How a concept such as "Cezanne" is transformed into a knitting pattern is the subject of a project just launched by the Open University.
Researchers aim to find out where designers get their inspiration from and how they transform those ideas into practical designs. They hope to develop better computer-aided design tools, suggest more effective design management strategies and improve the teaching of design.
Marian Petre, Helen Sharp and Claudia Eckert of the university's computing department have decided to use the knitwear industry as a vehicle for their work.
As with any other sector of the multibillion pound clothing industry, good design in the knitwear sector means the difference between profit and loss.
The work will kick off with close observation of the everyday work of knitwear designers in a number of firms.
Ms Eckert said: "To the outsider, gathering inspiration for knitwear looks like a messy business, collecting clippings and keeping sketchbooks, scraps and notes."
But, however idiosyncratic it may all seem, her previous research has shown that there are well-structured design processes employed by designers in the industry.
"We hope to find out about how key ideas are selected, combined and transformed into practical designs," she says.
The project team plans to show how an idea, or concept, links all the designs in a collection and how a particular element is selected for a design.
They want to capture how these sources of inspiration are then transformed into designs that fit the physical constraints of knitting and the commercial demands of the market in terms of colour, fashion, style.
Dr Petre says very little is known about the psychology of creative design. "Studying how a concept such as 'Cezanne' gives rise to a knitting pattern can tell us about how designers reason about images and about how they solve design problems."
He also argues that the issues are of relevance to design activities in many other sectors.
In the knitwear industry lead times are extremely short. Typically, a knitwear firm will turn around six sets of designs for the market per year.
By contrast the lead time in the car industry for the design of a new model is about three years, and for the civil aircraft industry the timescale can run to ten years.
The fast turnaround in the knitwear industry allows researchers to gather, over a relatively short period of time, plenty of data from which they can generate meaningful conclusions.