• nc266@cam.ac.uk
  • +44 1223 748244

Dr Nathan Crilly

University Senior Lecturer

  • B.Eng. Mechanical Engineering, University of Southampton, 1999
  • Ph.D. Engineering Design, University of Cambridge, 2005
Nathan's research interests are in the areas of design, creativity and communication. He employs an interdisciplinary approach to studying how artefacts (e.g. products, systems or services) are developed, the properties they exhibit and the ways in which people respond to them. Nathan leads the EDC's Design Practice group, conducting research into the relationships between designers, artefacts and users. From 2013-2018, Nathan is working on the IdEAS project, investigating how cross-domain system attributes can be represented to designers to foster creative solutions to technical challenges.

Selected Publications

Selected publications are provided below, organised by topic. More complete lists are available from the EDC and from Google.


Crilly, N. (2015) Fixation and creativity in concept development: the attitudes and practices of expert designers, Design Studies, 38, 54–91. Freely available from Elsevier and summarised in Fast Company.
Reports on an interview study with thirteen professional designers to understand the role of established ideas in inhibiting creative work ('design fixation'). Describes the designers' attitudes towards fixation, their experiences of it and the practices they adopt to address it.

Töre Yargın, G. & Crilly, N. (2015) Information and interaction requirements for software tools supporting analogical design, Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing, 29(02), 203-214. Draft available upon request.
Explores the user requirements for tools that assist in the identification and application of analogies in design. These requirements can be divided into those that relate to the information content that the tools provide (e.g. level of abstraction, mode of representation) and those that relate to the interaction qualities that the tools support (e.g. accessibility, share-ability).

Crilly, N. (2010) The structure of design revolutions: Kuhnian paradigm shifts in creative problem solving, Design Issues, 26(1), 54-66. Available from MIT Press or here
Provides an account of creative progress in design projects that includes gradual progress and sudden leaps forward. Structured around Thomas Kuhn's account of scientific developments (History and Philosophy of Science).

DESIGN PRINCIPLES (exploratory work)

Chen, C.-C., & Crilly, N. (2014) Modularity, redundancy and degeneracy: Cross-domain perspectives on key design principles, 8th Annual IEEE Systems Conference (SysCon 2014), pp. 546–553. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: IEEE. Available from IEEE
Represents and distinguishes three key system architectures that relate function to structure. The general application of these is demonstrated through reference to technical and biological systems.

Chen, C.-C., & Crilly, N. (2014) Towards a framework of design principles: Classifying system features, behaviours and types, Design Research Society Conference, 2014, Umeĺ, Sweden. Available from DRS2014
Establishes a basis for structuring a framework of design principles that apply across domains. This is achieved through considering the different types of system that different domains consider, the features of those systems and the behaviours that result from those features.


Crilly, N. (2015) The proliferation of functions: Multiple systems playing multiple roles in multiple supersystems, Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing, 29(1), 83–92. Available from Cambridge University Press or draft here
Represents the different function statements that can be made when different levels of system abstraction are considered and when multiple roles are played at each level.

Crilly, N. (2013) Function propagation through nested systems, Design Studies, 34(2), 216-242. Available from Elsevier or draft here
Investigates how to represent the function of a system with respect to the multiple super-systems that it is embedded in. Incorporates aspects of biological and technical function theory and systems theory.

Crilly, N. (2010) The roles that artefacts play: technical, social and aesthetic functions, Design Studies, 31(4), 311-344. Available from Elsevier or draft here
Explores definitions of 'function' with a view to including not just an artefact's technical roles, but also its non-technical roles. Builds on function theory from engineering design, philosophy of biology, social theory, art theory and archaeology.


Crilly, N. (2011) The design stance in user-system interaction, Design Issues, 27(4), 16-29. Available from MIT Press or here
Develops the conceptual foundations for considering how users' design knowledge influences their interactions with designed systems. Builds on Daniel Dennett's concept of the 'Design Stance' (philosophy of mind).

Crilly, N. (2011) Do users know what designers are up to? Product experience and the inference of persuasive intentions, International Journal of Design, 5(3), 1-15. Available here
Proposes research questions and methodological options for investigating how users' design knowledge influences their interpretations of designed products. Builds on Friestad and Wright's 'Persuasion Knowledge Model' (marketing theory).

Aruk, N., Jansson-Boyd, C. V. & Crilly, N. (2011) What users know about the design process: a report on two exploratory studies, Proceedings of Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces (DPPI '11), June 22–25, 2011, Milan, Italy. Available here
Reports on two qualitative exploratory studies aimed at understanding the extent to which people’s responses to products are influenced by their ideas about the processes from which those products result.


Crilly, N., Maier, A. and Clarkson, P.J. (2008). Representing artefacts as media: Modelling the relationship between designer intent and consumer experience, International Journal of Design, 2(3), 15-27. Available here
Reviews the various diagrammatic models that can be used to represent design as a process of mediated communication. Builds on communication theory, media theory, literary theory and design theory to develop an integrated model.

Crilly, N., Good, D., Matravers, D. and Clarkson, P.J. (2008) Design as communication: exploring the validity and utility of relating intention to interpretation, Design Studies, 29 (5), 425-457. Available from Elsevier or draft here
Reviews the various diagrammatic models that can be used to represent design as a process of mediated communication. Discusses the most popular models and suggests how they might be used.


Crilly, N., Moultrie, J. and Clarkson, P.J. (2009) Shaping things: intended consumer response and the other determinants of product form, Design Studies, 30(3), 224-254. Available from Elsevier or draft here
Builds a framework for the factors that influence product form by analysing interviews with industrial designers. This framework is complementary to that presented in 'Seeing things' (2004).

Crilly, N., Moultrie, J. and Clarkson, P.J. (2004) Seeing things: consumer response to the visual domain in product design, Design Studies, 25 (6), 547-577. Available from Elsevier or draft here
Develops a conceptual framework for the varieties of consumer response and the factors that influence those responses. This framework is complementary to that presented in 'Shaping things' (2009).

PRODUCT FORM (exploratory work)

Schoen, K. & Crilly, N. (2012) Implicit methods for testing product preference: exploratory studies with the Affective Simon Task, Proceedings of the 8th International Design and Emotion Conference, 11-14 September 2012, Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, London. Available here
Two exploratory studies are reported on, each using psychological techniques from the field of addiction studies. Design preferences are inferred from people's reaction times in moving towards or away from stimuli.

Crilly, N. and Clarkson, P.J. (2006) 'The influence of consumer research on product aesthetics,' in Proceeding of Design 2006 (Croatia), pp. 689-696. Draft available here
Builds a framework of key influences on product form based on interviews with industrial designers and consumer researchers.


Crilly, N., Blackwell, A.F. and Clarkson, P.J. (2006) Graphic elicitation: using research diagrams as interview stimuli, Qualitative Research, 6 (3), 341-366. Available from SAGE or draft available here
Describes a novel research method that involves presenting interviewees with research diagrams. Places that method in the context of other qualitative approaches, especially visual methods. Republished as...

Crilly, N., Blackwell, A.F. and Clarkson, P.J. (2012) Graphic elicitation: using research diagrams as interview stimuli, SAGE Visual Methods, Hughes, J. (Ed.), Vol. 4, Ch. 65, pp. 283–307.

Contact Information

The University of Cambridge,
Department of Engineering,
Trumpington Street,

Phone: +44 1223 748244

Fax: +44 1223 332662

Email: nc266@cam.ac.uk