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PHD-DESIGN  2000

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Subject:

Three kinds of questions on theories of design ...

From:

Ken Friedman <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Ken Friedman <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 16 Nov 2000 18:19:43 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

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The conversation on theories of design is most interesting. I 
appreciated David Sless's post on criteria of a good theory and Klaus 
Krippendorff's clarifications on the varieties of constructionism and 
constructivism.

I'd like to suggest that there are three distinct ranges of issues 
here that deserve attention. I'm going to ask three KINDS of 
questions on the topic of design theories.

(1) Theory

First, there arise questions on the nature and characteristics of theory.

Some of these questions are:

What is a theory?
How is theory constituted?
What is the act of theorizing?
What is the relationship between theory and that which theory addresses?
What kinds of theory are there?
What purposes should theory serve?

(2) Criteria for evaluating theories

Second, there arise questions of criteria.

Some of these questions are:

What makes a good theory?
What qualities distinguish an adequate theory?
What qualities distinguish an inadequate theory?
What is the difference between robust theory and deficient theory?
Should different kinds of theory be judged on different criteria?
Do any criteria hold for all theories regardless of kind and level?

(3) Theories of design

Third, there arise questions of theories of design.

Some of these questions are:

What kinds of theories of design exist now?
What kinds design theories might exist in the future?
What purposes do these theories serve?
Do design theories occur at many levels in the way that other 
theories do? Are there general theories, mid-range theories, and 
operational theories?
Should there be general, mid-range, and operational theories?
How do different levels of theory apply to the different kinds of research?
What theories suite basic, applied, or clinical research?
How are design theories to be constructed?
How are design theories to be understood?
How are design theories to be used?

In following the thread, these questions come to mind, and I feel we 
won't make much progress until we sort them out and consider the 
kinds of answers these kinds of questions might provoke.

I will differ from David in one regard. It seems to me problematic to 
characterize theory as "parasitical" in its relation to practice. 
Quite the contrary, theory summarizes and organizes knowledge, it 
helps us to measure and understand the outcomes of practice.

One of the great industrial practitioners of the past century, W. 
Edwards Deming, was strong in his view on the value and uses of 
theory. He offered convincing arguments for his view on the use of 
general principles - theories -- in predicting and measuring the 
outcome of decisions. These general principles are what Deming (1993: 
94-118) terms profound knowledge, comprised of "four parts, all 
related to each other: appreciation for a system; knowledge about 
variation; theory of knowledge; psychology" (Deming 1993: 96).

To reach from knowing to doing requires practice. To reach from doing 
to knowing, one requires the articulation and critical inquiry that 
allows a practitioner to gain reflective insight. "Experience alone, 
without theory, teaches management nothing about what to do to 
improve quality and competitive position, nor how to do it" writes 
Deming (1986: 19). "If experience alone would be a teacher, then one 
may well ask why are we in this predicament? Experience will answer a 
question, and a question comes from theory." It is not experience, 
but our interpretation and understanding of experience that leads to 
knowledge. Knowledge, therefore, emerges from critical inquiry and 
the knowledge that arises from theorizing allows us to question and 
learn from the world around us.

If theories serve a valid and useful purpose, it is a mistake to view 
them as some form of parasite on practice. The full practice of any 
profession involves both thought and action. The components of 
thought are what distinguish professional practice and professional 
education from unreflective physical action and vocational training.

After some reflection, I hope to return with more thoughts on the 
questions and kinds of questions I ask above.

In the meanwhile, I'll welcome any reflection others may offer on these issues.

-- Ken Friedman


References:

Deming, W. Edwards. 1986. Out of the Crisis. Quality, Productivity 
and Competitive Position. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Deming, W. Edwards. 1993. The New Economics for Industry, Government, 
Education. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of 
Technology, Center for Advanced Engineering Study.


-- 

Ken Friedman, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Leadership and Strategic Design
Department of Knowledge Management
Norwegian School of Management

+47 22.98.50.00 Telephone
+47 22.98.51.11 Telefax

Home office:

+46 (46) 53.245 Telephone
+46 (46) 53.345 Telefax

email: [log in to unmask]


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