Confessions of a reluctant writer

After four years of working as an architect, on 1st January 1970, I joined as a faculty in the newly formed Industrial Design Centre (IDC) at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, as a faculty. I saw IDC as an Indian version of Bauhaus in making. More often than not, designers don’t write, unless there is a pressure. I never saw writing as my cup of tea. I believed that designers speak through the objects that they design. The focus was on developing a portfolio of creative works. I believed that a teacher must be a good practicing designer to qualify himself to teach. (and I continue to treat it as one of the important criteria) I joined IDC because the Institute permitted teaching as well as practice of design. So, till late seventies, neither research nor writing on design was on my agenda. I wanted that my portfolio should speak.For me, the pressure to write then came from a different source altogether. The contemporary design approach was new in India in the seventies and it was necessary to communicate what and how we design through popular publications. That did force me to occasionally write. Looking back, I now see my early writings as belonging to this category. I decided to upload all of these writings on the website so that it will show the learning curve that I went through.

The Transition

My transition to research and research writing was slow and with a bit of reluctance. I was introduced to research writings partly because I functioned in an Institute where science and technology research was more common. If designers choose to write, it often contains their views. On the other hand, I saw that most other disciplines are built on a body of knowledge that is built by years of carefully planned research, systematic validation and accepted with equally rigourous review system in place. This knowledge is painstakingly and collectively built, that is unique to design to help designers take decisions and argue their actions. I was always interested by scores of researchers in that discipline, over several decades. One of my goals was to contribute my bit to the growing body of knowledge in understanding the design process that my education as an architect did not focus on. My initial interest focused on the design process recommended in the books. I soon realized the limitations of this literature and shifted attention to knowing how designers actually solve problems, take decisions and articulate them. The book Reflective Practitioner and the research that spun off from this body of work impressed me. I was interested in peeping in their creative mind when in action. Number of my research areas emerged from the central theme ‘How designers think and solve design problems’. Teaching design also forced me to seek logical underpinnings. In my own explanations in the discourse with students. I was intrigued by my own comments and decisions dealing with product form and I was searching for theoretical work as a designer, I continued searching for logic to justify decisions. These were reflections that followed, after the actual intuitive decisions were in place. I decided to focus on this area not knowing that it will lead me to information theory and categorization theory later.

The first step

While struggling with these reflections, I intuitively felt that I might find answers in cognitive psychology. I started accessing literature in this area without knowing what I was looking for. I remember being impressed by George Miller’s chunking theory and magic number 7+/- 2. The explorations were structured further during my studies at IIT Chicago. I then had opportunities to take formal courses in cognitive psychology.I also registered for a self-study course that focused on finding justifications for the design decisions in literature in cognitive psychology. Looking back, this direction was a major turning point. It showed me more structured options and directions to explore, experiment and publish. I have tried to group these publications into several categories with one/two representative paper/s indicated in each group. I feel that it will be easier for the reader to get a feel of what follows through this paper. Other papers listed in each category expand the central idea in the representative paper, but often focus on a specific new aspect.


What started as my initial unstructured search in cognitive psychology to understand the unique traits of design thinking, gradually became a major source for most of my research. Considering that design thinking is becoming a common word, and is an area, much sought after, these contributions will add to the existing body of knowledge. I initially thought I should upload some of them on That would make them accessible to other researchers. That would require me to short-list and select the appropriate papers. The idea was to compile all the writings in one place. I am aware of the fact that my work in these areas is just a tip of the iceberg. But it is exciting to be in a research space where other researchers are also focusing on contributing to the body of knowledge. I hope some of the papers will help researchers to push the boundaries of knowledge further.

Why this website

Body of knowledge grows when more people access it. I have managed to compile most of the papers at one location. I could not upload those for which I have passed on the copyright to the publisher. Should I get their permission, I will upload them too. There is a private agenda in this effort too. Often there are requests for copies of papers, particularly the old ones that are not accessible online. Nor is my storage system so organized that I could retrieve the paper requested, and pass that on. Besides, the process was too time consuming. I hope the website will solve this problem. I am looking forward to your critical comments on the publications. That is how the new directionswill be discovered. Do write your comments. It will keep me thinking.

Know about my design activities

Uday Athavankar