Synosia Towards the Medici Effect: Synthetic Thinking Approach To Generating the Medici Effect in Interior Design Projects

Presented by: Joori Suh

What does creativity mean to interior design students in an age of visual overload? What would be useful ground for an interior design educator to set in motion the dynamic movement of the Medici effect to promote a sense of confidence in students as they generate creative ideas? How can interior design educators encourage students to get away from overwhelming images of so-called precedent study and jump into the pleasurable mental status of imaginative courage? In this presentation, I initiate a dialogue about synosia, a synthetic thinking approach that triggers a variety of interaction points in creating the Medici effect, and present a course designed based on the idea of synosia as an example case. 

Many theorist and scholars argue that creativity is not a single flash moment but a connected network (Johansson, 2004; Johnson, 2010; Root-Bernstein, 2013). According to Steven Johnson (2010), a good idea is “a new network of neurons firing in sync with each other inside our brain. It is a new configuration that has never formed before.”  Johansson (2004) introduced the idea of intersection among unfamiliar territories as the best chance to create the Medici effect of innovate new ideas. Root-Bernstein (2013) also claims the importance of synosia, the union of different forms of knowledge. To experiment on the usefulness of the synthetic thinking approach in interior design education, an elective seminar + studio course called Interior Design in Urban Settings was designed to provide students with multiple “points” for generating “intersections.” In order to set the initial points, various design-related topics and theories from different disciplines were introduced in the seminar. The introduced design-related topics and theories include some diverse perspectives unfamiliar to interior design students, mostly from cognitive psychology, architectural philosophy, urban design, and economics, for example, enmesh, motion parallax, phenomenal zones, ornament and pattern, optical illusion, imageability, affordances, place-centered design, sense of place, pattern language, museum archetypes, density dynamic, and semiotic diagramming. A field trip activity included identifying the points employed in real-world settings. To create intersections among these points, students were asked to choose one design project with unique problems out of four choices and apply more than two design topics and theories introduced in the course. During the design process, students were challenged to emerge from their comfort zone: No interior designer’s finished projects could be used as inspirational images, but for their in-depth analysis based on design theories; students were continually asked to sketch to show how theories can be combined to generate something unique to solve problems for their project. 

Synosia, the synthetic thinking approach, encourages students to develop critical eyes in evaluating current design and fosters expanding their design thinking to break comfortable boundaries. In the informal survey at the end of the semester, students showed positive response to the synthetic thinking approach in helping them to be creative in generating design ideas to solve problems for their projects. In the presentation some of topics and design theories used as points for intersections as well as a few student projects will be introduced to initiate discussion among design educators.


  • Johansson, F. (2004). The Medici effect: Breakthrough insights at the intersection of ideas, concepts, and cultures. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
  • Root-Bernstein, R. S., & Root-Bernstein, M. M. (2013). Sparks of genius: The thirteen thinking tools of the world's most creative people. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Johnson, S. (2010). Where good ideas come from: The natural history of innovation. New York, NY: Penguin UK.