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Enhancing Creative Thinking With Design Examples

One of the ways that art students learn to paint is to copy the work of a master.

Of course, there are many more complex and abstract design, creativity and innovation challenges than traditional portraiture.

The Human-Computer Interaction Group at Stanford trains people in designing interactive systems.

In a research study they conducted, subjects drew animals to inhabit an alien Earth-like planet and were presented with example drawings at different stages in the experiment.

The results indicated that “Early exposure to examples improves creativity (measured by the number of common and novel features in drawings, and subjective ratings by independent raters).

“Repeated exposure to examples interspersed with prototyping leads to even better results. However, late exposure to examples increases conformity, but does not improve creativity.”

The research paper is “Early and Repeated Exposure to Examples Improves Creative Work” by Chinmay Kulkarni, Steven P Dow, Scott R Klemmer, Cognitive Science, 2012 [PDF]

I learned of this study from an interesting post on the Eide Neurolearning Blog: The Steps of Creativity – Early Crowd sourcing and Prototyping.

The post authors, Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide, note “Early examples had a stimulating effect on creativity, increasing subjects’ openness to possibilities, increasing the numbers of novel prototypes or drafts.”

They present an excerpt from the paper:

“One possible explanation for these effects is that early exposure to examples aids the designer in understanding the scope of acceptable solutions to a problem, and helps form an initial representation of the creative concept.

“Prototyping results in subsequent abstraction and refinement of the initial representation.”

Also see the Stanford HCI (Human-Computer Interaction Group) site for more publications and descriptions of their courses on designing smart phones and tablets, for example.

The top image is “Young Student Drawing,” oil on panel by Jean Siméon Chardin, c. 1738, from Wikipedia.

Here are a couple of books that reference the work of the Stanford group:

Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions, by Bruce Hanington, Bella Martin.

Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Toolkit for Managers. Amazon summary: “Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie educate readers in one of the hottest trends in business: “design thinking,” or the ability to turn abstract ideas into practical applications for maximal business growth…Exemplified by Apple and the success of its elegant products and cultivated by high-profile design firms such as IDEO, design thinking unlocks creative right-brain capabilities to solve a range of problems.”


Enhancing Creative Thinking With Design Examples

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Enhancing Creative Thinking With Design Examples. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Aug 2012
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