Book to Read: Design Thinking by Peter G. Rowe

Design Thinking
Author: Peter G. Rowe  MIT Press, 1987

Design, according to Peter Rowe, is the fundamental means of inquiry by which architects and planners realize and give shape to ideas of buildings and public spaces; yet little sustained attention has been paid to the form of this intellectual activity. His book, Design Thinking, provides a general portrait of designing that characterizes its inherent qualities and sets it apart from other forms of inquiry. It treats multiple and often dissimilar theoretical positions-whether they prescribe forms that are deemed right for “good” architecture and urban design or simply provide procedures for solving problems-as particular manifestations of an underlying structure of inquiry common to all designing.

The book proceeds from detailed observations of designers in action to an examination of the broad frameworks that appear to shape design theory and inform design thinking. Rowe seeks to define the intellectual activity of designing both as rational inquiry, governed by guiding principles and constraints, and as a matter of the conviction and impulse by which design principles are invented and applied. Dozens of illustrations and a number of actual case studies support Rowe’s thesis.

Among the topics the book takes up are the salient features of design problems; procedural aspects of design, including varieties of heuristic reasoning; normative positions that shape design thinking; problems of substantiating design doctrines; and problems associated with meaningful interpretation from either a naturalistic or a self-referential view of architecture.


  1. Designers in Action 
    Case Study 1: Making an Urban Place
    Case Study 2: Making a Building from a Formal Type
    Case Study 3: Reconciling Two Large Ideas
    Other Accounts
    Observations and Questions about the Protocols
  2. Procedural Aspects of Design Thinking 
    Some General Characteristics of Design Problems
    Early Theoretical Positions
    Staged-Process Models of Problem Solving in Design
    The Information Processing Theory of Problem Solving
    Heuristic Reasoning and Design “Situations”
    Types of Rules and Constraints at Work in Design
    Aspects of Design Behavior
    Limitations of a Procedural View
  3. Normative Positions That Guide Design Thinking 
    Normative Positions
    Surface Features and Broad Inclinations
    Further Differentiating Features
    Problems of Substantiation
    Theory and Practice
  4. Architectural Positions and Their Realms of Inquiry 
    Two Realms of Inquiry
    Architecture from a Naturalistic Interpretation of Man and His World
    Architecture from a Referential Interpretation
    A Convergence of Issues

In Design Thinking Peter Rowe provides a systematic account of the process of designing in architecture and urban planning. He examines multiple and often dissimilar theoretical positions whether they prescribe forms or simply provide procedures for solving problems – as particular manifestations of an underlying structure of inquiry common to all designing. Over 100 illustrations and a number of detailed observations of designers in action support Rowe’s thesis.Peter G. Rowe is Raymond Garbe Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at Harvard University and Chairman of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard University.









About thedesignbender

I'm living my portfolio life as an, entrepreneur, storyteller, interior designer, blogger, social media and content management consultant, a motivator and a researcher. At the moment, I work with entrepreneurs to develop and refine their company's vision, strategy, and business model. I also manage and create stories for their social media platforms, so that they can build their company’s brand, extend their reach and influence their audience in a powerful way!

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