Monday, February 2, 2015


Reflection is an underlining theme of design thinking.

In the history of innovation methods, you can find a reference to Graham Wallas an English social psychologist and educationalist, distinguished between four stages of the creative process (1926): 
(1) preparation
(2) incubation
 (3) illumination 
(4) verification. 

This division was generally accepted by the subsequent research, sometimes with some variations of the name or number of the stages. Thus, Alex Osborn, an American author expanded the list to seven stages (1953): 

(1) orientation (pointing out the problem)
(2) preparation (gathering pertinent data) 
(3) analysis (breaking down the relevant material)
(4) ideation (piling up alternatives way of ideas)
(5) incubation ('letting up, ' to invite illumination) 
(6) synthesis: putting the pieces together
(7) evaluation: judging the resulting ideas. 

Reflection or incubation appears less in early formalized design methods, but takes a significant position in the design thinking process, why?

Reflection is an underlining theme of design thinking: Like intuition, reflection has not gone away but has undergone refinement and formalization. Stepping out of the routine transactional activities for a while, and reimagine the new possibility, putting yourself in the shoes of your user or otherwise building empathy is the beginning of a reflective journey. Looking back after ideation is another point but the same is true for prototyping and testing. In fact, the whole point of the testing framework is to reflect not just as a design team but to allow users to reflect as well.

Incubation time is the time taken for the subconscious mind to respond to stimuli until it delivers a result back to the conscious mind: In the context of Product Design and most other creative activities, the incubation time can typically take days and weeks, sometimes less, sometimes more. This incubation process or gestation time is absolutely essential for good design and at the core of creative practice and competence. History has many examples of this with Archimedes being the earliest. He made many experiments and that the solution eluded him until, after some time and only during the short break, he experienced the Eureka! The moment as the subconscious broke through into his conscious mind with the solution. A powerful insight into how the human mind works.

Clearly to succeed you need both thinking modes and need to build in time for reflection; which effectively questions the practices as it happens and allow you to perform in a strategic and informed manner as a project is making progress from need to concept to product. If logic-deductive thinking is allowed to dominate one’s minds you cannot be creative so you need strategies and a robust practice to switch off the logic-deductive mindset and allow creativity and design to flourish and deliver. You need to set aside time for such reflection and it is a real problem that some businesses or institutions do not readily allow for this. Organizations that ignore incubation time and reflection often fail when attempting innovation. if they are unaware of how the innovative mind works.

Good design co-evolves. Only learning systems do so effectively, and there is no learning without reflection. The process of reflection is the foundation of growth, evolution, progress, learning, improvement, refinement. It is essential not only in design but in life itself when understood, accepted and embraced. So reflection is an underlining theme for either design or life itself.


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