Are you thinking with your hands?

Published on 22 Sep 2014

“We have to understand that the world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is more important than the eye…The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.”

(Bronowski, 1973)

We’ve been running some design thinking ‘crash courses’ over the summer.

The ‘crash course’ is a short, hands-on, introduction to the design process – developed by the d School at Stanford University. In pairs, we take a real-world problem and come up with some solutions. In 90 minutes.

My favourite part is the de-brief at the end - we all get together and have a look at the prototypes we’ve created.  I never cease to be amazed at the brilliant ideas that people have come up with in such a short space of time.

Prototyping is a key part of the design process - mock-ups of products or services help bring abstract concepts to life.  Having a physical thing that the people you are designing for can interact with, will spark a very different conversation than if you simply explained the concept to them or presented them with a report. A prototype surfaces potential misunderstandings, different interpretations or assumptions, and helps to resolve them.

But building a concrete and tangible prototype also taps into a different source of creativity: ‘thinking with your hands’. Our hands can lead our mind; spearheading, as well as providing the outlet for, our thinking. Using our hands to build still emerging ideas forces decision, reflection and synthesis. It empowers and satisfies, creates a direct experience of something real in the here and now that feeds the mind, enriching the imagination.

And by thinking with our hands, our inner child is unlocked. Kids love to create new things, and aren’t hindered by the inner critic who wonders how other people might react to it.

So, if you’re stuck on something, try sketching it out or building a quick prototype. Use your hands and let them do the thinking. You’ll find yourself arriving at a solution in no time!


Bronowski, J. (1973). Episode 3, The Grain in the Stone, The Ascent of Man, 40.17 – 43.44 minutes.