Reflection & Design

From WikID

What Is Reflection?


Reflection is reconsidering or pondering on something (an experience, a theory, an event etc.). In the context of design education, reflection is an essential instrument in the learning process. Learning is a cyclic process: performing, becoming aware of what we do or think, understanding it, imagining what to do in a future situation, performing, becoming aware again and so on. In order to become aware of what is successful and what not, we have to look back and forth and reconsider what has happened and what might happen. This whole process we call ‘reflection’. In the context of the design courses we distinguish between ‘reflection on design methods’ and ‘reflection on personal design behaviour’.

Why Reflection?

Learning how to design is a complex process: designing is an activity that requires a multitude of skills, techniques and methods and uses various disciplines. Learning how to design implies mastering the skills, techniques and methods, and learning about the various disciplines involved in designing. You master the skills, techniques and methods by applying them in design projects. Through reflection on your project and learning process, you are able to design more efficiently and improve your skills in each consecutive design course. Using various reflection techniques helps to extract important learning based on experience, which is unaccountably richer than can be described by some theory. Of course, both are important, and it is through reflection that a conversation can develop between experience and more general theoretical models and theories.

Reflecting on Design Methods (the Process)

Some examples:

  1. A specific design method at some point appeared not to be as successful as expected and needed some changes in order to be useful for the project. For example, the morphological chart is normally used to find basic solutions for technical problems. When used for other, less technical problems (for instance for the inventory of subsolutions for a specific idea), the morphological chart is useful but not in the way as intended. You might miss the profit of this method. In order to understand the method it is therefore useful to reflect after using it by asking questions such as: How did I use the method, what is the difference with the original idea of the method, did it work and can it be done again under the same conditions?
  2. A specific design approach does not produce satisfactory results. For example, you start to draw design solutions for an initial problem, but cannot think of more than three solutions. Design methods such as brainstorming can be helpful. However, methods are often used the wrong way and may thus lead to inappropriate or dissatisfactory solutions. The solutions are rejected and the method used is blamed wrongly as ‘not useful’.
  3. When using a LCA (Life Cycle Analysis) you may not be able to maintain the discipline to ask yourself over and over again: “which process is influencing the product during the previous main process or subprocess”. Due to the lack of discipline the LCA becomes corrupted and incomplete. You then tends to reflect on this method as ‘not suitable for me’. The design method is wrongly rejected.

Questions that are helpful to reflect on the design methods used are:

  1. Which method have I been using, what was my experience with it, what aspects triggered my mind and do I have any recommendations?
  2. What has happened so far, how did I use the method and did it lead to satisfactory results?
  3. How will I proceed and why adopt this particular way forward?

Reflecting on Design Behaviour

Two examples of personal behaviour that do not lead to satisfactory outcomes:

  1. You are generating lots of ideas and gathering more and more information while running out of time. This might be due to the inability to make decisions. In the section ‘Traps’ this is called the trap of ‘postponing decisions’. Reflection on your personal behaviour can help to gain insight in order to develop strategies to replace your unsuccessful behaviour by successful behaviour.
  2. A student is getting lost in details (a trap) and thus losing the overview of the design task. Reflection will help to become aware of this behaviour and to look for new, more successful behaviour. In the section ‘Tricks’ the advantage of having a ‘helicopter view’ is explained.


Kolb has published some literature about reflection, for example the 7 steps: Learning to reflect, November 2000 Source:

  1. How did I perceive the situation and how did I interpret it?
  2. Which goals did I set on the basis of step one?
  3. Which approach did I choose and on the basis of which considerations?
  4. How did the situation develop and what was the outcome?
  5. What were my thoughts and feelings directly afterwards?
  6. Which questions and insights arose from this?
  7. Searching for improved action

Kolb presents these steps as a learning cycle. In the first stage the student starts from a concrete experience and reflects using steps 1 to 6. With step 7 he asks himself “How do I continue?” In the second cycle the student starts with the result of the first cycle and reflects on it by again using steps 1-6, making it possible to adjust things if and when necessary.

Kolb’s experiential learning process (Buijs, 2003)

When Can I Use It?

It is important to reflect in time (just after the subject you want to reflect on) in order to remember the important aspects. You can use the reflection method just after completing a specific activity. This activity can be an applied design method (for instance a brainstorm session) but also a range of activities, for instance one completed in a specific design phase. Reflection on a regular basis, for instance every last day of the week, can also be very useful.

How to reflect?

Possible Procedure

  1. Experiencing (awareness)
    Make notes of your remarkable events, they might have been difficult or are worth thinking over for some reason. This might be directly related to design methods, but may also be related to a specific event, design challenge or problem. By reporting your experience you strengthen your awareness.
  2. Understanding (analysis)
    ‘Unpack’ the events by questioning yourself. What causes can you distinguish for your results? Which theories are supporting you? What is your personal opinion? Do you know comparable situations?
  3. Imagining continuation (synthesis)
    Question yourself and look for answers that are useful for the next steps in your project or in a new project. How will you approach a comparable situation? When have you achieved what you want? And how will you achieve what you want?
  4. Applying (performance)
    Use your insights in a next design activity, phase or project. And so on with step 1 (it is a continuous cyclic process!).
    Step 4 is actually not part of a written reflection, but of course it is an important step of the learning cycle.

A shorthand version of the above process is: What, So What, What’s Next? (Developed by Marc Tassoul)



  • What events and items do you remember? List all the things that you have noticed, without any explaining or elaboration. It is just a list of possibly interesting subjects to reflect upon.

So What?

  • First, select a limited number of most interesting or relevant items from the above list (often somewhere between 3 and 7 items) – and ‘unpack’ each of these with questions such as ‘Why did I notice it? What was the effect? Was it a good step? Was it fruitful? Did I run into trouble? Why was it successful?’ and so on.
  • In this way you are building an understanding of the event or item.

And Now What?

  • What will be your next action in relation to the considerations generated in ‘So What’? These can be learning how to approach some question next time, it could be a change in your process, it could also just be the discovery that your approach did work, and that for next time, you need to remember this procedure when you get into a similar situation.

Tips and Concerns

  • Reflect on the right moment, not at the end of a project, but immediately after using a method, or at moments when the design process exhibits remarkable changes. You should report your reflections in text (usually once per week) to show how the process took place, what methods you used, how you experienced them and where they were used differently. In other words: “What, How, Why and Where from here?”
  • Make a distinction between reflection on design methods and a reflection on personal design behaviour.
  • When reflecting on design methods, refer to the literature you studied in order to understand the design method.

Your tutor will assess your reflection by answering the following questions:

  1. Does the reflection show that you understand the method?
  2. Have you explained why a certain procedural step was taken?
  3. Have you properly reflected on all relevant steps during the design process?
  4. Do you exhibit an insight into the usability of the method?
  5. Have you used the method correctly and, if not, has the student properly described and explained any alterations?
  6. Have you displayed a capability for self-assessment using a certain helicopter view?

References and Further Reading


Personal tools
Aspects & Domains