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Engineering Design Centre

Design Practice Group


Design Practice Group

Design Practice Group

Relating designers, artefacts and users

The Design Practice Group researches the relationships between designers, artefacts and users. In particular, we study the following practices:

  • the specification of artefacts by designers (and also how designers consider users in that process);
  • the interaction between users and artefacts (and also how users consider designers during those interactions);
  • the communication between designers and users (and also how artefacts mediate those communications).

Our research is highly interdisciplinary, and this is manifest in two ways. First, when seeking to establish the conceptual foundations of particular aspects of design, there is a broad base of existing knowledge to draw on and this knowledge is distributed across many different academic and professional disciplines. It is therefore necessary to identify the most relevant ideas developed in other fields and bring these ideas into design research. Second, when conducting empirical enquiries into the relationships between designers, artefacts and users, a broad range of research methodologies are useful, and these originate from many different disciplinary traditions. Consequently, the identification, adaptation and implementation of appropriate research methods is important when conducting and presenting our work.

The topics and methods of the Design Practice Group are relevant to a broad range of disciplines. As such, we publish and present our work not only to design research but also to the disciplines we draw from and those to which our work relates. In doing so, we make contributions to how design is thought about, taught and practiced, and to how other disciplines view design.

Potential students, visitors or collaborators should contact Dr Nathan Crilly (


Associated Projects

IdEAS logo

IdEAS - Interdisciplinary Engineering Approach to Systems

IdEAS was a five-year EPSRC-funded project to develop design insights that are flexibly applicable across a range of technologies. The project was conducted as an Early Career Fellowship awarded to Dr Nathan Crilly, and involved four post-doctoral researchers, two PhD students and two international visitors. Three topics were addressed: (1) design creativity and fixation; (2) complex design problems; (3) system lifecycle properties. The project was interdisciplinary by nature, employing concepts and methods from various academic fields, including technology studies, psychology and the social sciences. The project also engaged with stakeholders from Government and Industry through collaboration with the Cambridge Centre for Science and Policy.



From Modularity to Emergence: a primer on the design and science of complex systems

Chih-Chun Chen, Nathan Crilly. Cambridge Engineering Design Centre.

This 'primer' introduces a domain-neutral framework and diagrammatic scheme for characterising the ways in which systems are modular or complex. It allows researchers and practitioners from different disciplines to share methods, theories and findings related to the design and study of different systems, even when those systems appear superficially dissimilar. Other work associated with the primer is available from a dedicated microsite.