Tacit knowledge

Tacit, adjective

  1. Understood or implied without being stated.

cf. Embody, verb

  1. Be an expression of or give a tangible or visible form to (an idea, quality, or feeling).

Knowledge, noun

  1. Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.
  2. Awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.

Tacit- or embodied knowledge at Design Academy Eindhoven refers to implicit knowledge that is acquired through experience accumulated during making- or crafting processes.

If a designer is so skilled that his body ‘knows’ what has to be done, this knowledge is known as embodied knowledge. The body ‘knows’ how to act – body and mind closely work together, as is apparent, for example, in the way a professional dancer moves, or a musician plays his or her instrument. The knowledge is “in the hands,” as the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes it.. Henri Bergson, another French philosopher, uses the term, “bodily memory”.

In the field of design, embodied knowledge is often referred to as the knowledge of the craftsman, acquired by experience. This type of knowledge is also referred to as tacit knowledge – knowledge of materials and/or techniques acquired by practical training that is neither made explicit nor articulated. Competent practitioners usually know more than they can say, writes Donald Schön. Their knowing is often implicit, it is within the action itself: knowing-in-action. This does not mean that the activity is performed entirely intuitively – the craftsman has the opportunity of reflecting on the process while working. Schön calls this reflection-in-action.


  • Bergson, H. (1939). Matière et mémoire (Orig. 1896), Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
  • Dormer, P. (1994). The art of the maker. Skill and its meaning in art, craft and design. London: Thames & Hudson.
  • Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge.
  • Polanyi, M. (1966). The Tacit Dimension. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Schön, D. A. (1984). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Aldershot: Ashgate.
  • Sennett, R. (2008). The Craftsman, New Haven: Yale University Press.