Finite Resources: Exploring designers’ knowledge acquisition practices and preferences

Presented by: Amy M Huber

Human attention is a finite resource and a myriad of issues compete for a designer’s time and attention. Constraints on billable hours, deadlines, client demands, and sheer information overload can stymie even the best of intentions. Yet, the value of research to design practice is receiving greater recognition. Today, Evidence-based design (EBD) strategies have increased the demand for useable empirical evidence in decision making. Design firms and contract furniture manufacturers are engaging internal scholars to generate proprietary research. Research suggests design practitioners do value research (Birdsong & Lawlor 2001; Dickinson, et al., 2012), and professional organizations (ASID Knowledge Center, AIA Knowledge Net, IIDA Knowledge Network) and non-profits (InformeDesign) have sought to enhance designers’ access to research by providing directories populated with succinct descriptions of findings. Although there is a great deal of information being created and shared, the degree of its utilization remains unclear. Understanding what attracts designers to a source, how they process the information therein, and what they can then recall about the information may help researchers more effectively communicate their findings to this audience. Cognitive science has expanded our understanding of information processing; positing that individuals want to form correct beliefs and attitudes, but may use different methods to arrive at those beliefs. Dual Process Theory (Chaiken & Trope, 1999; Evans et al., 2003), suggest individuals use two forms of processing information; System 1 and System 2. System 1 is gut-level processing which relies on intuitive associations requiring little mental effort. While, System 2 is cognitive level processing and is more deliberate, systematic, and requires the use of central working memory to allow for advanced reasoning (Evans et al., 2003). This research sought to understand what system processing preferences are exhibited by designers during their knowledge acquisition efforts. This presentation summarizes statistical analysis following a 2014 survey distributed nationally to members of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Three hundred and sixty-six responses were received; of those, 315 confirmed they conducted project related research or information gathering. Respondents indicated a wide range of activities (Figure 1), most of which occurred during schematic design or design development (Figure 2). Respondents also indicated a range of information sources utilized (Figure 3). When evaluating these sources, 50% suggested graphic style as important consideration. Fifty-seven percent of respondents indicated they often spent less than 10 minutes with information sources, and indicated they often abandoned these sources due to information irrelevance or cumbersome writing style. While processing information, respondents most often indicated they wrote notes (60%), or reread the materials (46%). However, 85% percent stated they were more likely to remember images over words. These findings increase our understanding of practitioners’ evaluation methods, time allocation, and processing preferences; suggesting designers generally spend little time with sources. Thus, they may use System 1 processes in conducting System 2-orientated tasks. Implications from this survey may suggest that scholars who want their findings to be understood and utilized by designers may want to consider incorporating methods allowing for rapid evaluation.


  • Birdsong, C., & Lawlor, P. J. (2001). Perceptions of professionalism: Interior design practitioners working for the top 100 firms. Journal of Interior Design, 27(1), 20–34.
  • Dickinson, J. I., Anthony, L. and Marsden, J. P. (2012), A Survey on Practitioner Attitudes Toward Research in Interior Design Education. Journal of Interior Design, 37: 1–22. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-1668.2012.01078.x
  • Chaiken, S., & Trope, Y. (1999). Dual-process theories in social psychology. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • Evans , St. , J. B. T. Over , D. E. Handley , S. J. (2003). A theory of hypothetical thinking. In D. Hardman L. Maachi (Eds) Thinking: Psychological perspectives on reasoning, judgment and decision making. (pp. 3-22). Chichester, England: Wiley.
  • Stanovich, K. E., & West, R. F. (2000). Individual differences in reasoning: Implications
Join Renew Instagram Twitter Facebook LinkedIn
image widget