This dissertation reports on the role of gestalt in internal mental processes of Industrial Design students during the early phases of their design processes. Design thinking is a contemplative yearning to transform the world, exploiting a combination of aesthetics, ethics and knowledge. However, the thinking behind design is not fully understood, and designers themselves struggle to explain how they make the connections that direct them to the final result and why those judgements are rational. Design thinking in education has not been well addressed especially the education of designers. Research found the problem solving strategies used by novice designers and the theoretical models described in curriculum documents on the design process to be significantly different and suggested that students must be explicitly taught thinking skills to assist them in designing cognitively demanding tasks. However, there is currently insufficient cognitive account on the interwoveness of intentions, the things novice designers think about and the order in which they think about them during the early phases of the design process.
The aim of this research was to examine and describe the ways in which Industrial Design students reacted on their internal and external task environment to establish coherent decision making. It is not clearly understood through the literature on design cognition what the nature of novices hierarchical thinking is, or what role gestalt guided by global precedence plays in their design thinking. The importance of understanding novice designers hierarchical way of thinking might assist educators facilitating design students thinking, to become efficient problem solvers.
The parallel mixed methods approach to this quasi-experimental case study was based on concurrent think-aloud protocol studies (TAPS) to capture designers moment to moment thought processes together with the production of concurrent sketches. As a result, the mixed methods approach provided me with the opportunity to summarise the way and the order in which designers thought about things in the design task environment.
This research report presents and discusses the salient results of three protocol studies where three groups of Industrial Design students working in pairs to solve an ill-structured design problem. The conceptual framework that was adopted for this study was based on the hierarchical thinking model which was conceptualised as a result of empirical research on expert designers to establish the links between various levels of intentions and physicality.
The results suggest that coherent gestalt was instantiated when extended design cognition actions synergistically integrate internal processes and external sources of information to solve design problems. The gestalt theory of global precedence that are characterised by hierarchical levels was evident as the Industrial Design students thoughts developed. Their hierarchy of thoughts consisted of four levels, namely aspectual intentions, functional intentions, physical elements and implementation intentions. In each of these hierarchical levels Industrial Design students thought of different things to assist them to understand a given problem and to find a coherent solution in the form of a conceptualised artefact. This confirms the centrality of global precedence in gestalt theory. It furthermore confirms the suitability of the four-level hierarchical model suggested by Haupt (2013) in an expert context, to trace and map the thoughts and cognitive behaviour of Industrial Design students.
The practical contribution of this study, about Industrial Design students hierarchical thinking in the early phases of the design process, could be seen as an opportunity for design educators to develop design activities where students can consciously practice making links between various levels of intentions, functionality and physicality. This teaching strategy might allow Industrial Design students to structure their problem solving activity and reduce the cognitive pressure, in order to be more efficient and productive with their time. By making design students consciously aware of these hierarchical levels might allow educators to facilitate design students thinking, to mirror expert design behaviour.