Complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory is acquiring mainstream recognition in sustainable community building. In this paper, we bring the applicability of CAS theory into sharper focus, highlighting its potential for integrating complexity and adaptivity of community into a structured body of knowledge while also providing a thought pattern for generating, implementing and validating new design ideas. Therefore, this paper aims to propose a framework of design thinking that uses a CAS perspective to aid designers in conceiving new community building design ideas efficiently. Next, this paper presents the results of a cognitive design experiment where functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and extended protocol analysis methods were combined to examine the validities of the proposed design thinking framework in community building. The results show that the Agent-Interaction-Adaptation (AIA) design thinking framework has the ability to promote designers’ extension of idea space, brain activation and idea quality in contrast to a traditional design thinking framework, but it did not significantly increase the designers’ idea quantity.
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