The Material Side of Design

Researcher: Ileana Stigliani

Leveraging an in-depth ethnographic study of a world renowned design consulting firm, we study how designers’ engagement with material artefacts (e.g., sketches, drawings, prototypes, etc.) influences the perceptions, interactions and behaviours of teams inside organisations, supporting individual and group decision-making, and considers how this engagement facilitates the transfer and exchange of aesthetic knowledge between team members.

Our first study demonstrates how material artefacts and practices facilitate the transition from individual to collective sensemaking processes and specifically, the “materialization of cognitive work,” which occurs as individuals and groups engage in material practices, and supports the construction of new shared understandings. We point to material artefacts as important “sensemaking resources” that facilitate transitions from individual to collective future-oriented sensemaking.

Our second study examines the interplay between aesthetic experiences, visceral responses, and cognitive processes, shaping how designers performed their tasks. It also highlights a number of practices that help designers overcome the tacit nature of these processes to support creative collaboration.


  • Study 1: Stigliani, I., & Ravasi, D. (2012). ‘Organizing Thoughts and Connecting Brains: Material Practices and the Transition from Individual to Group-Level Prospective Sensemaking’. Academy of Management Journal, 55(5), 1232-1259