Expertise in Professional Design

Cross, Nigel (2018). Expertise in Professional Design. In: Ericsson, K. Anders; Hoffman, Robert R.; Kozbelt, Aaron and Williams, A. Mark eds. Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (2nd ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 372–388.




Studies of the nature of expert performance in professional design originated in the late 1960s with protocol studies of architects and other design professionals. Primarily, they have been conducted by researchers who are themselves situated within the design professions, and these studies have been an important element in the more general growth of design research. More recently, researchers from fields such as psychology and cognitive science have also begun to make significant contributions to the study of design expertise.

I will review and give examples of the range of research methods that have been applied in developing the understanding of expertise in design. I will then discuss the key aspects of design expertise, and some of its apparent weaknesses, that have been established from these studies. I will briefly comment on some of the observed development of competence within students of design, and conclude with a summary of what we know of the nature of design expertise.

My starting point is that the ability to design is widespread amongst all people, but that some people appear to be better designers than others.

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