A Second Look at Primary Generators

Michael Mose Biskjær, Bo Christensen

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Jane Darke’s 1979 article “The Primary Generator and the Design Process” appeared in the very first issue of Design Studies. In the four decades of design research that followed, the article became a classic. In the article’s revaluation of the role subjectivity plays in design, Darke posits a construct called the “the primary generator”—a limited set of (typically subjective) constraints—as a way for architects to engage with design tasks characterized by complexity. The primary generator acts as a random starting point, located within a subset of constraints, which is iteratively adjusted as the design process takes place. It may be construed as a subjectively valued organizing principle driving the design process. It may also be read as either a liberating force of subjective creative freedom, or as a subjective source of bias and fixation that the architect may be unwilling or unable to later escape. Darke herself held both these positions over time. Her ideas on the malleability of the design space and the very initiation of the creative design process by imposition of constraints have been critical in the evolution of constraint research, which represents a rich strand of interdisciplinary design research.
Original languageEnglish
JournalShe Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)7-23
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Primary Generator
  • Constraints
  • Architecture
  • Prestructuring
  • Design process

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