The Art of Self-Reflection

23 March 2021

Reflection occurs naturally in our daily lives. We usually engage in reflective thinking informally as we disassociate ourselves with the incident, such as thinking back on an appraisal at work on our way home. While that is a common and informal form of reflection, there is more to it. According to Donald Schön, reflection is a deliberate cognitive process which typically consists of reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. He posits that design is one practice which benefits from reflection. Reflection is essentially making sense of one’s experience, regardless if it is a positive or negative one. 

This article will discuss two types of reflection. The first is reflection-in-action, which as the name suggests, reflections which occur during the activity. To quote Schön:  

“. . .doing and thinking are complementary. Doing extends thinking in the tests, moves, and probes of experimental action, and reflection feeds on doing and its results. Each feeds the other, and each sets boundaries for the other. . .”  

In this mode of reflection, it is the process of thinking while doing. They complement each other, and were found to occur during the conceptual stage of design processes. On the other hand, reflection-on-action occurs after the conduct of an activity. It requires the individual to either evaluate or analyse the experience. The difference between evaluation and analytical reflection is that the former relates to the effects of an outcome with consideration to criteria, while the latter analyses on how things are done. 

Reflection is important because it allows one to develop a conscious dialogue and decision-making process. It engages an individual to be more critical in making decisions, and to be deliberate in them. By doing so, it enables the detection and analysis of failure to be much clearer, which in turn, increases the odds of a systematic and effective response. Reflection bridges the gap between knowledge and practice in a sense that this act of introspective thinking forces one to consider numerous internal and external factors which may perhaps influence the decision. The result of that is that “. . .implicit choices can be made explicit. This can improve the communication between designers and stakeholders and can result in a better integration and co-ordination of different aspects of a design situation.” (Reyman 888). 

There are many triggers for reflection to occur; it could either be a familiar or novel experience, it could be a moment of discovery, or a catastrophic failure. While there is no hard and fast rule to reflection, it is important to know that it differs depending on the situation and also on what you are reflecting for. 


Daudelin, Marilyn Wood. “Learning from experience through reflection.” Organizational dynamics 24.3 (1996): 36-48.
Lousberg, Louis, et al. “Reflection in design education.” International Journal of Technology and Design Education30.5 (2020): 885-897.
Reymen, I. M. M. J., et al. “A domain-independent descriptive design model and its application to structured reflection on design processes.” Research in engineering design 16.4 (2006).
Reymen, I. M. M. J. (2001). Improving design processes through structured reflection : a domain-independent approach. Technische Universiteit Eindhoven. https://doi.org/10.6100/IR538800
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