• nc266@cam.ac.uk
  • +44 1223 748244

Dr Nathan Crilly

University Senior Lecturer

  • B.Eng., Mechanical Engineering, University of Southampton, 1999
  • Ph.D., Design Research, University of Cambridge, 2005
Dr Nathan Crilly is a Senior Lecturer in Engineering Design at the University of Cambridge. His 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 is a Fellow in Engineering at Clare College, Cambridge. He is a member of the Design Research Society and The Design Society. He also serves on the International Editorial Board of Design Studies. Nathan leads the EDC's Design Practice group, conducting interdisciplinary 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, grouped under thematic headings. The headings divide the work into several strands but there are substantial crossovers. For example, 'function theory' is one way to view 'product form' and 'intention guessing' is part of 'design communication'. A more complete list is available here.


Crilly, N. (In Press) Fixation and creativity in concept development: the attitudes and practices of expert designers, Design Studies. Draft available upon request.
Abstract: Interviews were conducted with thirteen professional designers to understand their attitudes towards fixation and the practices they adopt to address it. Fixation was thought to be encouraged and discouraged by a wide range of factors related to the project, the client, the design team, the organisational culture and the design activities employed. The experiences that designers accumulate during their professional lives were associated with fixation in different ways. The experience of prior design failures was thought to encourage fixation whilst the experience of varied solutions was thought to discourage fixation. Recognising fixation episodes and reflecting on them was described as the means by which designers could guard against such episodes in the future and thus be more creative.

Töre Yargın, G. & Crilly, N. (In Press) Information and interaction requirements for software tools supporting analogical design, Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing, Draft available upon request.
Abstact: One mode of creative design is for designers to draw analogies that connect the design domain (e.g. a mechanical device) to some other domain from which inspiration is drawn (e.g. a biological system). The identification and application of analogies can be supported by software tools that store, structure, present or propose source domain stimuli from which such analogies might be constructed. For these tools to be effective and not impact the design process in negative ways they must fit well with the information and interaction needs of their users. However, the user requirements for these tools are seldom explicitly discussed. Furthermore, the literature that supports the identification of such requirements is distributed across a number of different domains, including those that address analogical design (especially biomimetics), creativity support tools and human-computer interaction. The requirements that these literatures propose 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). Examining the relationships between these requirements suggests that tool developers should focus on satisfying the key requirements of open-endedness and accessibility whilst managing the conflicts between the other requirements. Attention to these requirements and the relationships between them promises to yield analogical design support tools that better permit designers to identify and apply source information in their creative work.

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).


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