CK Theory

The Concept Knowledge Theory is a design theory based on the distinction between concept and knowledge, as its name suggests. Currently the theory is mostly used for explanatory purpose, but it can also be used as a very simple and powerful framework to generate innovative concepts.


  • Very abstract, may be difficult to understand
  • Flexible
  • Simple to use
  • Not bounded to one field

CK Theory in a nutshell

The core idea of this framework is to separate concept and knowledge in two different spaces, and to keep in mind that the object of study never has invariant definitions and properties. For instance, the practitioner should not take for granted that a chair has legs or a surface to seat on. The definition of a chair may evolve to a more abstract thing like: “something that maintains the user in a vertical position effortlessly”.

A concept is defined as a proposition that is neither true nor false. It might emerge from market needs, that is when a technical or market requirement is not satisfied by existing solutions/technologies. Basically you can remember that concept = idea. Concepts are gathered on the C-space.

Example: A chair without solid structure.

Knowledge is defined as the group of propositions with known logical status (we know if they are true or false): all that we (or the designer) know belongs to this. Knowledge is contained in the K-space.

Example: To be in equilibrium, an object (like a conventional chair) has to be isostatic.

Now that every proposition can put, stored, or categorized in one space or the other, we will define 4 operations that can be used between these spaces.

Conjunction (C->K): When a concept/idea is tested in reality, we come to know whether the proposition is true or not (if the idea is feasible). Consequently, the propostion becomes part of the knowledge and leaves the concept space, resulting in an expansionof the K-space.

Disjunction (K->C): This is the operation by which a new idea/concept can be generated from existing knowledge.

Concept expansion (C->C): When an idea is conceived based on another idea, there is a concept expansion. It is important for concept expansion to support, incentive, visualize this process, and leave behind all consideration such as feasibility or other limitation. This expansion can be guided by other frameworks/tools.

Knowledge expansion (K->K): This operation is the result of expansion of the knowledge by combination of it or new discoveries.

OK OK! I got it, so how can I use this?

  1. Start expressing a market/technical need and write it in C-space. You will probably base your concept on existing knowledge (solution/situation). Take a lamp for instance: it’s bulky, needs to be activated, does not light around the corner, needs power supply, is fragile, expensive, and so on. A first idea/concept would be “an apparatus that light a great area while being very small.” As you can see the concept is relative and is not defined according to specifications (10 lumen, less than 150cm3).
  2. Express the existing knowledge associated. The solution here is not a lamp but the combination of technologies/knowledge. For example: “light is the set of electromagnetic waves with wavelengths from 380nm to780nm”; “light in any medium travels along a straight line from the source to any point in that medium”, or “the light bulb as to be screwed into a support”
  3. With the knowledge, challenge the concept and formulate new ideas. we want the apparatus to light around the corner but “light in any medium travels along a straight line from the source to any point in that medium”, so we have 2 simple options: change the medium, or using multiple sources of light. We just generated 2 new concepts deviating from the previous one: “an apparatus that light a great area from multiple sources while being very small” and “an apparatus that light a great area  using medium change to guide the light, and which is very small”. You don’t have to challenge your concepts with knowledge, you can expand your concept using any method you want.
  4. Proceed this way as long as you can: expand the two spaces by knowledge description and concept generation. Brainstorming and similar methods (see other frameworks!) might be used to enhance the efficiency of the concept expansion.
  5. When you have finished (or when you are satisfied with the current ideas), test your concepts in reality, to try to operate a conjunction. During this stage, you will probably need to look whether some technologies or principles do exist, which will result in a knowledge expansion. In such a case: oh surprise! new propositions in K-space are available, and so you can challenge again your ideas/concepts. (go back to point 3).
  6. If you have succeeded in operating a conjunction, you may have innovated! Congratulations. Otherwise try to redefine your market/technical need in a more abstract way and restart the process. For instance check that the vocabulary used does not refer to the existing solution, the case study: {object of study: a chair / original concept: “apparatus to seat on”} is a badly defined as “seating” refers to a position and “on” suggests there is something under the user (my proficiency in English is not that good, so a native/better speaker may not agree with me). A modelling of the original concept in terms of functionality may help.
An example: (still with a lamp, but adapted to my situation)

This example is simplified because a complete case study would be really big.


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About LML

I am passionate about creativity, innovation, business, politics, arts, and sciences. In a general matter, I am interested in everything that is new to me.

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