Neural Correlates Design IDEATION in fMRI’s Medical Perspectives

Current research that is conducted by Hay et al, in its abstract, indicates that in product design engineering (PDE), ideation involves the generation of technical behaviours and physical structures to address specific functional requirements. This differs from generic creative ideation tasks, which emphasize functional and technical considerations less. To advance knowledge about the neural basis of PDE ideation, it is observed the first functional Multi Resonance Imaging (fMRI) study on professional product design engineers as practitioners in industry.

Hay et al., aimed to explore brain activation during ideation, and compare activation in open-ended and constrained tasks. Imagery manipulation tasks were contrasted with ideation tasks in a sample of 29 PDE professionals.

In the aforementioned mutual research by Hal and team, the key findings were: (1) PDE ideation is associated with greater activity in left cingulate gyrus; (2) there were no significant differences between open-ended and constrained tasks; and (3) a preliminary association with activity in the right superior temporal gyrus was also observed. The results are consistent with existing fMRI work on generic creative ideation, suggesting that PDE ideation may share a number of similarities at the neural level. Future work includes: functional connectivity analysis of open-ended and constrained ideation to further investigate potential differences; investigating the effects of aspects of design expertise/training on processing; and the use of novelty measures directly linked to the designer’s internal processing in functional Multi Resonance Imaging (fMRI) analysis.


  1. Hay, L., Duffy, A.H.B, Gilbert, S.J., Lyall, L., Campbell. (2019). The neural correlates of ideation in product design engineering practitioners.  Design Science.   5, DOI: 10.1017/dsj.2019.27
  2. University of Strathclyde, Department of Design, Manufacture and Engineering Management and the School of Psychological Sciences and Health on Designapse: an fMRI study of design ideation
  3. Ulster University, brain-computer interfaces on Designapse: an fMRI study of design ideation
  4. Pugh, S. (1991) Total Design: Integrated Methods for Successful Product Engineering.Addison Wesley.
  5. Sosa, R., Gero, J.S (2005). A computational study of creativity in design: the role of society. AI EDAM 19, 229-244.
  6. Benedek, M., Schües, T., Beaty, R. E., Jauk, E., Koschutnig, K., Fink, A. & Neubauer, A. C. (2018) To create or to recall original ideas: brain processes associated with the imagination of novel object uses. Cortex 99, 93_102.

Pugh indicates that Product design engineering (PDE) refers to the set of tasks involved in conceptualising, developing, and realising functional products. Furthermore, it is deemed viewed as principal aspect of human creative activity. Subsequently, it is deemed as critical for human needs and current technology advancement within wide spectrum of society, according to Sosa and Gero.

In addition to the prior statement, Fundamental aspects of PDE process constitutes creative ideation, that lead to generation of ideas vis-à-vis a designated brief or problem. Wide array of studies on creative ideation in the whole population have been implemented in cognitive neuro science, typically employing generic divergent thinking assignment, including the Alternative Uses Task, according to Benedek et al.

Furthermore, the medical perspective of neural correlates ideation in Product Design Engineering (PDE), is further proceeded within approach, known as Designapse.

According to University of Strathclyde  and Ulster University, Designapse is a multidisciplinary, multi-institution project forming part of the ImagineD vision. The project is led by the Department of Design, Manufacture and Engineering Management and the School of Psychological Sciences and Health at the University of Strathclyde, and is supported by expertise in brain-computer interfaces at Ulster University. The Designapse project aims to establish the cognitive basis of conceptual engineering design ideation, i.e. the generation of engineering design concepts. This experiment is the world’s first fMRI study of professional product design engineers.