I enjoyed your post, and the issue is certainly important.
Excerpts from mail: 10-Sep-100 Domain/discipline issues: t.. by "Dr.
> Design research and, to some extent, designing, is widely described as
> 'multi-disciplinary, cross-disciplinary or interdisciplinary (or any
> combination). Philosophically, conceptually and terminologically this leaves
> design research in a relatively undefined state because if it is
> multi/cross/inter disciplinary then by implication it does not exist as an
> integrated discipline itself without some sort of proposal that it is a kind
> of meta-discipline that sits above other disciplines.
But I am puzzled by the difficulty you express in characterizing design
in this context. It seems to me that you may still be working under a
model of "discipline" that derives from the relatively recent past--say,
following the Renaissance. In this model, most disciplines are
characterized by their subject matter. And, indeed, new
"sub-disciplines" represent smaller segments of subject matter.
However, there is another conception of "discipline" that seems much
more relevant to design. I have described this in several other
contexts, but the core idea is that a "discipline" does not have to be
defined or characterized in terms of a subject matter.
I suggest that you try the thought experiment of conceiving of design as
a discipline without an inherent subject matter--as a discipline that
makes its subject matter rather than finds it ready made in the world.
See what consequences come from such an idea, and then see if the issues
you raised take on a quite different cast.
At first, this is difficult--and it may appear to be nonsense for a
while. But there is a logic in this experiment, and the implications
solve many of what I think of as pseudo-problems in our recent
You may also want to search for the few other disciplines of our time
that are also characterized independently of subject matter. We hardly
notice these, I suspect, because our education is so thoroughly based on
subject matter disciplines. But once they are recognized, I think one
discovers a new perspective on our culture.
If one needs a further clue, consider the breakdown that is now taking
place in the former "disciplines" of the humanities--e.g. English
literature. Also in several of the social sciences, and even in a few
of the natural sciences. These examples suggest to me that we are in a
historic moment of change in the meaning of a "discipline," and that
design is one of the important battlegrounds between the old and new
Just a thought.
Professor and Head
School of Design
Carnegie Mellon University