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Intuitive knowledge processes among design students, professional

designers, and expert intuitive practitioners


Samu Mielonen1, Mia Keinnen2, Asta Raami3, Leena Rouhiainen4
1,2,3
University of Art & Design (Helsinki), 4Norwegian School of Sport
Sciences (Oslo), Norway
http://mlab.uiah.fi/intuition/
samu@taik.fi, 2miak@post.harvard.edu, 3raami@taik.fi, 4leena.
rouhiainen@nih.no
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Abstract. In this paper we discuss the varying concepts and experiences


of intuitive knowledge between design students, design professionals
and expert intuitive practitioners. The findings are based on the
pilot study of our ongoing qualitative research on intuition among
creative professionals in Finland and Russia. Our research revealed
some fundamental differences between the groups in terms of what
role emotion played in the experience of intuition, what level of trust
and intentionality the participants applied to intuition and how they
conceptualized intuition to themselves.
Keywords. Intuition; design; emotion; development; practice.

1. Defining intuition
Intuition in psychology is seen as a specific process of decision making
characterized by fast, parallel, effortless, associative and emotional operation.
This is distinct from rational reasoning characterized by slow, serial, deliberate,
rule-governed and effortful processes. Together these processes form a twosystem model of cognition; System I that intuition is part of, and System II
that is rational reasoning (Kahneman, 2003).
Researchers have also tried to uncover how intuitive decisions are actually
made. Kahneman (2003) and Gigerenzer (2001) have proposed a heuristic
model of intuition in which deliberate rational reasoning is supplanted by rules
of thumb (i.e. heuristics) that are processed automatically and unconsciously.
Hogarth (2001) proposes that intuition is a result of tacit learning that builds
up our cultural capital, i.e. the repertoire of automatically learned responses
guiding our behavior. Klein proposes a two-part process of pattern matching
and mental simulation of intuition. The model explains why experts do not to
get into analysis paralysis but to make quick trustworthy decisions intuitively
using mental simulations to assess action scripts that in turn are informed by
our mental models (Klein, 1999).
However, although today much discussed and widely recognized as a very
important tool for operating in the real world, the experience of intuition
remains fairly poorly understood (Sinclair & Ashkanasy, 2005). For example,
we do not know well enough how bodily (sensory) and emotional aspects
are related to intuition. Further, it is often very difficult to separate intuition
from other instantaneous modes of knowing, like instincts, over-learned
automations, imagination or emotion-ridden wishful thinking.
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Samu Mielonen, Mia Keinnen, Asta Raami, Leena Rouhiainen

Intuitive knowledge processes

For the purposes of our discussion, we first define intuition very broadly as
System I knowledge processing: fast, non-deliberate, unconscious, effortless
and sometimes characterized by a revelation of knowledge that the person did
not know she knew. We then propose, based on our research, some specific
types of intuition, which aim to further define the concept of intuition.
2. The study
We have thus far completed the pilot study of our research project and therefore
our findings are preliminary. The goal of the pilot study was to investigate the
differences and similarities of intuitive knowledge processes between creative
professionals of varying expertise areas and levels of intuitive skill.
1. Methodology
Our study utilizes qualitative research methods, with semi-structured
interviews, group discussions, and short exercises in classroom settings. We
chose qualitative methods because they allow us to investigate the participants
experiences and ideas on intuition in-depth. Indeed, qualitative methods are
well suited for investigating a phenomenon whose concepts have not yet been
identified fully (Strauss and Corbin, 1998).
2. Sample
The sample consists of three groups:
1. Novice designers: A group of students in Coaching Intuition course
(n=11)
2. Design professionals in Finland (n=4),
3. Intuitive expert practitioners in Russia and Finland (n=10)
The sampling criterion for each group was the following. The students on
the intuition course consisted of Masters level students at the Media Lab of
University of Art and Design. All students were Finnish. The course was an
elective so the students chose to take the course themselves. Researchers Samu
Mielonen and Asta Raami taught the course. The course reviewed relevant
literature, initiated group discussions on the topic, and introduced simple
techniques for enhancing intuition.
The fourteen persons interviewed were divided into two groups: design
professionals and intuitive professionals. Design professionals had a degree
from the field of design and several years (less than ten) of professional
experience in this field. The design professionals were from Finland. Intuitive
expert practitioners had ten years or more experience in their respective fields
(e.g. film, design, music, theatre, literature, dance), saw intuition as an integral
part of their working style, and were nominated by their peers as highly
intuitive. The intuitive expert practitioners were from Finland and Russia. The
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sampling strategy allowed us to locate panel of experts (Weiss, 1994), who


are uniquely informative about the nature of intuition in creative process.
Further, four one day internal workshops were held to enhance researchers
personal experience and understanding of intuition. The workshops included
also guests who either researched intuition or were highly recognized in
the field as intuitive professionals. Methods used were contextual inquiry,
unstructured group interviews and shared discussions.
3. Data collection
The data was collected in two main ways. The students in the intuition
course were inquired for their personal definition of intuition (verbal, concept
maps) and experiences in using intuition (anecdotal stories). The course also
included simple exercises meant to facilitate non-deliberate decision-making,
which the students were then asked to reflect upon afterwards.
The design professionals and intuitive practitioners were interviewed using
semi-structured interview protocol. The protocol consists of 65 interview
questions covering for example the following themes: personal definition of
intuition, experience of intuition, source and quality of intuitive knowledge,
intuition in professional practice, usage of intuition, and recognition of
intuition.
4. Data analysis
The interviews were listened and analyzed looking for major themes and
concepts. Thus far we have only transcribed the interview material relevant to
the most occurring themes although all interviews will be fully translated and
transcribed. The materials from the class are documented and reflected upon.
The researchers have also build their own evolving concept map of intuition
that they continue to enhance.
5. Limitations
Because of the limited sample size, the results of our pilot study are not
generalizable, Indeed, the aim was to delineate elements of intuition to be
tested in future research.
There were several challenging issues in the study, including semantic and
methodological problems. Intuition as a concept is not generally well defined,
and perhaps the only widely accepted definition is very broad (i.e. System
I). In broad definition intuition is grouped together with other, potentially
separate modes of knowing, such as instincts, reflexes, conditioned responses,
etc. Further, as the semantic space around intuition is not well structured, the
measurement of intuitive ability and identification of intuitive activity rests
almost purely on social assessment. It is only possible use peer-assessment to
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Intuitive knowledge processes

determine who we think is intuitive, and ask designers themselves when they
think they were engaged in a process of intuition (e.g. post-hoc).
Three further semantic issues arose in the interview process. First, many
interviewees lacked a conceptual model of their personal intuitive experience.
Second, many of the interviewees seemed to fuse the concept of intuition with
the concept of creative ideation or creativity in general. Third, interviewees
lacked shared language and concepts with each other. Together these three
challenges made comparing verbal descriptions challenging. Nevertheless,
such confusion is a finding in itself, further underlying the need for additional
definition of the concept of intuition.
3. Novice designers as users of intuition
Eleven design students studying for their Master of Arts degree in digital
media design participated on a course titled Coaching Creativity, with
special emphasis on intuition. The students enrolled voluntarily and it is fair
to assume that they participated out of internal motivation to further develop
their intuitive capabilities. Yet none of the students were acquainted with
intuitive decision making methods and most used intuition sporadically and
non-intentionally in their work as designers.
The students were asked to make concept maps illustrating their personal
definition, skills and experience of intuition. Altogether, the students shared
similar experiences and feelings about the use intuition in their work. Most
had no clear conceptual model of intuition, neither adapted from elsewhere
nor self-generated. The students also felt that they were limited in their
intentional use of intuition; intuition either happened or did not happen - as
if by itself. Students often expressed that sometimes intuitive process itself
feels trustworthy and the intuitive decision can be trusted, while at other
times both can be suspect or uncertain. Mostly the students used intuition to
answer yes or no questions, with no more information attached to the intuitive
understanding.
Further, although the maps revealed some variance of concepts, there were
many shared elements in the maps. Most of the students mentioned trust,
relaxation, openness and connection to oneself as concepts relating to intuition.
Remarkably all of them mentioned the presence of positive emotions in
intuitive experience. Other concepts mentioned in the concepts maps included
sensitivity to feelings and emotions, experience of flow, free association and
self-knowledge.
The students were not used to trying to train their intuitive skills in an
intentional manner. However, when exposed to basic intuitive decision making
exercises the students responded very positively. The exercises consisted
of simple guided visual imagery, body sensation detection and emotional
response self-reflection. Further, some students expressed surprise at the kind
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of answers they arrived at through the exercises; often the answer contradicted
their expectations, i.e. rational thoughts and decisions made earlier, and evoked
genuine surprise.
4. Professional designers and intuition
The findings from the interviews with professional designers were more
varied and harder to characterize as unified as those of the design students.
However, the design professionals use of intuition differed from that of
students in a few key elements. Compared to novice designers, the professional
designers had a higher level of trust in self and in the solutions generated by
their intuition. With the help of intuition professional designers were also
able to receive ideas or parts of design solutions, not just answers to yes and no
questions. The interviewees described that through intuition they were able to
detect a promising direction of inquiry, for example this feels good, Im going
to continue, as well as recognize directions that are not working, this is not a
good idea. Their intuitions were thus more directional.
Professional designers were also able to describe their intuition at basic
level even though they did not have a conceptual model of it. Mostly they
described their intuition with the help of metaphors, e.g. a compass pointing
to the right direction, or opening your mind for ideas, which describes a state
of non-judgmental observation and receiving of ideas. Mostly professional
designers described experiencing intuition within the domain of design.
As with students, professional designers felt that emotional arousal was
an integral part of the intuitive process. Potential directions of design were
associated with positive emotions, while negative emotions about design ideas
mostly resulted in discarding those ideas. Intentional use of intuition appeared
to be fairly uncommon, as it was with the students.
5. Expert intuitive practitioners
Expert intuitive practitioners conceptual understanding of intuition was even
more varied than that of novice designers and professional designers. Some
intuitive practitioners had a conceptual model of intuition, including what it is
and what it is not, while others were content to use intuition without defining
it conceptually. This may be partly due to the fact that the interviewees were
from two different cultures, Finland and Russia. The cultural comparison is a
very promising and important part of our inquiry. In this paper however, we do
not analyze the cultural variation because our data collection is incomplete.

Nevertheless, all expert intuitive practitioners were able to describe
intuition verbally, or could at least describe some parameters, which either
supported or prevented their personal use of intuition. Further, the intuitive
practitioners shared some very similar tendencies in their experience and use of
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intuition. Expert intuitive practitioners had a high level of trust in themselves,


in the intuitive process and in the results of intuition. The intuitive practitioners
described how they frequently used intuition because it constantly led them to
better decisions and solutions.
The expert intuitive practitioners were using intuition with and without
intention; some of them received the knowledge into their minds through
visions, images, sounds or models, while others were even able to use intuition
by simply deciding to do so. Many noted that they purposefully trained
their intuition for example by imagining future scenarios and by noticing
how different scenarios made them feel. A participant described intuition as
switching the light on in the dark room. The information was sometimes
rather specific and factual, not a vague understanding of promising direction.
This information appeared in their minds as sudden flashes of realization.
In some cases interviewees also described receiving information that was
not directly related to their area of expertise, such as specific information
about lives of people unknown to them or specific information about traffic
conditions and so forth. Other expert intuitive practitioners stated that their
intuition works only in the area of their expertise (e.g. music or theater) and
not in other areas (e.g. their personal lives). In stark contrast to the novice and
professional designers, emotions were seen as separate from intuitive process,
or even detrimental to the detection of intuition. For example the emotion of
anger was mentioned as one to block intuitive skill.
6. Discussion
The preliminary findings of this pilot study are based on a small sample and are
therefore at best tentative. However, our findings offer further understanding
of the concept and process of intuition. It appears that instead of a broad
category of intuition (System 1), there is a developmental continuum of
intuition with different affective components, different type of information
intuition can access, as well as different degree of intentionality and trust in
the process of intuition at each level.
In this research we defined three levels. The novice designers intuition where
mainly answers to yes and no questions, the design professionals intuition was
more directional whereas the expert intuitive practitioners found intuition gave
them information that they felt was hard or in some cases impossible to reach
through other means. We coined this last type of intuition direct knowing;
intuition that is non-emotional, automatic, specific and predictive (e.g.
forward-looking) and occurs on expert intuitive practitioner level. Sometimes
information afforded by direct knowing was outside the participants domain
of expertise. Direct knowing appears to be different from insight that is
described as deliberate backward-looking reasoning with known information,
until a previously unknown information appears as a flash of insight (Hogarth,
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2001). We aim to study forward-looking direct knowing as potential type of


intuitive knowing in subsequent research.
The finding of the differing affective states connected to the experience
of intuition between the groups is another very promising topic for further
research. The novice designers associated only positive emotions with intuition,
the design professionals both the negative and positive emotions. While expert
intuitive practitioners agreed that basic affects (feelings) often accompany
intuitive processing, they disagreed on whether intuition actually includes
emotion. Some suggested that intuition and emotions are entirely separate
experiential states, and that emotions can in fact mask or distort true intuitive
knowledge. This implies the possibility that emotions may be triggered by
intuitive knowing, and therefore are an optional, but not obligatory part of the
intuitive processes. While feelings (as separate from emotions) are sometimes
included in the definition of the intuitive process, the separation from emotion
is rarely touched upon in the literature (Betsch, 2008). The authors feel that
this area calls for further study, especially if intuitive skills are to be exercised
and taught to designer students.
Regarding the potential of developing intuitive ability, it was encouraging
to find that the novice designer group exhibited a very positive response to
basic exercises designed to elicit intuitive understanding or decisions. The
students had no prior exposure to these methods and the time spent on
exercises was limited. Also, since many professional designers and expert
intuitive practitioners report that they do use intuition intentionally implies
that intuitive skills could be somehow enhanced. In our future research we
intend to determine what type of intuitive skill training methods would be best
suited for designers, try them out on students and follow the results. Further,
it is important to find out whether higher levels of trust purport higher levels
of intuition, or are these two concepts entirely unrelated. Same applies for the
ability to conceptualize ones own intuition and its origins. As reported, the
participants ideas of intuition became more varied the more experience they
had in their respective domains. It would be interesting to follow what are
the concepts if any that stay constant when a persons understanding of
intuition develops.
The findings from this preliminary study imply that just as creativity,
intuition may be domain specific. As research has established, professionals
and experts have tacit knowledge related to their professional domains. This
knowledge can give rise to intuitive understanding within those domains.
However, the fact that some expert intuitive practitioners suggested they were
able to extract very specific information entirely unrelated to their domain of
expertise solicits that some people may be able to apply intuitive skill across
domains. This leads to the further question whether there are more and less
intuitive people and on what traits does this possible difference depend on
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(personality traits, exposure, other people etc.). We intend to investigate these


questions further in our research.
7. Conclusion
Considering that intuition was not an accepted concept within academic
research only fifteen years ago, scientific understanding on intuition is
accumulating fast. However, there is a need for further studies on the nature
of intuitive experience. Especially studies of intuition in different domains at
varying levels of expertise are useful in terms of further defining the concept.
Our preliminary research points to some ways in which intuition could be
seen as domain specific skill with developmental trajectory. Understanding
our own intuitive tendencies and development would help us to exercise
metacognitive knowledge of intuition, e.g. the awareness of our own intuitive
processes. Metacognition is generally accepted as very important aspect of
productive and transformative learning.
Intuition is a powerful tool. Traditionally absent in design training as
explicit component (although it is taught implicitly), conscious development
of intuitive skill may help designers to advance their creative design skills more
effectively. Indeed, making the commonly untouched and unknown potential
more known and understood for the students can help their work as designers
immensely.
8. Acknowledgements
This project has been funded by the Academy of Finland.
9. References
Bastick, T.: 2003, Intuition: Evaluating the construct and its impact on creative thinking,
Stoneman & Lang, West-Indies.
Betsch, T.: 2008, The Nature of Intuition and Its Neglect in Research on Judgment and Decision
Making, in H. Plessner, C. Betsch and T. Betsch (eds), Intuition in Judgment and Decision
Making, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New York, NY, pp. 322.
Gigerenzer, G.: 2002, Bounded Rationality Adaptive Toolbox, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Hogarth, R.: 2001, Educating Intuition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
Kahneman, D.: 2003, A Perspective on Judgment and Choice, American Psychologist, 9, pp.
697-720.
Klein, G.: 1999, Soures of Power, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Norman, D. A.: 2005, Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things, Basic
Books, New York, NY.
Sinclair, M. and Ashkanasy, N.: 2005, Intuition Myth or a Decision-Making Tool?,
Management Learning, 36 (3), pp. 353-370.
Strauss, A. and Corbin, J.: 1998, The basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures
for developing grounded theory, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Weiss, R.: 1994, Learning from strangers. The art and method of qualitative interview, The Free
Press, New York, NY.

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