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24 FEBRUARY 2013

Theory construction problems in design research

"Until recently, the field of design was an adjunct to art and craft. With the transformation of design into an industrial discipline come responsibilities that the field of design studies has only recently begun to address.

This transformation means that design is becoming a generalizable discipline that may as readily be applied to processes, media interfaces or information artefacts as to tools, clothing, furniture or advertisements. To understand design as a discipline that can function within any of these frames means developing a general theory of design. This general theory should support application theories and operational programmes. Moving from a general theory of design to the task of solving problems involves a significantly different mode of conceptualization and explicit knowledge management than adapting the tacit knowledge of individual design experience.

So far, most design theories involve clinical situations or micro–level grounded theories developed through induction. This is necessary, but it is not sufficient for the kinds of progress we need.

In the social sciences, grounded theory has developed into a robust and sophisticated system for generating theory across levels. A 'grounded' theory is an inductive theory emerging or rising from the ground of direct, empirical experience. These theories ultimately lead to larger ranges of understanding, and the literature of grounded theory is rich in discussions of theory construction and theoretical sensitivity (Glaser 1978, 1992; Glaser and Strauss 1967; Strauss 1991; Strauss and Corbin 1990, 1994).

One of the deep problems in design research is the failure to engage in grounded theory, developing theory out of practice. Instead, many designers confuse practice with research. Rather than developing theory from practice through articulation and inductive inquiry, some designers mistakenly argue that practice is research. From this, they claim that practicebased research is itself a form of theory construction."

(Ken Friedman, 2008, pp.153–154)

Ken Friedman (2008). "Research into, by and for design." Journal of Visual Arts Practice Volume 7 Number 2. Intellect Ltd. Article. English Language. doi: 10.1386/jvap.7.2.153/1


2008 • Anselm Strauss • application theories • art and craft • Barney Glaser • Christopher Fraylingclinical researchclinical situationsconceptualisationdesign disciplinedesign fielddesign researchdesign studies • design theories • Donald Schon • empirical experience • empirical-analyticexplicit knowledge • general theory of design • generalisabilitygenerating theorygrounded theoryHerbert Read • individual design experience • inductive enquiryinductive reasoning • inductive theory • Journal of Visual Art Practice • Juliet Corbin • Ken FriedmanMichael Polanyi • micro-level grounded theories • Nigel Cross • pamphlet • Peter Bergerpractice-based research • research by design • research by or through designresearch for design • research into design • research through designsocial sciencestacit knowledge • theoretical sensitivity • theory building • theory construction • Thomas KuhnThomas Luckmann


Simon Perkins
06 NOVEMBER 2012

Design Principles and Practices: a knowledge community

Proposals for In–Person Presentations Due: 6 December 2012

"The International Conference on Design Principles and Practices, its associated design journals, the On Design Book Series and the Design News Blog are sites of discussion which explore the meaning and purpose of design. Participants in these forums also speaking in grounded ways about the task of design and the use of designed artifacts and processes. The Conference, Journal, Book Imprint and News Blog support a cross–disciplinary knowledge community, bringing together researchers, teachers and practitioners to discuss the nature and future of design. The resulting conversations weave between the theoretical and the empirical, research and application, market pragmatics and social idealism.

In professional and disciplinary terms, the conference, journals, book series and online media traverse a broad sweep to construct a transdisciplinary dialogue which encompasses the perspectives and practices of: anthropology, architecture, art, artificial intelligence, business, cognitive science, communication studies, computer science, cultural studies, design studies, education, e–learning, engineering, ergonomics, fashion, graphic design, history, information systems, industrial design, industrial engineering, instructional design, interior design, interaction design, interface design, journalism, landscape architecture, law, linguistics and semiotics, management, media and entertainment, psychology, sociology, software engineering, technical communication, telecommunications, urban planning and visual design–to name some of the design disciplines."

(Common Ground)



2012academic journalanthropologyarchitectureartificial intelligencecognitive scienceCommon Ground (publishing) • communication studies • computer sciencecross-disciplinary knowledge communitycross-disciplinary researchcultural studiesdesign businessdesign disciplinedesign disciplinesdesign educationdesign history • design journals • design managementdesign practitioners • design purpose • design research • design researchers • design studies • design teachers • designed artefacts • e-learningempirical researchengineeringergonomicsfashion designfine artfuture of designgraphic designindustrial designindustrial engineeringinformation systemsinstructional designinteraction designinterface designinterior design • International Conference on Design Principles and Practices • journalismknowledge communitylandscape architecturelawlinguistics • market pragmatics • media and entertainment • professional contextpsychologysemiotics • social idealism • sociologysoftware engineering • technical communication • telecommunications • theoretical research • transdisciplinary dialogue • urban planningvisual design


Simon Perkins
21 JULY 2012

The Parsons' Masters in Design Studies Programme

"Design studies (like design) is a multifarious enterprise. A branch of the humanities, it comprises a wide range of critical perspectives on the meanings and values embodied in objects and places. It examines the forces that design exerts in, and on, the world – forces design sets in motion but does not control. Parsons' Masters in Design Studies program places particular emphasis on four points: the role of the designer and the design studio in redefining the scope of practice in the 21st century; design as an iteration of aesthetic and intellectual histories that continue to inform the present; the social, political and environmental behaviors and consequences of designing objects, places, situations, and systems today; design as the projection of different futures.

Above all, the MA Design Studies program focuses on the development of articulate, critical voices that can speak to these issues. Students will be prepared to write for the academic context, the design community, and the larger public realm. Working in close proximity to MFA studio programs at Parsons, they also have the opportunity to integrate film, video, and other media into their work."

(Susan Yelavich)



21st centuryaestheticsart and design school • branch of humanities • critical perspectivescritical theory • critical voices • critiquecurriculumdesign community • design consequences • design coursedesign futuresdesign responsibilitydesign studiesdesign studiodesigning objectsdifferent futures • environmental behaviours • history of ideas • intellectual histories • MA • MA Design Studies • masters degree • Masters in Design Studies • multifarious enterprise • objects and places • Parsons The New School for Designplacespolitical behaviourrole of the designerscope of practicesocial behavioursocial changestudio programme • Susan Yelavich • visual culture


Simon Perkins
23 NOVEMBER 2011

Practice-led/practice-based research methods

"To date, there is no definitive published single source on research methods for artists and designers. The following methods are drawn from a range of sources, most importantly from validated completed formal research in Art and Design (main sources: ARIAD–; British Library's Index to Theses–, Higher Education institutes' published information), as well as useful examples of research projects in non–formal frameworks (for example, industry, commerce, education, and so on) as reported in various journals and professional publications. An examination of some of these examples would no doubt lead to 'classic' references to various 'design methods' publications by, for example, Archer (1965), Jones (1980), Cross (1984), and so on; and important research by Cornock (1978, 1983, 1984) on Fine Art methodology. During recent years, many more examples of practice–based research have become accessible. Many have already been cited in previous chapters and more are cited in this one.

These methods are particularly useful if your own practice forms part of the research methodology.

Other methods described come from Social Science research, for example (accessed 15 August 2003); Denzin and Lincoln (1994); and some specifically from educational research, for example Cohen and Manion (1994), McKernan (1998). These are particularly relevant for human inquiry related to Art and Design, for example the study of an individual's practice, and user feedback for designed products. In some circumstances, particular areas of design, for example industrial design, a more scientific approach may be appropriate, in which case 'design methods' may be useful. Documented examples of projects using design methods can be found in the journal Design Studies– (accessed 16 June 2003). The range of methods outlined is by no means definitive or completely comprehensive, and they cannot be described here in any great detail. If you think that a particular method described in this book would be useful in your project then you should discuss it with your supervisor. You should always follow up the references and examples given in order to appreciate the context in which the method was used. As you become more familiar with various methods you will realize the kind of tasks involved in applying them. Once you have identified these tasks, build them into your plan of work. Research methods development relies on researchers (including you!) adding further detail and modifying as a method is tried and evaluated."

(Carole Gray and Julian Malins, 2004, pp.104– 120)

[Gray and Malins outline the selection and use of common practice–led/practice–based research methods including: Practice; Photography, Video, 3D Models/maquettes, Reflective journal/Research diary, Audio reflection, 'Sweatbox', Case study, Interview, Questionnaire, Personal constructs.]

1). Carole Gray and Julian Malins (2004). "Visualizing Research ", Ashgate.


3D models (research method) • applied research • ARIAD • art and designartists • audio reflection (research method) • British Library • Carole Gray • case studycreative practicedesign researchdesign research approachesdesign research projectdesign researcherdesign studieseducational researchestablished research methodsfine art • Fine Art methodology • focus groups • formal research • Higher Education institute • human enquiry • industrial designinterview (research method) • Julian Malins • maquette • non-formal frameworks • personal constructs (research method) • photography (research method) • practice (research method) • practice-based researchpractice-led research • professional publications • questionnairereflective journalresearchresearch design • research diary • research methodsresearch papersocial science • sweatbox (research method) • undergraduate researchuser feedbackvideo (research method)visual arts


Simon Perkins
16 JULY 2011

How and When Prototyping Practices Affect Design Performance

"How does the structure of prototyping practice affect learning, motivation, and performance? In this talk, I will describe research on iteration and comparison, two key principles for discovering contextual design variables and their interrelationships. We found that, even under tight time constraints when the common intuition is to stop iterating and start refining, iterative prototyping helps designers learn. Our results also demonstrate that creating and receiving feedback on multiple prototypes in parallel – as opposed to serially – leads to more divergent concepts, more explicit comparison, less investment in a single concept, and better overall design performance. This talk highlights relevant research in cognitive and social psychology and shares the results of our preliminary design studies."

(Steven Dow, 19 November 2009, Google Tech Talk)



applied researchcognitive psychology • common intuition • conceptualisation • contextual design • creative problem • Dan Schwartz • design performance • design studiesdesign thinkingdesignersdivergent conceptseggenquiryexperimentation • functional fixedness • Georgia Institute of Technology • GoogleTechTalk • HCIhuman-centred computinghuman-computer interactionhypothesisindustrial engineeringintuitioniteration • iteration and feedback • iterative designiterative prototyping • Karl Duncker • learning • parallel prototyping • problem solving researchproblem-solvingprototyping • prototyping practices • psychologyreal-world design • refinement • Scott Klemmerserial prototypingsocial psychologyStanford University • Steven Dow • theory building • University of Iowa


Simon Perkins

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