online: 19 september 2002


conference on design methods

papers presented at the conference on systematic and intuitive methods in engineering, industrial design, architecture and communications

Department of Aeronautics,
Imperial College, London
19-21 September 1962

Here is a miniature version of the conference

A chance process selected one paragraph from each paper, and one sentence within it. When the selected sentence is difficult to understand out of context I have included nearby sentences [in square brackets if they are out of the original sequence]:

Peter Slann
lecturer in aeronautical design at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London

In organizing this Conference, our aim was clearly to bring together people of common interest and purpose, people working individually and in groups in their own special fields of the arts and the sciences, exploring the application of scientific methods and knowledge to their own particular problems, and, to break down the barriers that exist between one activity and another, attempting to discover the possible connections that link all creative activities.

D G Christopherson
vice-chancellor of Durham University and an authority on the education of engineers and technologists

I have chosen the title "discovering" designers and not "training" or "educating" them, because though I think it may well be possible to make a designer of a kind out of any intelligent man (I doubt if we yet know how to do it), I am fairly sure that it is a much more economical proposition to look for the people who are, as it were, potential designers waiting to be released. After all, you can make a diamond out of carbon if you try hard enough, but the way to show a profit is to go out and dig one up somewhere.

L S Jay
planning officer, East Sussex County Council, known for his use of operational research methods and computing in town and regional planning

It can be stated as a fact, therefore, that no systematic approach to the problems of modern society has been developed by the professions that set themselves up as experts ... and for this reason there is no rational way in which decisions can be taken.

William Gosling
system designer in the aircraft industry, lecturer in electrical engineering and author of The Design of Engineering Systems,Haywood, London 1962

If the term system engineering is allowed merely to become a fashionable tag for the study of any fairly complex engineering product it will fall into disrepute. However, if it is applied to a particular kind of design activity, which, as described here, seems to be more and more characteristic of the maturing technologies, it can continue to be useful.

G M E Williams
head of the department of production technology and control engineering at Northampton College of Advanced Technology, London, formerly in industry and in the scientific civil service

The history of this connection with instrument and control engineering began with the formation of a Working Party on the Design of Instruments by the British Scientific Instrument Research Association and the Scientific Manufacturers Instrument Association.

D G Thornley
senior lecturer in architecture at Manchester University, visiting lecturer at the Hochschule für Gestaltung at Ulm and known for using systematic methods in teaching architecture

B. The Relationship of the Building to the Individual.

1. Appropriate scale and the means of creating it.
2. Appropriate character and the means of creating it.
3. Appropriate expression and the means of creating it (dignity, gaiety, solemnity, simplicity, complexity, etc.).

J Christopher Jones
lecturer in industrial design, University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, formerly worked in industrial design and ergonomics in the electrical industry

A new solution plot is a means of comparing the range of existing solutions, or new proposals, in relation to shape or performance. These plots can be used to find areas where new combinations of shape and performance can be sought and will show up areas where existing solutions are likely to be the best.

Joseph Esherick
professor of architecture at UCLA, Berkeley, California, and a practising architect, worked with C West Churchman and Russell Ackoff in operations research

The design system will vary then depending on our purposes [to design for a single unified purpose or for complex and unknowable ones] . It is a matter of the greatest importance to understand what great damage could be done by trying to solve the second type of problem as if it were a problem of the first type.

Christopher Alexander
fellow of Harvard University - after studying mathematics and architecture at Cambridge University he is working on the design of an Indian village and on a complete theory of pattern

[...if ... a partition severs a great many links, then the variables in one set are very much intertwined with those in the other, and the partition is not a good one. On the other hand, if the partition severs fewer links, the two sets are less dependent...]

As it happens this particular function is over-simple and cannot be justified theoretically... I shall now describe two functions which can be derived from reasonable theoretical premises.

K W Norris
a director of Norris Brothers, consulting engineers, mainly known for the design of Sir Malcolm Campell's Bluebird hydroplane and car which held the world speed records on water and land

[Step 1. Set out the field of investigation in a morphological chart form ... taking care that the boundaries are sufficiently widely spaced to include all possible solutions...]

Step 2. Determine the bases of comparison ... by asking on what qualitative basis or bases the solutions should be compared for rejection or acceptance...

A H Lucas
engineer with Norris Brothers, known for his work on methods of enabling stress analysis to play a full part in the design of complex structures (such as railway coaches)

[ show that theoretical analysis can, by the advent of the electronic digital computer, yield a detailed pattern of behaviour in a complex structure and tell the designer not only whether the design will fulfill its function, but point the way to structural optimization before a prototype is built.]

The method must therefore be capable of simulating the design and its service conditions to a degree which satisfies the designer and those responsible for the acceptance of the project.

Gordon Pask
director of System Research Ltd and known for original theories and experiments in cybernetics, brain research, self-organizing systems, learning-systems and the like

One very advanced labour saving device is a computor which (in the case of visual design) can assist the designer by sketching, on his behalf, from instructions which can either be a preliminary sketch or a sequence of numerical coefficients ... [At this stage we have a tool which accepts instructions not only in terms of the design format but also in terms of a metalinguistic description of the format; the kind of description that the designer may think about before he puts his ideas on paper.]

B N Lewis
psychologist working at System Research Ltd on adaptive teaching systems. He had previously worked at Birkbeck College on the acquisition of skills under conditions of uncertainty.

2. A phase in which the transmitter presses up to 4 attribute buttons to specify the message that he intends to communicate. During this phase the receivers must choose, by pressing buttons, whether or not to co-operate. [The entire operation constitutes a form of adaptive control that genuinely exists in real-life situations...]

Robyn Denny
painter, and lecturer at Bath Academy, co-organiser of the Situation Exhibition in 1960

My own processes, if I can explain them at all, are directed towards finding some measure of equivalence between this external world, and the creative world, with principles that I can recognize as common to both ... "These artists" [said Roger Fry] "do not seek to give what can, after all, be but a pale reflex of actual appearance, but to arouse the conviction of a new and definite reality. They do not seek to imitate form, but to create form; not to imitate life but to find an equivalent for life..."

Roger Coleman interviewing Howard Hodgkin
Roger coleman: art critic, co-organizer of the Situation Exhibition in 1960, and graphic artist
Howard Hodgkin: painter, and teacher at the Bath Academy.

Q: Do you think that this [a 'basic course' ... sufficiently broad to cover later specializations] is a reasonable approach or do you think that, as it has sometimes been suggested, the teaching of design and the teaching of painting ought to be completely separate activities right from the outset?

A: [There are skills connected with picture-making which can be taught. Also one can make elementary connections between image-making and perception. To some extent a sensual awareness of the physical or material properties of art can be aroused. The history of art can be displayed.]

Not much more than this can actually be taught; or perhaps the most a teacher can do for his student is to act as a temporary substitute for the audience which society is unlikely to provide him with in the future.

E F O'Doherty
professor of logic and psychology at University College, Dublin, priest of the Roman Catholic Church, active in the UN committee on mental health and in the Irish human sciences committee, his research interests include the study of value judgements and aesthetic preferences

[By over-using the word design we may have emptied it of all content ... A term which is used to cover all these different senses is too vague and the vagueness is due to a confusion between three different kinds of process: simple sensory-motor skills, phantasmal capacity, and conceptual capacity.] (An adjective is needed to indicate, not an imaginary capacity, but a capacity to form images and the word imaginal did not commend itself.) The phantasma, or sensory representation at whatsoever level of complexity - something much wider than our current use of image- is what we are concerned with.

J K Page
professor of building science at Sheffield University, known for his scientific work on the physics of environment and for his criticisms of existing methods in architectural design

At the moment we certainly are, I think, very confused, because different groups have been using the same words in very different ways. [...On every building one realizes that the architect, the services engineer and the structural engineer are operating with different design strategies and as a result they reach a sort of systematic state of misunderstanding.]

Anthony Froshaug graphic artist and theorist, Hochschule für Gestaltung, Ulm, and the Royal College of Art

He presented a paper called Visual Analogues (which might be described now as a visual design game) but witheld it from the proceedings for reasons of copyright.

As I typed out these chance-selected extracts I was struck by the systematic and the practical nature of the papers and by the wide range of people and interests at the conference. I remember E F O'Doherty remarking that the intellectual atmosphere there was 'Athenian'.

The conference was organized by a committee of individuals each acting on his own behalf:

Chairman: Professor John Page, Sheffield University

Secretary: Peter Slann, Imperial College of Science and Technology

Treasurer: Frank Height, Royal College of Art

Bruce Archer, Royal College of Art

Peter Booker, Institute of Engineering Designers

Roger Coleman, art critic and graphic artist

Peter Cowan, Bartlett School of Architecture

Anthony Froshaug, Royal College of Art

Christopher Jones, Manchester College of Science and Technology

Denis Thornley, Department of Architecture, Manchester University

The committee stayed in existence for several years and eventually, with the addition of other committee members, formed the Design Research Society.


Conference on Design Methods: papers presented at the conference on systematic and intuitive methods in engineering, industrial design, architecture and communications, London, September 1962, Edited by J Christopher Jones and Denis Thornley, Pergamon Press, Oxford, London, New York and Paris, 1963.

Peter Slann's preface and eight of the sixteen papers were published in Italian:

J Christopher Jones and D G Thornley, La Metodologicia del Progettare, Marsilio Editori, Vicenza, 1967

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© 2002 john chris jones

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