Re-envisioning design foundation exercises: Folding origami tessellations to incorporate the exploration of behavior and interaction

Magnus Feil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Origami, the art of paper folding in Japan, is a transformative process. Tessellations are defined by Merriam- Webster as the "covering of an infinite geometric plane without gaps or overlaps by congruent plane figures of one type or a few types." A strategic array of repeating and/or combining a set of specific folds, known as motifs or molecules, will yield Origami Tessellation patterns. No paper is added or eliminated during the construction process. The purpose of this exercise is to challenge students with the highly engaging task of applying a defined set of rules to a plain square of paper. In order to do so, strategies need to be explored for the best combination the individual folds on an underlying grid system into a system of corresponding molecules. The synchronized folds of such an array will create the desired geometric tessellation patterns. In essence, the process of folding complex origami tessellations bears strong similarities to the complex methods designers are taught to pursue in order to solve multifaceted problems in the field of product design, product interactions, and design for emergent behaviors. While past generations of designers approached challenges predominantly from a singular, product-centric fashion, the increasing complexity of everyday artifacts has changed the paradigm and now calls for a much broader sensitivity of designing. The act of folding is itself strongly guided by both the designer's mind and skillset. The execution of complex tessellation folds teaches designers to concentrate on the given task from beginning to end, as it is essential to stay focused along the way and work with uttermost precision. Synonymous to problem-solving during a design process, the act of folding tessellations leads to the discovery of opportunities which necessitate the development of strategies for merging individual elements/ideas into a bigger, coherent picture. The rules become the grammar; the individual folds become the words, and the interaction between the two forms a dialogue. Folding origami tessellations is (purposeful) poetry. Within a short amount of time, students are able to create visually stunning results and develop an awareness of the parameters involved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-37
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Design Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Design Foundation Education
  • Folding
  • Origami
  • Origami Tessellations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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