Multiple Intelligences for Design

Designing requires a wire range of thinking, knowledge, and skills that span the arts, humanities, and sciences. In order to clearly identify key areas for learning in design, Dennis Cheatham synthesized a model of multiple intelligences for design, based on the work of psychologists like Howard Gardner, Daniel Goleman, John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey, and Robert Sternberg. Below is a brief overview of these intelligences and how they apply to design.

Practical Intelligence

“Common Sense” or “Street Smarts”: Meet deadlines, follow procedures, adapt to workplace culture, and work within limitations.
Outcome: Learners will be able to apply design processes and produce outcomes within practical constraints.

Analytical Intelligence

Critical Thinking and Reason: Reason through problems, work iteratively, make well-informed, logical decisions.
Outcome: Learners will be able to demonstrate relevant and accurate decision making for needs being addressed.

Creative Intelligence

Synthesis and Invention: Generate new ideas and outcomes, integrate disparate content, find hidden connections.
Outcome: Learners will be able to generate inventive and engaging outcomes.

Emotional Intelligence

Interpreting and Expressing Emotions: Accurately interpret and apply emotions in design work and personal interactions.
Outcome: Learners will be able to accurately interpret and express emotions that are appropriate for the context.

Social Intelligence

Critical Thinking and Reason: Collaborate in teams, work one-on-one with others, facilitate consensus.
Outcome: Learners will be able to demonstrate an ability to effectively engage and collaborate with others.


Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books, 1983.

Gardner, Howard. “Reflections on Multiple Intelligences: Myths and Messages.” The Phi Delta Kappan 77, no. 3 (1995): 200–9.

Gardner, Howard. “The Theory of Multiple Intelligences: As Psychology, as Education, as Social Science.” Speech, Madrid, Spain, October 22, 2011. Howard Gardner.

Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than Iq. New York: Bantam Books, 2005.

Mayer, John D., and Peter Salovey. “What is Emotional Intelligence?,” In Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Educators, edited by P. Salovey, and D. Sluyter, 3–31. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Mayer, John D., Peter Salovey, and David R. Caruso. “Emotional Intelligence: Theory, Findings, and Implications.” Psychological Inquiry 15, no. 3 (2004): 197–215.

Sternberg, Robert J. The Triarchic Mind: A New Theory of Intelligence. New York: Viking Press, 1988.

Sternberg, Robert J. Successful Intelligence: How Practical and Creative Intelligence Determine Success in Life. New York: Penguin/Putnam, 1997.