Understanding mental imagery processes in creative design synthesis

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Design Manufacture and Engineering Man


In product design, creative synthesis is the mental creation and combination of design knowledge and concepts to produce ideas for functional products. Mental imagery is key to this process, enabling the designer to mentally visualise and manipulate ideas. However, existing research on mental imagery in product design is very limited. The number of studies is relatively small, and they tend to employ qualitative methods with small samples. These methods can generate rich, detailed data on the processes involved, but cannot alone produce the generalisable results needed to create scientific models of imagery processing across designers as a population. Psychologists have conducted studies on mental imagery in creative thinking, typically employing larger samples and quantitative psychological tests of imagery ability. These suggest that various imagery abilities may be involved, including vividness, spatial processing, and control. Furthermore, psychologists have demonstrated that imagery ability and subjective experience of imagery - particularly vividness - varies considerably across people. A total absence of visual imagery (aphantasia) has also been observed in some individuals, including creative professionals such as animators and cartoonists. However, these aspects have not been systematically investigated in designers.

This PhD project will combine qualitative and quantitative methods from design and psychology to provide new understanding about the role of mental imagery in creative design synthesis. The knowledge generated will provide insight into the requirements for revolutionary new tools to support creative design, and impact design practice and education by providing a foundation for new imagery-based methods and approaches.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/T517938/1 30/09/2020 29/09/2025
2607701 Studentship EP/T517938/1 30/09/2021 30/03/2026 Rebecca MacFie