Design Thinking as a Form of Intelligence

Cross, Nigel (2010). Design Thinking as a Form of Intelligence. In: Interpreting Design Thinking (Dorst, Kees and Stewart, Susan eds.), Design Thinking Research Symposia, Design, Architecture & Building, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia, pp. 99–106.


This paper re-visits the concept of ‘design as a form of intelligence’, first suggested by Cross (1990) and based on a development of Gardner’s (1983) ‘theory of multiple intelligences’. The premise of the concept was that there are sufficient significant features embedded in design thinking that, taken together, they constitute a form of intelligence that is different from, but comparable with, Gardner’s other six (now increased to eight) forms of intelligence. Although the concept has re-surfaced occasionally in the last twenty years, it has not received the attention that perhaps it deserves. Recent extensions of the concept of design thinking have the potential to undermine the core concept of ‘designerly ways of knowing’ and therefore of the concept of design thinking itself. This paper re-states the concept of ‘design as a form of intelligence’ and identifies the progress that has been made in the past twenty years in understanding its key cognitive components. Significant aspects of this progress have arisen from the body of research in design thinking, including especially the DTRS series, but also from more distant but relevant work in the cognitive sciences.

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