Considering Intuition in the Context of Design, and of Psychology

Theo Humphries

This seminar considers understandings of, and approaches to, ideas of intuition. The main aim is to explore a suggested peculiarity; namely that intuition appears to have been somewhat marginalised in the field of psychology (Hodgkinson et al, 2008. pp.1. Claxton, 2000), whilst appearing to be of comparative primacy in the field of design (Spool, 2012), as exemplified by the recognition of ‘intuitive design’ as a specialism.

The intention is to explore several ideas: that intuition draws on multiple forms of knowledge, ranging from tacit, personal experience, to inherent ‘animalistic’ reactions, to more ‘common’, or ‘shared’, epistemic, culturally informed experiences; that the reasons for these alternative treatments of the notion of intuition are borne out of differing understandings of the term by psychologists and by designers, and that intuition is both an important subject for study if we are to continue to improve design practices and artefacts, and one that has been arguably neglected by psychology whilst being comparatively embraced by design.

Writing in the British Journal of Psychology, Hodgkinson, Lagan-Fox, and Sadler-Smith, state that intuition has been consigned “to the ‘fringes’ of the field of psychology, within the realms of parapsychology, telepathy and premonition (see e.g. Claxton, 2000; Klein, 2003), and equat[ed] to esoteric and ‘New Age’ thinking (Boucouvalas, 1997)” (2008. pp.1). This might be surprising to a designer for several reasons, for example: as design that is labeled ‘intuitive’ traditionally receives this epithet as a mark of praise, or because intuition (albeit according to a design understanding) appears to be a skill possessed by the competent designer. As Spool and Fulton-Suri imply; intuitive design is good design (Fulton-Suri, 2005. Spool, 2012).

Depending upon one’s understanding of the word, intuition may be evident under several guises (to be explored in due course), known variously as insight, abduction, inspiration, experience, eureka moments, and/or genius. This seminar will consider some or all of these terms, and some others, and their varying interpretations, in an effort to understand the semantic disconnect between designers and psychologists.

Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of this research, this seminar looks beyond the fields of design, and psychology, for wider philosophical/epistemological understandings that might inform a discussion of intuition. For example, some exploration will be made of certain forms of knowledge, e.g. tacit knowledge (Polanyi, 2009. Gill, 2000), and of phenomena such as the ‘Intuition Pump’ (Cullen, 2009, pp.56).

The seminar draws from a wider research project that is currently entitled ‘Using Design Methodologies to Understand Complex Human Conditions: A Case Study in Humour’. Whilst intuition has been identified as a phenomena that might meaningfully connect design and humour – playing a significant role in each activity – in order to keep the seminar tightly focused, humour will not be explored in extensive detail.


Reading for seminar:

SPOOL, J., 2012. Jared Spool on usability and intuitive design [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 18 March 2012 ].

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