A study of the problem solving strategies used by expert and novice designers

  • JohnR. Mathias

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research project focused upon the design strategies adopted by expert and novice designers. It was based upon a desire to compare the design problem solving strategies of novices, in this case key stage three pupils studying technolgy within the United Kingdom National Curriculum, with designers who could be considered to have developed expertise. The findings helped to provide insights into potential teaching strategies to suit novice designers. Verbal protocols were made as samples of expert and novice designers solved a design problem and talked aloud as they worked. The verbalisations were recorded on video tape. The protocols were transcribed and segmented, with each segment being assigned to a predetermined coding system which represented a model of design problem solving. The results of the encoding were analysed and consideration was also given to the general design strategy and heuristics used by the expert and novice designers. The drawings and models produced during the generation of the protocols were also analysed and considered. A number of significant differences between the problem solving strategies adopted by the expert and novice designers were identified. First of all, differences were observed in the way expert and novice designers used the problem statement and solution validation during the process. Differences were also identified in the way holistic solutions were generated near the start of the process, and also in the cycles of exploration and the processes of integration. The way design and technological knowledge was used provided further insights into the differences between experts and novices, as did the role of drawing and modelling during the process. In more general terms, differences were identified in the heuristics and overall design strategies adopted by the expert and novice designers. The above findings provided a basis for discussing teaching strategies appropriate for novice designers. Finally, opportunities for future research were discussed.
Date of Award1993
Original languageEnglish


  • problem solving strategies
  • expert designers
  • novice designers

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