Design as playing games of make-believe




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Cambridge University Press



Peer reviewed



Designing complex products involves working with uncertainties as the product, the requirements and the environment in which it is used co-evolve, and designers and external stakeholders make decisions that affect the evolving design. Rather than being held back by uncertainty, designers work, cooperate and communicate with each other notwithstanding these uncertainties by making assumptions to carry out their own tasks. To explain this, the paper proposes an adaptation of Kendall Walton’s make-believe theory, to conceptualize designing as playing games of make-believe by inferring what is required and imagining what is possible given the current set of assumptions and decisions, while knowing these are subject to change. What one is allowed and encouraged to imagine, conclude or propose is governed by socially agreed rules and constraints. The paper uses jet engine component design as an example to illustrate how different design teams make assumptions at the beginning of design activities and negotiate what can and cannot be done with the design. This often involves iteration – repeating activities under revised sets of assumptions. As assumptions are collectively revised they become part of a new game of make-believe in the sense that there is social agreement that the decisions constitute part of the constraints that govern what can legitimately be inferred about the design or added to it.


Collaboration between ITAS, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology CEM, De Montfort University, Design, The Open University


Philosophy of design, Modelling, Fictionalism, Uncertainty, Design process


Poznic, M., Stacey, M.K., Hillerbrand, R. and Eckert, C.M. (2020) Designing as playing games of make-believe. Design Science.


Research Institute