1. The combination of components or elements to form a connected whole. Often contrasted with analysis.

Synthesis in design research is where the ideas or items that have been collected and analysed come together. At Design Academy Eindhoven we consider this a creative act, an activity that can result in the making of something new. Synthesis in design research is different from putting something together again that has first been taken apart, like an engine or a mechanical clock. Instead, synthesis produces more than the sum of its separate components – a kind of 1 + 1 = 3 ! What is created could be concepts, ideas, solutions, interventions or systems, but in design research these always involve some new understanding, some new piece of knowledge.

To a designer, synthesis generally comes relatively quickly and easily, through sketching for instance. The idea or concept is made visible or tangible by creating an artefact during the synthesis. This visualisation or making the idea tangible, is not separate from the synthesis however – one does not first synthesise and then visualise, the two occur simultaneously. Design research is therefore never the visualisation or making tangible of existing concepts without changing them. Visualisation is part of how design researchers synthesise, and being able to synthesise is a crucial skill for design researchers.

In design research, analysis and synthesis are often alternated very rapidly. Designers typically have not just one idea when they start synthesising, they have very many, and make many sketches rather than just one. This becomes evident during prototyping or modelling, where, instead of creating a working solution after having thought through every detail beforehand, design researchers try out many ideas, expecting them to fail to a certain extent and seeing this as a way to learn. Thinking through making is a way of synthesising through prototyping. By iterating this several times, design researchers are able to refine their understanding of the issue they are working on as well as their solution or intervention for that issue.

DAE examples

  • Mike Thompson, Stressed Out, Research Associate in CRISP (Creative Industry Scientific Programme), project GRIP, 2012-2014
  • Marlies Schets, Seen, Graduation project Man and Activity, 2014


  • Kolko, J. (2010). Abductive Thinking and Sensemaking: The Drivers of Design Synthesis. Design Issues, 26.