Research Theme: Design Practice

IdEAS is a five-year EPSRC-funded project to develop design guidance that is flexibly applicable across a range of emerging technologies. The project focuses on those design principles that can be observed to influence the development and operation of many different kinds of system, including technical systems, biological systems and organisational systems. These design principles might include modifying system features (e.g. modularity and redundancy) so as to affect a system's ability to respond to change (e.g. robustness or scalability). The project will develop and represent cross-domain design principles so that they are easy to identify and apply in design practice.


Emerging technologies are science-based innovations with the potential to create, transform or obsolete entire industries. Examples range from ‘small-tech’ materials constructed at the atomic level through to ‘large-tech’ infrastructures enabled by the internet and other complex systems. Whilst emerging technologies can be entirely new, they most often result from new combinations of existing technologies, or are analogous to existing systems in some important way. The ability to identify and integrate knowledge, skills and processes from these other systems determines the rate at which the commercial and societal value of emerging technologies is realised.

Because designing for emerging technologies requires methods that can respond to uncertain, complex and rapid developments, there is a need for solution principles that are generally and readily applicable. Innovation could then be promoted if designers were able to review, combine and contrast these principles and apply them to specific technologies. The IdEAS project will enable this by developing an understanding of the underpinning systems that emerging technologies are made up of or built into. Multiple system types will be investigated, along with the attributes of those systems and the system behaviours that those attributes promote.


  • Develop a framework that usefully relates the features of a system to the behaviours that the system exhibits.
  • Present comparative case studies revealing the analogies, interactions and conflicts between design practices that address different systems.
  • Develop an information tool that assists designers in identifying and applying cross-domain design principles.


As part of the project, a Policy Workshop was held in Cambridge in December 2014, organised through CSaP. The workshop focussed on how different kinds of systems can be made more resilient. Twenty-one participants were involved, including representatives from government, industry and academia. The outputs from the workshop are being written up for distribution and publication.


The IdEAS project is funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as an Early Career Fellowship awarded to Dr Nathan Crilly. The grant reference number is EP/K008196/1.

Selected Publications

  • Crilly, N. (2015). Fixation and creativity in concept development: The attitudes and practices of expert designers. Design Studies, 38, 54-91.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Chen, C.-C., & Crilly, N. (2014). Modularity, redundancy and degeneracy: Cross-domain perspectives on key design principles. In 8th Annual IEEE Systems Conference (SysCon 2014) (pp. 546-553). Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: IEEE.
  • Chen, C.-C., & Crilly, N. (2014). Towards a framework of design principles: Classifying system features, behaviours and types. In DRS2014. Umea, Sweden.
  • Taysom, E., & Crilly, N. (2014). Diagrammatic Representation of System Lifecycle Properties. Presented at the 4th International Engineering Systems Symposium, Hobken, NJ.
  • Crilly, N. (2014). Design fixation: a call for qualitative research. Presented at the Design Creativity Workshop 2014 (DCC14, SIG Design Creativity), University College London, London, UK.