Intuition and mind wandering in creative design

Unconscious processes such as intuiting, mind wandering and inner speech are anecdotally seen as major drivers of creative design. However, scientific research is at odds about whether these positively or negatively affect the quality of a designer’s work. This is not only of interest from the perspective of psychologically understanding design work, it also inhibits the development of tools and technologies that purposefully support creative design by stimulating intuition and mind wandering at the right time and of the right type. In order to make these steps this research line seeks to uncover how intuition and mind wandering manifest in adaptive and in maladaptive ways during the creative design process.

Early findings indicate that intuition is effective where the designers’ previous experience can fill information gaps and uncertainty. This can be adaptive across the design process. Interestingly, the way in which intuition and creativity interact in the design process appears highly idiosyncratic. Follow-up research is now underway to uncover in more detail when and why intuition supports and fails the designer.

Early findings indicate that mind wandering is effective when people get stuck during the steps in the design process. When getting stuck, people engage in mind wandering as a default – leading to unconscious associations after which inspiration commonly strikes – and the designer continues with its process. This contrasts with the many, likely maladaptive, ways in which mind wandering also occurs, such as being distracted by internal and external cues, and associations made within the design process, with goals that need to be met that are part of the design process. Follow-up research is now underway to confirm these findings experimentally.

The ambition of this work is to develop (technological) tools that can be used as part of design methods that support designers in having the right kinds of intuition and mind wandering at the right times, in order to enhance their creative design process.

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