1. The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

In a design process designers and design researchers often find something that they were not looking for initially – this also happens at Design Academy Eindhoven. For serendipity to occur, the ideal condition seems to be an open and questioning attitude in which all the senses participate. The concept of serendipity was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole in reference to The Three Princes of Serendip, a Persian fairy tale in which the heroes, “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” These happy occurrences might be discovered by the designer when working in an iterative way, thinking through making, while analysing the results and reflecting on them. Intuition is crucial in this process, as is the ability to keep an open mind instead of working directly toward an end result.

Although serendipity has been acknowledged as an important phenomenon, or even a professional capability, in both arts and science, there seems to be no perceptible logic or method to stimulate the achieving of ‘chance’ results. Engaged lingering, walking around without a purpose, and idle time spent on or off-line, can be beneficial to invoking serendipity – when it occurs, it is immediately recognized as ‘exactly what you need’. Although they were not actively being looked for, Teflon, Velcro, nylon, X-rays, penicillin, safety glass, sugar substitutes, polyethylene and many other plastics were all discovered ‘by chance’. Serendipity also inspired profound scientific knowledge such as the discovery of DNA. Serendipity is often linked to the Zeitgeist, which explains findings or inventions occurring at the same time in different places in the world.


  • Watson, J. (2011) (Orig. 1968). The Double Helix: A personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. New York: Touchstone Books.