Idea Generation

Idea Generation

Design Process in Architecture covers every aspect of the design process, answering key questions and giving students the tools to develop their own ways of working. Here author Geoffrey Makstutis introduces his essential new guide…


Design is often seen as either a mystical magical process or not seen at all. For some, the act of design appears unknowable - “…how do they come up with those ideas?” For others, design is invisible - they don’t recognise that our world is overflowing with things that are the result of the painstaking work of designers. There is almost nothing that we use that is not the product of individual and collaborative design.

At a conference, in 1990, Tim Brennan described the work of Apple’s Creative Services Group with this diagram and said “someone calls with a project, we do some stuff and money follows.

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That unfathomable squiggle, at the center of the diagram, embodies the way that some people view the design process. That it is mysterious and confusing. While the creative act, that is certainly a part of design, may be undefinable, the process that follows can be examined through many different lenses.

Differentiating the role of the designer from say, the role of that artist, is one of the key things that allows us to examine the process. Where, broadly speaking, the artist is driven by their own creative desires; the designer is responding to the needs of others. Put simply, designers work in the service of others - the ‘client’ or the ‘user’. This does not mean that the designer does not have interests and creative ideas that they wish to explore, but these will be developed alongside, or through, the development of work that meets the needs of a client or user group.


Why look at the Design Process?

If design is, at least in part, an activity that will be highly personal and unique then why try to examine it? Why not just concentrate on doing it?

There are a great deal number of skills required to enable design to take place. Some are based on developing our capacity to think creatively; identifying unique opportunities and ideas to explore. Others are more analytical; requiring us to examine existing conditions or contexts, in order to develop an understanding that can be used to drive the creative. But, make no mistake, these are skills that are developed they are not simply innate and present in a unique strata of the population.

To some extent, we are all designing all of the time. We make design decisions in the close we choose to wear, when we consider the combination of colours, patterns, styles to be worn. We make design decisions when we visit a shop to look for new furniture and consider how it will relate to other pieces in our home. To translate this type of design to becoming a designer is about practice. Although studies have begun to dispute the notion (popularised by Malcolm Gladwell) that to become an expert requires 10,000 hours of practice, there is some consensus that deliberate, focused time; dedicated to improving skills, will result in higher levels of expertise. So, the more time we spend designing the better a designer we may become.

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But design is not a manual skill. While designers will draw and make models, these do not make the process of design. Just as playing a piano is not simply about playing all the right notes, in the necessary right order. To practice design, requires that you engage in a range of different activities; each of which will inform the way that design outcomes are defined. These range from context research and physical mapping to environmental studies to concept development and technical details. ‘Design Process in Architecture’ aims to explore this range of different aspects of the design process, examining how they inform design and influence the outcomes of architectural design and development.

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End to End Design

For many, there is an idea that design is the creative process that takes place at the start of a project. It is the exciting and interesting part where ideas are generated and tested. Then you stop designing, so that you move the project into more ‘serious’ phases as you progress toward actually building something. I’ve often heard students say things like “I need to stop designing so that I can start my technical drawings.” It is both a fallacy and unhelpful to think that design ‘stops’ so that other things can happen.

As one of the reasons we design is to seek to find solutions prior to the actual making of things; in order to minimise error and cost, we should recognise that this never stops. The nature of what is being designed (or the nature of the solution we are seeking to find) will change, but the process will be remarkably similar throughout the different stages of a project.

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At each stage of an architectural project, design plays a role. Throughout ‘Design Process in Architecture,’ there is an aim to show the different roles that design (and the designer) plays in moving a project forward. Whether this is in collaboration with a community or using digital tools to explore form or solving technical issues during the construction process, design continues to inform the way that building will be seen and experienced.

Finding your Design Voice

At the end of the day, studying architecture is as much about developing your own ‘voice’ - the way in which you communicate through your work - as it is about learning the technical and professional aspects of the industry. This ‘voice’ is established through the way that you approach projects - your design process.

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The techniques that are used to communicate design ideas; the drawings, models, computer renderings, etc., are also a part of the process. Conceptual drawings will explore abstract ideas, often communicated in ways that are not immediately identifiable as architectural. Technical designs will be precise and detailed; as they seek to communicate information that will enable manufacture or construction. Looking at the way design is communicated, then, tells us more about the process and the aims of the project.

Exploring and examining the different approaches to design, through the work of others, can provide both inspiration and opportunities for experiment. Designers are inquisitive - they constantly search for the ‘other’ way or an alternative solution - and this drives part of the creative process of design. By understanding how other architects and designers have developed their design process, as a part of the journey toward finding your own design process.


If you teach on a course in the creative arts and would like to review Design Process in Architecture with a view to recommending it to your students, please complete the request form here. Your inspection copy will be free of charge if we receive your completed feedback form within 40 days of dispatch.

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