Designerly Ways of Knowing By Nigel Cross Springer, 2006

Design is more than a way of making better products and services; it’s also an approach to work. More than that, it’s a particular way to probe and intervene in the world that allows us to tackle complex problems.

This idea of design as a meta-approach to problem-solving has been very influential in my work, in no small part through Nigel Cross’s Designerly Ways of Knowing. Prof. Cross is one of the key figures on this subject, and this slim volume is a compilation of his lectures and publication on the matter.

Designerly Ways of Knowing posits design as a third way of knowing the world, alongside science and the humanities. The book offers the following aspects of designerly ways of knowing:

  • Designers tackle “ill-defined” problems.

  • Their mode of problem-solving is “solution-focused.”

  • Their mode of thinking is “constructive.”

  • They use “codes” that translate abstract requirements into concrete objects.

  • They use these “codes” to both “read” and “write” in “object languages.”

Designers have much to contribute to organizations and societies beyond their individual design disciplines. Design isn’t just a way of making things; it’s a way of thinking that works through making and testing/reflecting on the resulting products.


Considering the practice of design at this more abstract level frees designers from the constraints of particular disciplines. It opens a broader scope of action for designers — and value for our stakeholders and clients.

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