Pathways or Patterns?

Take a self-test to help you understand your core values and motivation and evolve a creative approach to desired design outcomes

Words Tina Periquet
Images Unsplash, Wikimedia Commons, and Flickr

“We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will tell.” – Barcelona Architectural School Director Elies Regent, at Antoni Gaudi’s graduation1

Why do brilliant solutions or practical new products often get dreamed up by typically absent-minded, impractical persons? Why are creative people notoriously poor at managing time? Why are some of the best designers seemingly able to defy the laws of physics yet unable to rein in their project costs?

We are all familiar with the stereotype of the absent-minded professor, the crackpot inventor, the eccentric genius, and the socially awkward nerd. Audiences are invited to laugh at these comedic characters, created to poke fun at the otherness of “neurodivergents” while acknowledging their uncanny gifts. Indeed, it often appears that somewhere on the road toward madness lies that enviable ability to dream dreams and see visions.

Does the creative gift come with a curse?

The fields of art, architecture, and design are littered with prominent figures whose extraordinary talents were not rewarded with financial success.

Vincent van Gogh, the troubled painter of soulful sunflowers and star-filled skies who famously cut off his own ear in a fit of dementia, sold only a handful of paintings in his short and tragic life. He did not live to see his works hailed as masterpieces of the post-Impressionist period or to relish his posthumous renown as the most famous artist in the world.

The Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi was so preoccupied with his masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia, that he moved into the site and lived there for several months while it was being constructed, neglecting his health, appearance, and attire. Hit by a tram car one day, he was left unaided for so long that he did not survive because his unkempt appearance had led passers-by to mistake the illustrious architect for a tramp.

Frank Lloyd Wright, acknowledged by many as the greatest American architect of his time, was practically broke for most of his career. He eventually made ends meet by founding the Taliesin Fellowship, a school-like arrangement in which students paid him for the privilege of joining his staff and doing work in exchange for a chance to learn from the Master. While other architects got to do towers and public buildings, the controversial creator had to make do mostly with smaller private projects, lavishing his gifts on single-family houses and, in the process, changing the way Americans plan their homes.

And Louis Kahn, poetic builder of monuments to human institutions, died broke and in debt, even as he was being lauded by critics as the most influential American architect of his time.3

These famous examples illustrate that talent, competence, prestige, and even fame do not automatically correlate with business success.

But surely, as one gains experience and competence, can one at least count on mastering the skill of scheduling and budgeting to meet the project time and cost targets?


The Empire State Building, designed by William F. Lamb of Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon to be the tallest building in the world, was planned within two weeks, constructed in only 410 days—well before the target deadline—and built under budget.

And yet… perhaps not.

The construction of the iconic Sydney Opera House took over a decade longer than planned, cost ten times over budget, and led to the furious departure of the architect Jorn Utzon, who never returned to see his extraordinary creation, which put Australia on the world map for groundbreaking architecture.

Zaha Hadid, the most famous woman architect of all time, had no trouble winning the competition to design the new Tokyo Olympic Stadium. But her provocative and futuristic concept ran aground due to cost and environmental issues, eventually being replaced by a design of Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

Can it be said that William F. Lamb was a more competent architect than the visionary Utzon or the Pritzker Prize-winning Hadid? Or was there something other than competence at play?

In the realm of design, a successful project is usually one that meets the requirements and is delivered on time and within budget. By this definition, one could hardly say that either Utzon’s Opera House or Hadid’s Olympic Stadium was a success. 

If all these illustrious figures were indisputably competent, how then can we make sense of the fact that some seem less successful than others at hitting their project targets?

The answer is simple: They all did succeed. They merely aimed at different targets.

Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House (Jennifer Batema, Unsplash)
Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon’s Empire State Building (Christian Ladewig, Unsplash)
Zaha Hadid’s Tokyo Olympic Stadium (unbuilt)

The Form Givers

“Design exists because of the need for Form. The form giver, in the broadest use of the term, creates order.”  Charles L. Owen

The word “creative”, when used as a noun means “a person whose job involves producing original ideas or doing artistic work.4  This implies an individual with a skill for adding value to things. An artist brushes pigments onto a canvas, and the canvas is immediately worth many times more than its original price. A musician combines sounds into a melody worth listening to; a chef elevates potted meat into pate de foie gras.

A designer is a particular kind of creative – one who uses creativity to solve problems. Unlike an artist, whose chief aim is to express his inner vision to an audience consisting primarily of himself, a designer engages with the real world, transfiguring thought into flesh by a complex process that involves dialogue, research, visualizing a conceptual solution, mapping out a strategy, and making it happen.  Visualizing requires abstract thinking; planning a strategy and carrying it out will require a good deal of pragmatism.

Some designers are analytical, enabling them to create math-based solutions, such as Palladian façades, rhythmic column grids, or compositions based on the Fibonacci sequence. The Empire State Building, for instance, was built using standardized modules and prefabricated steel structural parts that enabled it to rise at the rate of almost one floor a day, opening 45 days ahead of schedule.5

Anthropologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the creative person as one who manifests apparently contradictory qualities – imagination and practicality, humility and pride, introversion and extraversion, and passion and objectivity, among others6. The creative’s emotional range encompasses the extremes of agony and ecstasy.  While this might sound alarmingly like a tendency toward bipolar disorder, it speaks of a type of person who tends to experience life with unusual intensity.  The ability to think outside the box implies a willingness to step outside the safety net of conventional wisdom, good taste and tested formulas, and risk failure for the chance at a glorious outcome.

But why choose to design an impossibly complex and risky structure hovering over a waterfall, as Frank Lloyd Wright famously did, when the client would have been perfectly happy with a house simply overlooking the waterfall?  Why create an incredibly complex church design that would take over a hundred years to build, as Antoni Gaudi chose to do, deviating from the approved Neo-Gothic style? What causes some designers to turn down lucrative projects even when on the edge of financial ruin, others to pour their scarce funds into joining design competitions, and others to stay in the academe, forswearing the joys of creation?

More to the point: How likely are you to make similar moves? Do you recognize in yourself the seeds of ”madness”?

To discover what your own creative approach is, take the short self-test which follows. Pick an answer from each of the color-coded choices. As you may find that more than one choice is applicable, it would help to try and recall situations in which you were forced to make a choice that prioritized one value over another.  Then go on and explore your mind using the maps and charts provided.

Self Test

Learning Styles

According to phenomenologist Anthony Gregorc, all humans can be categorized according to how we tend to learn.  He mapped this out on a graph based on two intersecting spectrums:  How we tend to see (Perception) and How we tend to process what we see (Ordering).

The vertical dimension measures how we tend to perceive reality. Concrete thinkers focus on facts and specifics, relying chiefly on their five senses to gain knowledge. Abstract thinkers, whose gaze sweeps over a panoramic view of generalities, filter out irrelevant data while seeking out underlying patterns and principles.

Gregorc’s Map of Thinking Styles7

The vertical dimension measures how we tend to perceive reality. Concrete thinkers focus on facts and specifics, relying chiefly on their five senses to gain knowledge. Abstract thinkers, whose gaze sweeps over a panoramic view of generalities, filter out irrelevant data while seeking out underlying patterns and principles.

The horizontal dimension measures how we tend to process information. Sequential thinkers move step by step down a linear path to arrive at a judgment. They organize data into systems and formulas, prepare grocery lists, and read appliance manuals. Random thinkers store data in untidy clusters, and their minds jump around connecting the dots. They use trial and error, follow hunches, and often leap to conclusions.

Although everyone tends to move back and forth from abstract to concrete and to use both types of processes to a certain degree, each of us tends to fall back on a dominant style of receiving and processing information.

Gregorc proposes that there are four basic types of learners, as shown in the chart below:

Gregorc’s Learning Styles

Gregorc’s theory is still undergoing testing and development, but educators have found it a useful working model for developing effective teaching systems based on learning preferences.8

Design Thinking

Charles L. Owen, a pioneer of systems design, proposed a similar map to Gregorc’s, this time focusing on creative thinking. Unlike Gregorc, who attempts to classify the thinking styles of the general population, Owen zeroes in on “the creative individual”—a type of thinker driven either to learn things or make things.

His graph also intersects two spectrums—content and process.9

The vertical axis measures what tends to interest the thinker. Abstract or symbolic thinkers gravitate toward professions that use formulas, models, and other devices to clarify and express ideas. In contrast, concrete or realistic thinkers focus on facts and real-world issues.

The horizontal axis measures process, or how data turns into output. Analysts are “finders” who solve problems systematically, breaking down information into parts to achieve a fuller understanding of the whole. Synthesists or “makers” tend to do the opposite—they gather available data and arrange them in a form that carries meaning.

Owen’s Map of Thinking Styles10

As Owen’s diagram indicates, design thinking (Synthetic/Real) is diametrically opposed to scientific thinking (Analytic/Symbolic). “Where the scientist sifts facts to discover patterns and insights, the designer invents new patterns and concepts to address facts and possibilities.”11

Owen draws from the theories of Czikszentmihalyi, who found that creative individuals tend to exhibit, among other commonalities, a robust natural curiosity, which draws them toward certain types of intellectual pursuits, as shown below.

Owen’s Creative Thinking Styles

Of particular interest are the two groups of Synthesists, whom Czikszentmihalyi calls “makers.” “Makers are driven to synthesize what they know in new constructions, arrangements, patterns, compositions, and concepts that bring tangible, fresh expressions of what can be. They become architects, engineers, artists—designers—and are responsible for the built environment in which we live and work.”12

Pathways or Patterns?

Owen’s system and that of Gregorc’s are so closely correlated that we may conflate the two and draw further insights.

Building on both theories, we can infer that sequential thinkers, when trained, tend to become analysts, more interested in solving problems than in creating new things. A simplified diagram of an analytical thinking style would be a road map that shows pathways starting from Point A and branching out toward possible destinations. The simpler and clearer the pathway toward the desired goal, the more likely it will be chosen.

Meanwhile, random thinkers tend to synthesize or link ideas in new ways because their minds are open to less tidy, more complex ways of thinking. A diagram of this thinking style might resemble a night sky with scattered points of light, which form patterns to the idle gaze. This ability to see stars and visualize constellations—patternicity—can result in innovation and invention.13

Pattern recognition is at the heart of the intuitive process.14 Whereas rational thinking requires conscious, deliberate thought to analyze patterns, intuition is subconscious, quick, and able to grasp complex relationships. However, as its reliability is highly affected by subjectivity or state of mind, intuition is often mistrusted by rational thinkers and grows rusty from disuse. But honed and guided by experience, it can result in that kind of wisdom known as insight.

A concrete thinker is like a camera with a zoom lens, able to focus on areas of particular interest and, with training, becomes expert in those subjects. But focusing too intensely on the trees can blind one to the forest causing us to lose our way. Conversely, an abstract thinker is like a camera with a panoramic lens, able to view the big picture and note patterns that may escape the normal eye. But lack of focus may cause us to miss vital details needed to navigate through the landscape. We need both wide-angle vision and focus to see the big pattern and create new pathways through it.

The ability to move fluidly from abstract to concrete, and from logic to imagination, is the particular sphere of the creative.

The Third Spectrum: Agenda

To explain why some creatives make seemingly mad decisions and why some tend to develop a “signature style,” a third factor comes into play: drive. Why are we driven to create?

A designer’s primary motivation can be broadly classified as intrinsic versus extrinsic

Intrinsic motivation compels a person to engage in activities without being prompted by rewards or threats. Some are impelled to reach for lofty goals and obsess about large issues of design—its role in civilization and how to produce works that carry meaning through time. Some passionately embrace classical values—beauty, order, harmonious proportion, and appropriateness, while others champion contemporary values—novelty, authenticity, and socio-cultural expression. Others still are simply motivated by interest and enjoyment.

The autotelic personality, as identified by Csikszentmihalyi, is a self-driven individual who does things for the sake of doing them. “An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what they do is already rewarding. Because such persons experience flow in work…they depend less on external rewards that keep others motivated to go on in a life of routines. As a result, they are more autonomous and independent because they cannot be as easily manipulated with threats or rewards from the outside.”15

Pragmatic creatives, while also gifted with imagination and intuition, are extrinsically motivated. They may acknowledge the theoretical importance of larger issues but tend to focus on the here and now—project goals, client satisfaction, situational constraints, and so on. Some may widen their area of concern to include environmental issues, preservation of natural habitats, and disaster response, which require practical and cost-effective solutions. These creatives are more likely to succeed in sticking to a schedule or budget because they give due attention to the real-world project parameters of time and cost. They may also choose to invest more time in the business side of their practice, leading to potentially greater revenues and profits.

Although idealism tends to come together with abstract thinking and pragmatism with concrete thinking, this is not always the case. A scientist, for instance, may be more driven by ambition than altruism in working to create a vaccine. Artists often draw reams of commercial-grade work, alongside their masterpieces, to support their families. Social workers are often idealistic in attitude, yet down-to-earth in dealing with the harsh realities of the communities they serve.

Some abstract thinkers often become grounded by experience, descending from the demanding heights of idealism, dogmatism, or perfectionism as they adapt to their encounters with human frailty. Seasoned designers recognize the need to accommodate habits and weaknesses and build more comfortable products with extra legroom, more adjustability, and a less demanding level of precision.

But if a designer’s values remain tenaciously idealistic, his own sights will remain fixed on his high and lofty goals, even as he lowers his expectations of those around him.

A Three-Dimensional Model for Three-Dimensional Thinkers

Combining the three dimensions—perception, process, and drive—into one matrix, we arrive at eight different creative styles or design approaches. Each has been given a descriptive title that sums up the general character of each type.

Matrix of Creative Approaches

Abstract thinkers gather at the upper half of the vertical spectrum, which measures perception, and Concrete thinkers at the bottom half. At the horizontal spectrum, which measures thought process, Analytical thinkers are grouped on the left side and Synthetic Thinkers on the right, corresponding to both Gregorc’s and Owen’s models.

The added dimension of drive—Intrinsic versus Extrinsic—is represented in this flattened model by the relative closeness of each type to the center core. Intrinsically driven creatives occupy the diamond center, reflecting pictorially how they are self-driven and less susceptible to external, material, or pragmatic influences. Conversely, externally driven creatives, occupying the outer corners, are more responsive to the concerns and challenges posed by the environment and tend to adapt their approach to suit the circumstances.

The chart below depicts how the different thinking styles tend to be modified by whether the thinker is more motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic motivations, leading to distinctly different creative approaches.

Matrix of Creative Approaches

Your responses to the self-test questions were color-coded to help you find your place in the matrix and the chart.  You may find that your answers came in more than one color. This may indicate that your creative style is transitioning or is made up of a complex balance of more than one approach. 

A brief description of each creative style is provided in the next section, along with a few examples of creatives who appear to embody each type.

The Eight Creative Types

The Explorer  

“The city is the locus of the collective memory.”  Aldo Rossi

Agenda:  The search for meaning

The Explorer’s view is panoramic, bird’s-eye rather than street-view. With a natural ability to scan the big picture, he tends to be adept at seeing how things fall into patterns and making connections between seemingly unrelated fields. He treats his projects as case studies to validate his theories or propound a set of principles.

Some Explorers see their work as part of a greater whole—building blocks in a vast and ongoing construction site that records in stone mankind’s evolution and aspirations. Details seem irrelevant and are either brushed aside or reduced to the minimum needed. Concept is more important than cost, and timelessness is prioritized over timeliness. Deadlines and budget issues are ignored until they become urgent.

Explorers are idealists, convinced of the power of good design to inspire happiness and even influence a change in mindset, lifestyle, and habits.

Humanity is idealized—architects need to be constantly reminded that storage should include space for non-essentials, mementos, and memorabilia. In their minds, clients can be trained to live simply and sparely, if they are not already that way. 

Values: Clarity, simplicity, order, endurance, significance

Influential Examples: Vitruvius, Alberti, Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier, and Aldo Rossi

Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, (Yana Marudova, Unsplash)
Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (Michal Lewi, Wikimedia Commons); Alberti’s De pictura
Adolf Loos’ Goldman and Salatsch Building (Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Rationalist

“Less is more.”   Mies van der Rohe

Agenda: Solving the problem

Rationalists are primarily problem-solvers whose task is to create order from chaos. They see a project as a complex tangle of issues to be sorted and woven into a neat pattern. They absorb data and create a set of diagrams to address all the issues.

They feel that true beauty lies in the precise fit of a form that supports function and that the most elegant solution is the simplest. They admire minimalism because it reflects the purity of intelligence unsullied by the sentimental clinging to convention or subjective associations. They might appear to some as cold and inhumane because they seem to care less about clients as individuals, impatient with quirks, eccentricities, and sentimental notions.

They store historical data, do research, and embrace new technology to improve design techniques. They zero in on the best solution and will passionately defend it against being watered down. Geometry and the laws of physics are typical starting points in generating a composition.

Values: simplicity, clarity, lucidity, logic, discipline, order, rhythm

Influential Examples: Mies van der Rohe, I.M. Pei and Norman Foster

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion (Jean Philippe Delberghe, Unsplash)
I.M. Pei’s Pyramide du Louvre (Daniele d’Andreti, Unsplash)

The Functionalist

“Limitation makes the creative mind inventive. The mind is like an umbrella—it functions best when open.” Walter Gropius

Agenda: A successful project outcome

Functionalists are thoroughly grounded in the needs of the moment. They wisely aim for a target well within reach, rather than risk failure by shooting for the moon.

They deliver the expected result and keep surprises to a minimum by controlling the process, thinking ahead, and relying on tried and tested formulas. Anticipating that the client will argue about cost or time, they only show solutions that will fall within the framework of feasibility. Designs are reliable, practical, and comfortable, never provocative or avant-garde.  They pick the battles they know they can win.

Functionalists don’t get carried away with idealist notions, as they recognize that humans bring baggage wherever they go. Instead of dictating what must be done with that baggage (dispose of it, as Loos would say, or evolve beyond the need of it, as Le Corbusier would have you do), they focus on solutions to create places for it. For the Functionalist, the long-term relationship is the priority, as it will mean a continuous stream over time, not just one project.

Values: Functionality, usefulness, comfort, flexibility

Influential Examples: Walter Gropius, SOM, Gensler, and Juan Arellano

Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus Building (Hirashi Oshite, Unsplash)
Walter Gropius’s Fagus Factory (Wikimedia Commons)

The Formalist

“The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.”  William Morris

Agenda: To uphold and promote the natural order of things

The Formalist is a strong advocate of the collective wisdom handed down through the ages—traditions, conventions, and rules of thumb. As the ancient Greeks hewed to formulas for building their universally admired temples and public buildings, Formalists feel no pressure to reinvent the wheel and concentrate their energies on adapting existing systems to contemporary needs. 

Analytical and straightforward, Formalists are particularly drawn to the formal compositions and orderly symmetries of Classical, Renaissance, and other period-style architecture. The rhythmic procession of elements and reliably repetitive forms appeal to their logical minds more than the dynamic, often provocative silhouettes of contemporary structures, leading many to adopt conservative attitudes and decry the excesses of modernism.

Formalists absorb knowledge experientially and are sensitive to the beauty of nature, picturesque settings, and harmonious compositions. They feel deeply the need to protect the endangered elements and places threatened by rapid change.

Values: Simplicity, order, respect for nature, culture and tradition

Influential Examples: William Morris, Grosvenor Atterbury, Antonio Toledo, and Gabriel Formoso

William Morris’ vintage patterns

Gabriel Formoso’s Pacific Star Building (Photographed by Patrick Kasingsing)

The Synergist

“I believe in God, only I spell it NATURE” – Frank Lloyd Wright

Agenda: Creation

The Synergist has the amazing ability to take an abstract concept and transform it into a three-dimensional object that fulfills a need. Those fortunate to find clients who are willing to go on the journey with them tend to seize the chance to develop entirely new models and paradigms for better living. Their process is messy, organic, iterative, open to change. For the Synergist, the thrill is in the act of creation and the chance to be part of something significant.

Others adopt an organic approach, seeing their sites as opportunities for exploration and self-expression. They are in this field to find and create meaning, push the envelope, innovate. Responsive and introspective, Synergists embrace complexity and challenge.

Values: Relevance, authenticity, complexity, nuance

Influential Examples: Santiago Calatrava, Frank Lloyd Wright, Leandro Locsin, and Francisco Mañosa

Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub (Arthur Brognoli, Unsplash); Leandro Locsin’s Philippine International Convention Center (Patrick Kasingsing)
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House (David Arpi, Flickr)
Francisco Mañosa’s Coconut Palace (Photographed by Patrick Kasingsing)

The Humanist

“The ultimate goal of the architect…is to create a paradise. Every house, every product of architecture… should be a fruit of our endeavor to build an earthly paradise for people.” Alvar Aalto

Agenda: Creating a beneficial user experience

The Humanists see their work as creating a setting for other humans. They are conscious that their work will affect lives and recognize that they have a responsibility to make sure lives are enhanced and made better.

Humanists care about real people as individuals. They listen closely, noting not just words but unstated needs, and try to figure out what is behind the aversion to tall spaces or why the insistence on locks everywhere. They strive to give clients an environment that satisfies their craving for a sense of shelter and intimacy, or romantic nostalgia, or privacy and security. They design experiences, not just places. They are client-oriented, empathetic, flexible, and responsive.

Many interior designers are humanists, more concerned with customizing an environment to suit the client than with making a personal statement through their work.

Values: Appropriateness, harmony, comfort, respect

Influential Examples: Alvar Aalto, Charles and Ray Eames

Alvar Aalto’s Riola Church (Edgar Priestly, Wikimedia Commons)
The Eames House (Edward Stojakovic, Wikimedia Commons)

The Activist

“An architect does not need to spend his whole career making monuments for rich people.” Shigeru Ban

Agenda: Elevating the human experience

The Activist is concerned with bigger issues than a mere product, house, or building project. He is concerned about the planet. It is his mission to contribute to improving the entire built environment, not just a project site.

However, Activists are realists and understand the need to focus their energies on specific issues to make things happen in their lifetimes. They work best in collaboration with others, as the causes they espouse may be too ambitious to undertake solely.

Some Activists promote environmental sustainability, climate change response, or creating humane housing for the poor. Others seek to preserve the cultural heritage of their land. Being intuitive and imaginative, they may emerge with ingenious ways to “turn trash to cash” or create self-sustaining homes for green living.

Values: Compassion, justice, balance, initiative

Influential Examples: Shigeru Ban and Ning Encarnacion Tan

Shigeru Ban’s Kentucky Owl Farm (Shigeru Ban Architects)

The Symbolist

“An artist must create an optic, a way of seeing nature like it’s never been seen before.” Carlo Scarpa

Imagine an abstract-thinking, intuitive idealist who persists in tilting at windmills, and perhaps it might be easier to understand why some creatives appear more unfathomably eccentric than others!   

The Symbolist lives for beauty and meaning. Whereas the Explorer is cerebrally drawn to an aesthetically pleasing composition, the Symbolist is emotionally and viscerally affected.

Symbolists are adept at arranging elements, pulling together assortments of things into a unified composition, and intuitively sensing when something is off-kilter. They are idealistic creatures, to whom a principle is clearer and more motivating than a practical fact, such as profit or loss or a schedule. They feel that the beautiful result will justify a long delay and that the client should understand that beauty requires a willingness to invest.

Symbolists are introspective and intuitive. They find it difficult to adhere to a system, tending to resist routines or formalities. They tend to be generally accurate rather than precise. They tend to ignore rules rather than purposely break them. The Symbolist may sometimes be called a poet, as each line or gesture is loaded with meaning.

Values: Complexity, Beauty, Nuance, Endurance  

Influential Examples: Carlo Scarpa, Victor Horta, and Lor Calma

Carlo Scarpa’s Tomba Brion (Erica Greco, Unsplash)
Lor Calma’s Cancio Calma Showroom (Pinterest)
Victor Horta’s Hôtel Tassel (Henry Townsend, Public Domain)


Google DeepMind’s lead programmer Aja Huang (left) watches Lee Sedol (right) make his move against Google’s AlphaGo in a five-game million-dollar match. Photo from Netflix

A few months ago, Netflix aired a documentary film about how Lee Sedol, the reigning world champion of the ancient Chinese board game Go, was resoundingly beaten by AlphaGo, a computer program, in 2016. 

Observers around the world marveled at the creativity displayed by the machine, which seemed to foreshadow Stephen Hawking’s dark prediction made the year before that some future self-improving AI entity could someday take over the planet. 

Indeed, AI neural networks are modeled on human intelligence, which has a near limitless memory storage capacity and a processing system that builds up power the more it is used. Computer algorithms use processes similar to both the randomness and the logical sequences of thoughts we humans use to work out problems.

Robots have been trained to make art, write poetry, and respond appropriately to questions, delighting some observers and terrifying others. But there the likeness stops. For no computer turns itself on or operates itself for the fun of it or burns itself out for the sake of principle or passion, or keeps on running in order to serve a higher cause. Creativity may be the genetic trait that establishes man’s kinship with the Creator, but it is our intrinsic values that compel us to create

Yet how many designers take the time to reflect on what they aim for? Too often, we end up adopting the style of our training ground, or habitually embracing the latest prevailing trend, revealing either a lack of awareness of our own intrinsic values or a pragmatic willingness to suppress them in favor of today’s need. Only when we stop listening to reason does our inner voice make itself heard.

Whatever goal we embrace sets off a chain of actions, choices, and behavior patterns, driving a designer consistently toward a certain type of outcome. Understanding where we fall on each spectrum can help in choosing whether to maintain or modify our creative approach, in order to achieve the outcomes for which we strive. •


1 Judith Rodríguez Vargas. Antoni Gaudí, la Visión de un Genio, Artes e Historia México (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 29 September 2011. Retrieved 3 August 2008.

2  Edgar Kaufman, Frank Lloyd Wright, American Architect, 2021.

3  Nathaniel Kahn, Louis Kahn, My Architect:  A Son’s Journey, 2003.

4 Cambridge Dictionary

5 Carol Willis, Form Follows Finance: Skyscrapers and Skylines in New York and Chicago, 1995.

6 Mihaly Robert Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 2008

7  Anthony F. Gregorc, Gregorc Style Delineator: Development, Technical, and Administration Manual, Gregorc Associates, Inc., 1984.

8  Laura E. Seidel Westminster, MD and Eileen M. England: Gregorc’s Cognitive Styles: Preferences for Instructional and Assessment Techniques in College Students, Ursinus College, 1997.

9  Charles L. Owen, Design Thinking: Notes on its Nature and Use, Design Research Quarterly Vol. 2, N0. 1, January 2007, pp. 16-27.

10  Owen, pp. 16-27.

11 Drexel Now, What Makes Some People Creative Thinkers and Others Analytical?, February 13, 2019

12 Charles Owen, Design Thinking: Notes on its Nature and Use, Design Research Quarterly Vol. 2, N0. 1, January, 2007, pp. 16-27

13  Michael Shermer, Patternicity: Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise, Scientific American, December 1, 2008.

14  Schwartz A, Elstein AS. Clinical Reasoning in Medicine, in: Higgs J, Jones MA, Loftus S, Christensen N, editors. Clinical reasoning in the health professions. 3rd ed. Edinburgh: Elsevier; 2008. pp. 223–34.

15 Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

The author’s cat

Tina Periquet is an interior architect, and principal designer of PERIQUET GALICIA, an interior design firm specializing in high-quality living environments. She received her formative design education at Pratt Institute, NY (MS Interior Design) and Assumption College, Makati (BS Interior Design, cum laude).  She placed 3rd in the Philippine National Interior Design Licensure Examinations in 1989.  Other educational achievements include an MBA from Ateneo Graduate School of Business, and a BA in English Literature, cum laude, from Assumption College.

She was trained in lighting design at Fisher Marantz Stone in New York, and was a senior associate designer at Orsini Design Associates, before returning to Manila to set up her own firm. Her portfolio includes distinctive residential interiors in New York, London, Hong Kong, Vancouver, and Manila, and numerous hospitality, institutional, and development projects including the international award-winning Arya Residences, One McKinley Place, The Fairways, Calyx Centre, and the new Philippine National Museum of Natural History.

This article was made possible through the generosity of Modularity Home and Scavolini

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