The genesis of design: learning about design, learning through design to learning design in play

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    Learning about design and learning through design have emerged in the literature and important works show heuristics and matrices for design cognition and design processes. However, few studies have been directed to the early development of design. The purpose of this paper is to present the findings of a study that investigated the genesis of design, by following 13 children (3.0–5.8 yrs) as they became oriented to design thinking in contexts of design and technology education in a play-based setting. Different to previous studies that examine children’s drawing of designs for the under five year olds, this study investigated both the motivating conditions and the motive orientation of the children as a process of engagement in design. Theorised from a cultural-historical perspective, the results show how play acts as both a psychological function and as a source of design cognition. The findings are shown through this psychological lens and thereby make visible how imagination in play created the conditions for the psychological development of children as design was meaningfully embodied, visualised, and resourced through expert designers and the storytelling of teachers. Rather than conceptualising design as the cognitive competence of an individual, it is argued that by studying the living actions of play that designerly thinking which is always in a process of change, can be better understood. In line with the existing literature, the study specifically reports on the dialectic between design and designerly thinking for the under fives, thus contributing to filling a gap in understandings about the beginning of the continuum of design cognition.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1441-1468
    Number of pages28
    JournalInternational Journal of Technology and Design Education
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


    • Cultural-historical
    • Design
    • Designerly thinking
    • Development
    • Early childhood
    • Technology education

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