Research Theme: Design Practice

IdEAS is a five-year EPSRC-funded project to develop design insights that are flexibly applicable across a range of emerging technologies. The project focuses on how designers develop ideas and how those ideas influence the evolution of technical and socio-technical systems. Four key questions are being addressed:

  • How can designers balance the need to commit to and develop particular ideas for the systems they are designing whilst remaining flexible to the possibility of alternatives? How is this related to issues of fixation and creativity and how should these issues be studied?
  • How do designers think about, represent, and communicate complex design problems? How is complexity addressed in advanced technologies that must routinely deal with issues such as emergence and context dependency?
  • How do designers understand the system properties that their technologies will exhibit? How do they distinguish between and communicate about systems concepts such as adaptability, robustness and resilience?
  • How can designers access information from other domains that might be relevant to the systems that they are designing? How do they transfer information from those domains to the problems and solutions that they are considering?

In addressing these questions, the project will provide guidance for the designers working on the development of new and emerging technologies.


Emerging technologies are science-based innovations with the potential to create, transform or obsolete entire industries. Examples range from Synthetic Biology, where systems are engineered from naturally occurring entities, to Swarm Robotics, where the collective behaviour of simple artificial agents can be manipulated by engineering the individual behaviours and local interactions between them. Technologies such as these present new design challenges but they also present challenges that are analogous to those already solved by existing systems. As such, designers must balance the opportunities to apply solutions from elsewhere (e.g. other technical or biological systems) with the requirement to look beyond those systems and solve new challenges in new ways.


The project is interdisciplinary by nature, employing the concepts and methods from various academic fields, including technology studies, psychology and the social sciences. The project also engages with Government and Industry stakeholders through the organisation of Policy Workshops and by supporting Policy Fellows (in collaboration with the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy).


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

  • Vasconcelos, L. A., & Crilly, N. (2016). Inspiration and fixation: Questions, methods, findings, and challenges. Design Studies, 42, 132.
  • 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.