Synthesize: What is the role of Synthesis in the process of design?

Our fourth Synthesize session focused on the nature and role of design synthesis as a method of generating knowledge and leveraging the nuances of both a unique design problem and a unique designer. We began by discussing the role of synthesis in a normal product design cycle, one that works through research in order to arrive at new design ideas. The factors that lead to this “newness” are both embedded in the data of the design problem itself, in the research that is conducted, in the data gathered from the research, and in the designer who undertakes the research.

While there were a number of similes offered to describe the process of synthesis (like a jigsaw puzzle, like a stew), the one that seemed to resonate the most was of a puppet master, a marionette controller, pulling strings connected to various pieces of data and flexing various cords connected to design potential. The more cords (the more data), the more the puppet can do – but the more complicated the process of control becomes. In that space of synthesis, an experienced designer then is able to trust both intuition of process, and previous knowledge (knowledge both about the subject matter of the unique design problem as well as the tacit knowledge of methods) and is negatively constrained only by time. One can approach a design problem, then, with full faith that a solution will be forthcoming – if only the rigorous process of synthesis is given its due, and the designer has a hearty pool of data upon which to draw.

[Crosspost to the AC4D Blog]