📓 Demystifying Tacit Knowledge in Graphic Design

Characteristics, Instances, Approaches, and Guidelines


Despite the growing demand for professional graphic design knowledge, the tacit nature of design inhibits knowledge sharing. However, there is a limited understanding on the characteristics and instances of tacit knowledge in graphic design. In this work, we build a comprehensive set of tacit knowledge characteristics through a literature review. Through interviews with 10 professional graphic designers, we collected 123 tacit knowledge instances and labeled their characteristics. By qualitatively coding the instances, we identified the prominent elements, actions, and purposes of tacit knowledge. To identify which instances have been addressed the least, we conducted a systematic literature review of prior system support to graphic design. By understanding the reasons for the lack of support on these instances based on their characteristics, we propose design guidelines for capturing and applying tacit knowledge in design tools. This work takes a step towards understanding tacit knowledge, and how this knowledge can be communicated.

Research overview. The diagram illustrates the overall research process of this work. Each research step is depicted, with specific sections marked corresponding to the description of each stage.

The diagram shows the overall research procedures with arrows. First, (a) is a literature review process for collecting tacit knowledge characteristics. (b) shows that the authors did an interview study with graphic design experts to collect the tacit knowledge instances. In the study, the designers also conducted an annotation task between the instances they mentioned and the characteristics set. (c) is the open coding process to analyze the instance of the collected tacit knowledge. Then, the authors conducted a systematic literature review to investigate what type of instance is still uncovered at (d). Based on these series of research steps, this paper suggests the design guidelines for capturing and applying tacit knowledge at (e).

Method Overview and Research Questions

Our study aims to investigate tacit knowledge in graphic design deeply by identifying the characteristics and instances of tacit knowledge, as well as by reviewing prior approaches for supporting the usage of design knowledge. The ultimate goal is to propose design guidelines for systems that support the capture and application of tacit knowledge. Based on these research goals, we defined three research questions:

The below table shows the terms and their definitions used in this paper.

The definition and examples of each term used in this paper.

Compiling Characteristics of Tacit Knowledge Through a Literature Review

According to Leonard and Sensiper (1998), knowledge exists on a spectrum from tacit and unconscious knowledge to explicit and codified knowledge. The majority of knowledge falls somewhere in this knowledge spectrum. This can be interpreted as having varying degrees of tacitness (Lee et al., 1983; Jeremy, 1996) depending on how difficult it is to share and communicate. Hence, identifying the characteristics of each tacit knowledge has to be the first step to understanding it deeply.

While prior work has described some of the characteristics, to the best of our knowledge, no study has provided a comprehensive list with the described characteristics from prior work. In this background, we first assembled and organized the characteristics defined in prior work through a literature survey.

A table shows the result of the literature review on tacit knowledge. The category characteristics and paper of the tacit knowledge are illustrated. There are four categories, and 14 characteristic codes are shown in the table. In category, possession, expression, acquisition, and manifestation exist.

Interview Study with Professional Graphic Designers

To identify concrete instances of tacit knowledge in the graphic design domain and understand what characteristics these instances possess, we conducted an interview study with 10 graphic design experts. Through the study, we collected 123 instances of tacit knowledge. Then, we analyzed how tacit knowledge is manifested in graphic design by performing a qualitative coding of the collected instances according to the element where the tacit knowledge is revealed, the action taken by the knowledge subject to use the tacit knowledge, and the purpose of using that knowledge.

Table 3 shows the code and category of tacit knowledge in graphic design. Since our qualitative coding was conducted regarding the instance’s element, action, and purpose, three coding schemes are on the left side. Then, the category, code, code count, and category count are shown. There are five categories (inner design element, design work pattern, contents, outer design source, and overall) in element, three categories (cognition, utilization, and manipulation) in action, and seven categories (environment, audience, visual, individual design style, design contents, and empty) in purpose. The highest number of categories is colored green, and the lowest number of categories is colored red.

Systematic Literature Review: Exploring Graphic Design Approaches

To investigate gaps between the investigated instances and the prior approaches that support the graphic design process (e.g., design creation, knowledge sharing, etc.), we conducted a systematic literature review (SLR) on approaches, encompassing systems, techniques, and methodologies related to graphic design. By annotating the elements, actions, and purposes of instances supported explicitly by the approach, we investigate how existing approaches address different types of tacit knowledge in graphic design. This SLR aims to uncover what categories or codes of tacit knowledge instances remain unsupported or under-supported and to analyze the reasons through the characteristics of tacit knowledge.

Table 4 shows the annotation results of our systematic literature review. The qualitative coding results are namely as shown in Table 3 same. The right side columns show the prior approaches that were annotated to this code with the average ratio of approaches in the category level. The highest number of categories is colored green, and the lowest number of categories is colored red.

Design Guidelines for Capturing and Applying Tacit Design Knowledge

we propose two sets of design guidelines: 1. to capture tacit knowledge from experienced designers, and 2. to support those that lack the knowledge in applying it in their own design processes. Specifically, we aim to provide guidelines aligned with contemporary graphic design practices, predominantly conducted on web and app-based design tools or systems.

The guidelines are designed based on the main findings of the study.

  1. Graphic designers primarily use tacit knowledge by doing manipulation- and cognition-related actions on inner design elements with the purposes of creating visually pleasing artifacts and satisfying the potential audience.
  2. Graphic design tacit knowledge is acquired through experience and practice (learning-by-doing) and is influenced by personal traits, intuition, and context. However, it can be adequately reasoned about, communicated, and expressed through non-verbal channels like design actions.
  3. Prior approaches have shown low coverage for the elements (contents/inner-design elements), actions (cognition/manipulation), and purposes (visual/audience) of tacit knowledge because this knowledge is more associated with personal intuition and is more specific to the context.

Design Guidelines for Tacit Knoweldge in Graphic Design


This work investigates the tacit knowledge in graphic design by identifying the instances, characteristics, and prior approaches. Through the interview and annotation study with professional graphic designers, this study proposes specific elements, actions, and purposes of tacit knowledge instances in graphic design with their characteristics. Also, systematic literature review and annotation process reveal the less covered elements, actions, and purposes of tacit knowledge by prior approaches that support the graphic design process. Finally, this study proposes design guidelines to capture and support the application of tacit knowledge, considering the characteristics of the instances in graphic design. Our work contributes to the future where tacit knowledge could be actively shared by demystifying tacit knowledge in graphic design.


      title={Demystifying Tacit Knowledge in Graphic Design: Characteristics, Instances, Approaches, and Guidelines}, 
      author={Kihoon Son and DaEun Choi and Tae Soo Kim and Juho Kim},

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This work was supported by Institute of Information & Communications Technology Planning & Evaluation (IITP) grant funded by the Korea government (MSIT) (No.2021-0-01347, Video Interaction Technologies Using Object-Oriented Video Modeling and No.2019-0-00075, Artificial Intelligence Graduate School Program(KAIST)).