, to prove the creative potential of unusual associations, provided his students with this assumption: “the coffee machine is a planet”. What does that mean? Which features of a planet can be included in the design of a coffee machine? It comes without saying that, the more a person knows about a planet, the more ideas this sentence will bring: a person who know just generally what a planet is would probably imagine a sphere-like shape, or a floating coffee machine; some more informed people may think about putting a ring around it, providing “satellite” accessories or rotating colour patterns
Our brain is extremely efficient in recollecting informations from past experiences and finding correspondences in the present (fonte?). With this in mind, the idea of the designer producing brilliant ideas out of nowhere must be debunked: one common thought is that designers are “creative” people. But there’s no such thing as creative and non-creative people: it’s all on the curiosity we have.
One famous example involves Philippe Starck, drawing the Juicy Salif lemon squeezer on a paper tissue, after being inspired by a calamari dish. Starck managed to have this successful idea because all he saw, experienced and designed up to that moment led him to that. Moreover, he has been proven to seek inspiration from everywhere, especially nature, that he brought about in many other designs.
“Chance always favours the prepared mind”, a quote by Pasteur, perfectly embodies this concept:
As a further confirmation, artists and creative minds of the like of Van Gogh and Edison, never hid the numerous failed attempts that they were enduring, thus meaning that the extremely creative results they produced were generated by a long learning process, rather than by some genius intuition.
In the light of all the examples, it can be assumed that the most effective way to increase one’s creative potential is giving themselves as much cognitive “raw” material as possible.
A purely knowledge-based approach is to be avoided, to prevent stagnation, like a method fully based on creativity must always be filtered by knowledge, to prevent solutions from being too detached from reality.
Designers should never take his or her knowledge for granted: in the wake of each design problem, they must start with openmindness, always questioning their current knowledge before applying it. Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected (William Plomer) .Contamination of different knowledge fields.
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