Design Profile is a psychometric tool to help you uncover your design preferences and strengths. It doesn’t look at your personality, but instead your design style, which can change over time and in different settings. So, how does it work, and why is it a source of reflective and actionable insight?

Design Profile draws on both cognitive and personality theory, as well as our own learnings and observations about design thinking, built up by designing (and working with designers) all over the world.

The psychology and theory behind Design Profile

The existence of thinking preferences and personality types has long been present in cognitive psychology. These thinking preferences and personality types determine how someone approaches, operates in, and interprets the world. They influence how an individual reacts to problems, situations and opportunities.

Even though there is a broad academic agreement about the concept of thinking preferences, there is still much debate by the psychology field about which of the different theories on thinking types is most compelling in terms of the evidence.

We’ve reviewed the literature, and extracted the core principles of the theories that have a persuasive level of rigour, and linked them to theories about how people relate to each other, and about working preferences.

It was when we started thinking about what preferences designers may have that Design Profile was born. Design Profile draws together spectra that cover relating, thinking and working, and relates these to the work typically undertaken by designers in a design team.

It all comes back to the Greeks…

The idea of different types of activities and knowledge can be traced back to Greek philosophy. These philosophers developed a model of three types of knowledge: episteme – intellectual, scientific, abstract knowledge, techne – craft and technical knowledge, phronesis – practical wisdom or deliberative knowledge. This corresponded nicely to three types of activities: Theoria – thinking with an end goal of truth, poesis – making with an end goal of production, and praxis – doing thoughtfully with an end goal of action itself.

From these models, the Greeks concluded phronesis and praxis were the highest forms of knowledge and action, as they incorporated ideas with social wisdom to create an end result. We believe both of these are essential to the design process as they incorporate the other forms. To generate phronesis you need episteme, techne and knowledge of people, while to generate praxis – you need phronesis, theoria and an understanding of the whole system. The Greeks believed that different people had different tendencies towards each type of knowledge and activity, but operating as a group of individuals who combined, understood the whole system, was most beneficial.

Cognitive Style

The idea of ‘cognitive styles’ has existed since the 1940’s and are based on the observation that there are individual differences in cognitive processing. Simple perception tasks showed that people use different perceptual processes to achieve a task. This led to the idea of a ‘cognitive style’ – a pattern of adaptation to the external world that regulates cognitive functioning. An individual’s cognitive style is believed to be stable over time. Throughout history, psychologists have identified huge numbers of cognitive styles including decision making styles, personality styles and management styles. This explosion of style variables became a general criticism of the field throughout the 40’s – 80’s. However, in the 1990’s, research shifted in focus to try to unify the styles. Researchers suggested that the underlying style is a preference for ‘analytic’ vs ‘holistic’ processing and Allinson and Hayes were key contributors to this period. More recently, people believe there are a hierarchy of styles that influence perception, decision making and behaviour. The field of cognitive style is starting to be supported by neuroscience, but there is a lot more possibilities for future research. The theory of cognitive style has informed a few typological models including the Myers-Briggs Type Index (for personality) and the basic styles found from the research formed the foundation of our Design Profile traits.

Split Brain theory

The greatest ‘neuromyths’ is the split brain theory – the idea that each brain hemisphere does different tasks and that individuals have different thinking and personality preferences depending on their dominant hemisphere. Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists have hit this with a wave of criticism in recent years as there is no direct scientific evidence supporting the idea of different thinking styles in each hemisphere, and it is an oversimplification of scientific findings. However, the underlying premise – that the left and right hemisphere specialise in different tasks, is undisputed.

As the myth goes… The left hemisphere is believed to treat stimuli serially, analysing them one-by-one. It says the left brain is rational, intellectual, logical, analytical and verbal, specialising in verbal and numerical processing and logical thinking. In contrast, the right brain was believed to process stimuli in parallel. The myth went on to say that the right brain is emotional, intuitive, holistic, non-verbal, visuo-spatial and uses inductive thinking.

The history of the myth: Like any myth, the split brain theory is based in fact. In the 1960’s, Broca and Wernicke confirmed that language was localised to the left hemisphere. Other studies showed that visuo-spatial and emotional tasks lit up the right hemisphere more strongly. These studies fuelled the neuro-myth of differing personalities and thinking styles for people who are dominant in each hemisphere.

Today, scientists believe that although there are functional asymmetries between left and right hemispheres, they don’t work in isolation and instead function together in all cognitive tasks. However, psychologists believe that people express a preference for different types of processing (verbal or visuo-spatial). This idea, embedded in a myth, has formed the foundation for many psychometric tools including the Herman Brain Dominance Instrument.

Working preferences

Margerison-McCann Team Management Wheel

This wheel forms the basis of the Team Management Profile. TMP measures individual preferences on four dimensions that help team member’s identity their work preferences on the 8 ‘Types of Work’ functions – Advising, Innovating, Promoting, Developing, Organising, Producing, Inspecting and Maintaining.

We don’t design alone

Understanding our own design preferences is great, but we don’t work alone. We usually find ourselves in teams who are striving to solve a complex problem together. Fortunately, creative processes such as design need different approaches, styles and perspectives. Research tells us that a diverse team who understands their diversity and learns to work with each member’s preferences can be the most effective.

The 5 dysfunctions of a team: Patrick Lencioni created a model outlining common team dysfunctions, but this can be flipped around to help identify qualities of a high performing team - high levels of trust, constructive conflict, commitment to vision, accountability and a focus on results.

Team diversity is important for constructive conflict. Conflict allows tensions to be resolved, and input from different perspectives and backgrounds encourages the best ideas to be brought to light.

Hand in hand with the model of team dysfunctions, is the DiSC model of personality which helps individuals understand their personality and the personalities of their team members. It focuses on two continua – pace drive (impulsive vs reserved) and compass drive (task oriented vs people oriented). People are mapped onto a spectrum of four categories – Dominant, Influential, Steady and Conscientious (aka. DISC). This model is based purely on personality theory, but relates personality types to team work to help create high performing teams.

What next

While Design Profile has been used by hundreds of people all over the world, we have more exciting things planned. Our resident psychologists and designers can’t wait to take your (anonymous) results and look for interesting patterns and relationships to help us answers some big questions.

We’re looking to see how the Design Profiles vary between ages, genders, industries and countries.