8. Kinds of knowledge
Given the implications of this view on the nature
and purposes of design, it is useful
to consider how – and in what ways – design can be the object of philosophical
inquiry. Let us begin by examining the kinds of knowledge to discover what
philosophical inquiry is.
Philosophy derives from the Greek term “philosophia,” love of wisdom. The word
“philos” also embraces such concepts as affect or
desire, and the term philosophia
may refer to a desire for wisdom.
The Greeks distinguished between “sophia,” wisdom, and “techne,” skill. For the
Greeks, “sophia” involved what Socrates referred to in Plato’s Phaedo as “the
explanation of everything, why it comes to be,
why it perishes, why it is.” This form of
knowledge was speculative knowledge, knowledge anchored in theory.
Our word for theory derived from the Greek word “theoria,” a term that means
viewing, speculation, or contemplation. It is
akin to meditation as the product of
mental reflection rather than practical
engagement. It is related to the Greek word
“theorein,” a term that deals with the search for the highest and most eternal
principles. The verb “theorein” means to watch with detachment, as the gods
observed the workings of the world from their Olympian heights. A theorist,
“theoretikos,” was a person who followed the
contemplative life. This person was a
philosopher or a “scholarch,” the term from which
our term scholar is derived. This
was a person who had time and leisure for contemplation, a person generally
unconcerned with the practical matters of earning a living and doing things.
The Greeks distinguished between knowledge,
understanding, and the ability to do
something. Knowledge, wisdom – sophia – involved theory, understanding
something from general principles. While it may
have involved the ability to apply
general principles, knowledge did not mean the ability to do something. That is
usefulness, utility, and that was skill. The Greek term for skill was “techne.”
“Techne,” skill, is related to practical matters.
It is from this that such words as
technology and technician derive. The Greeks did
not hold skill in contempt. Neither
did medieval society. When European societies distinguished between the theory-
driven knowledge of scholars and the skill-driven
knowledge of the guild masters,
often the master had greater respect and higher social status.
The distinction between theory-driven knowledge and skill-driven practice was
simply a distinction between kinds of activity.
Skill-driven practice was rooted and
situated. While it may have been possible to
explain some aspects of skill, skill
essentially involved what we term tacit
knowledge. Drucker (1993: 24) notes that
techne, for the Greeks, “was not knowledge. It was confined to one specific
application and had no general principles. What the shipmaster knew about
navigating from Greece to Sicily could not be
applied to anything else. Furthermore,
the only way to learn a techne was through apprenticeship and experience. A
techne could not be explained in words, whether
spoken or written. It could only be
demonstrated. As late as 1700, or even later, the
English did not speak of ‘crafts.’
They spoke of ‘mysteries’ – and not only because
the possessor of a craft skill was
sworn to secrecy, but also because a craft, by
definition, was inaccessible to anyone
who had not been apprenticed to a master and had
thus been taught by example..” It
is in the world of “techne” that we find the challenge of skill.
The term practice derives from the Greek word
“praktikos,” pertaining to action. That
which is practical is that which relates to
action. The practical was distinct from the
theoretical. The practical pertained to action.
The theoretical pertained to thought.
Related words and concepts included “praxis,”
“poiesis,” and “phronesis.” “Praxis”
referred to doing, performing, and accomplishing,
that is, to practical knowledge and
to applied expertise. “Poiesis,” was the knowledge needed to make something, in
contrast with a praxis, a doing. “Phronesis,”
meant the practical knowledge needed
to address political or ethical issues.
Mautner (1996) defines philosophy in several ways, each reflecting one of the
senses of the word. First comes the sense of
rational inquiry. In earlier times, writes
Mautner (1996: 320), “inquiry guided by canons of
rationality was called philosophy
independent of subject matter. For instance, physics or indeed natural science
generally, was called natural philosophy:
Newton’s major work of 1687 concerns the
‘mathematical principles of natural philosophy.’ Gradually with increasing
specialization, various kinds of inquiry have
received their own names, and are no
longer called philosophy. Mental philosophy, for
instance, has become psychology.
But the most fundamental principles of thought,
action and reality remain among the
subject matters proper to philosophy.”
A program of rational inquiry and generalizable
principles defines philosophy. This
sense is the sense in which the term philosophy entered the world of the
universities. When the English word philosophy was first used in the 1300s, it
referred to “all learning exclusive of technical
precepts and practical arts”(Merriam-
Webster’s 1990: 883). In the universities, this
came to mean the sciences and liberal
arts but not the professions. When the degree
doctor of philosophy emerged, it was
awarded for the study, understanding, and development of theory in sciences and
liberal arts, but not in medicine, law, or
theology. These disciplines had their own
doctoral programs and degrees.
The liberal arts did not include the fine arts or
the applied arts. The fine arts and the
applied arts were taught through the tradition of
studio apprenticeship or guild
apprenticeship. This was the domain of design until recently.
At first glance, one might imagine design an unsuitable forum for philosophical
inquiry. In its older incarnation as craft, this
would certainly be so. Craft is techne.
Philosophy is sophia. Techne is tacit. Sophia is
explicit. The world depends on both,
but the kind of thinking represented by each is foreign to the other. Precisely
because the mysteries of the craft can’t be put
into words, one cannot imagine a
philosophy of craft. If design is craft, there
can, by definition, be no philosophy of
design, and there need not be. This may change in
the future with the development
of craft-based industries. While inspired by and
rooted in craft, these forms of design
develop into knowledge-intensive configurations
of professional practice. The tacit
knowledge of the inarticulate craft tradition needs no philosophy.
As we have seen, however, design has taken a new form in the current era.
If we consider design in its larger frame of
thinking and planning, however, there are
several senses in which philosophy may be applied to design.
With the development of design as a branch of knowledge, the activity of design
must be understood as praxis, a practice. Praxis,
doing, requires virtue. Making,
poiesis requires techne, skill. The praxis of
design is a virtuous praxis, akin in some
ways to the praxis of statecraft.
The philosophy appropriate to design may also be a new kind of philosophy that
blurs prior distinctions. The knowledge economy
is blurring the boundaries between
product and service, material and immaterial, hardware, and software. In this
context, nearly every design practice has immaterial dimensions along with the
material. In a new way, therefore, design links techne with sophia.
Sophia itself is no stranger to the physical world. While Plato considered our
physical world a shadow of the ideal world of Forms, he nevertheless considered
governing the state as a suitable task for
philosophy. In many senses, design as
defined here is an act of conceptualization
linked to the concept of governance or to
the industrial concept of control.
I raise the idea as a useful step toward richer
thinking. What is clear is that design is
a mental process linked to physical outputs in a world where the mental and the
material are increasingly interdependent (Friedman 1998).
9. Philosophy and design
How shall we link philosophy and design? On what
basis can design be the subject
or the object of philosophical thinking?
One aspect of design is the technology of design.
This is a question of engineering,
and a question of design science.
The issue of how design relates to the larger
bodies of knowledge within which it is
placed is a philosophical question. Questions of
how design affects the larger worlds
and how the larger world affects design are, in a
sense, philosophical questions.
Some specific questions on design affect design from the level of meta-inquiry.
Issues involving the philosophy of science in
relation to design and the broader
question of theory are philosophical questions.
Writing in another context, Georg Simmel (1964: 23) summarized the problem we
raise when we consider philosophy and design. “The modern scientific attitude
toward facts,” he wrote, “finally suggests a
third complex of questions… Insofar as
these questions are adjacent to the upper and
lower limits of this fact, they are
[empirical] only in a broad sense of the term;
more properly, they are philosophical.
Their content is constituted by this fact itself.
Similarly, nature and art, out of which
we develop their immediate sciences, also supply
us with the subject matters of their
philosophies, whose interests and methods lie on
a different level. It is the level on
which factual details are investigated concerning
their significance for the totality of
mind, life, and being in general, and concerning
their significance in terms of such a
“Thus, like every other exact science which aims
at the immediate understanding of
the given, [design] science, too, is surrounded
by two philosophical areas. One of
these covers the conditions, fundamental
concepts, and presuppositions of concrete
research, which cannot be taken care of by
research itself since it is based on them.
In the other area, this research is carried toward completions, connections,
questions, and concepts that have no place in experience and in immediately
objective knowledge. The first area is
epistemology, the second, the metaphysics of
a particular discipline.”
The ideas I examine here began in a debate on design theory. Last summer, a
thread on design theory developed in the online forum of the Design Research
Society. In considering the issue of design
theory, it became necessary to address
the broader questions within which design theory
and design research are framed.
One reason the challenge is so appealing is the
general absence of a robust body of
philosophical inquiry for the making disciplines.
I don’t mean personal philosophies,
for we have those in abundance. Rather, I refer to a broad, general, systematic
consideration of how we can theorize and understand design. In a sense, we have
reached the point that information science reached in the 1970s as a robust,
significant discipline that seeks a foundation in robust thinking.
Again, paraphrasing a comment from a parallel
discipline describes our situation:
“Theoretical [design] hardly yet exists. I
discern scattered bits of theory, some neat in
themselves but which resist integration into coherence. So there are no common
assumptions, implicit or explicit, which can be regarded as its theoretical
foundations. Information science operates busily on an ocean of common-sense
practical applications, which increasingly involve the computer ... and on
commonsense views of language, of communication, of knowledge and information”
We also lack a rich body of technical philosophy
applied to design. Here, too, there
is much work to be done. All that exists takes
place in time and space. The physical
world in which we live and the flow of time that
transforms our physical world are the
basis of life experience. They are therefore a
central basis of philosophy. Design
acts in and on the physical world. One realm of
philosophy should therefore address
questions that involve design. While philosophers
address the challenges of time
and space, few philosophers have ventured into the domains for which the making
disciplines are responsible. The lacuna leaves
interesting work for philosophers –
and for design scholars whose interests bring them into the frame of philosophy
proper. Here, however, I use the term philosophy in its larger sense.
I have been focusing on philosophy in the other sense, the sense that Hamilton
defined philosophy: ‘-- the science of things
divine and human, and the causes in
which they are contained; -- the science of
effects by their causes; -- the science of
sufficient reasons; -- the science of things
possible, inasmuch as they are possible; --
the science of things evidently deduced from
first principles; -- the science of truths
sensible and abstract; -- the application of
reason to its legitimate objects; -- the
science of the relations of all knowledge to the
necessary ends of human reason; --
the science of the original form of the ego, or
mental self; -- the science of science...’
(ARTFL Webster’s 1913: 1077)
This inquiry links challenges which are provoking
debate around the world. Design
research and design theory are linked in the
issue of design philosophy. It is worth
noting that Terence Love and Keith Russell both address these issues in their
research, and we have among us skilled specialists in philosophy such as
Wittgenstein expert Michael Biggs. Other scholars are also considering the
questions of how philosophy affects design
research. There will be several papers
from this perspective presented at the La Clusaz
conference, including papers by
Richard Buchanan and Charles Owen.
Here, I raise these issues as a background to the
central point of this paper, the
nature of design research. In specific, I am
concerned with the nature of design
research in a global knowledge economy.
The common challenges that face the making
disciplines form the context of design
and design research. The taxonomy and generic model of design describe their
content. Now, I will address the issue of
continuity, and the specific issue of how
design is to grow in the light of design
research, or, how design research must grow
to serve the changing needs and focus of design.
10. The challenge of continuity
Last summer, the University of Art and Design
hosted a conference titled Useful and
Critical: Research in Design. One of the most memorable moments in the
conference came during a keynote speech by Tore Kristensen (1999: unpaged).
Kristensen raised a question of stunning
importance for design research, the notion
of a progressive research program. This question
is implicit in the work that several
of us have done. It is implicit in Victor
Margolin’s (2000) comments on building a
research community. It is implicit in Klaus
Krippendorff’s discussion of “growing the
field.” David Durling and I have this in mind in terms of the mechanisms we are
building to generate durable conversation in the
wake of the La Clusaz conference.
But no one had yet proposed the explicit concept Kristensen brought forward in
Helsinki, the need to generate a progressive
research program rather than a series
of useful but often scattered and disconnected explorations.
What constitutes a progressive research program? Drawing on Kristensen’s (1999:
unpaged) presentation, I have reorganized his
comments into eight characteristics of
a progressive research program. These are:
1. building a body of generalized knowledge,
2. improving problem solving capacity,
3. generalizing knowledge into new areas,
4. identifying value creation and cost effects,
5. explaining differences in design strategies and their risks or benefits,
6. learning on the individual level,
7. collective learning,
Because this model was first created with regard to design research on business
issues in the industrial context, it is likely
that will be able to develop a richer and
more inclusive model in the future. Even so, this
is an important starting point.
What issues must we consider in creating a
foundation of continuity that will yield
progressive research programs within and across
the fields of design? I feel there
are four areas for development, four areas that
must be linked in a virtuous circle.
These four areas of design research are
1. Philosophy and theory of design
2. Research methods and research practices
3. Design education
4. Design practice.
Each of these fields of concern involves a range of concerns and programmatic
development. These are:
Philosophy and theory of design
--Philosophy of design
----Ontology of design
----Epistemology of design
----Philosophy of design science
Research methods and research practices
--Research issues exploration
--Progressive research programs
--Development from research to practice
--Philosophy of design education
----Education based on research
----Education oriented to practice
--Rethinking undergraduate education
----Undergraduate focus on intellectual skills for knowledge economy
----Undergraduate focus on practice skills for professional training
----Undergraduate focus on foundations for professional development
--Rethinking professional degrees
---- Professional degrees oriented around intellectual skills
---- Professional degrees oriented around practical skills
---- Professional degrees oriented around professional development
----Undergraduate and professional background for research education
----Research master’s degrees
----Partnership with design firms
----Partnership with professional associations
----Partnership with industry
----Partnership with government
--Practice linked to solid foundations in education and research
This seems a particularly vital moment in the
growth of design research. The last few
years have seen a major growth in quality of
research, and a massive shift in support
for design research.
The challenge that the field of design research
must now meet is the challenge of
continuity, with development across the field,
across the boundaries of professional
specialties, across the boundaries of educational departments, across the
boundaries of nation and language.
It seems to me that our field is now at the point where physics stood in 1895.
Because we are a different kind of field, we can’t hope to make the fundamental
progress that physics has made over the past 100 years. Even so, we can hope to
grow if we keep in mind the vital urgency of a progressive research program.
Most of us know the broad outlines of progress in
physics during the past century. A
better comparison might be the programmatic
development of mathematics. In 1900,
David Hilbert gave a famous speech in which he outlined a series of important
challenges for the growth of mathematics. He proposed a program of inquiry and
research that he hoped would place mathematical
knowledge on solid footing for the
centuries to come.
The successes and failures of Hilbert’s program offer us three lessons.
The first lesson is that great aspirations lead
to significant progress, as Hilbert’s
The second lesson is that absolute progress is never possible. Despite all the
progress of mathematics in the decades following Hilbert’s challenge, Goedel’s
theorem destroyed any ultimate hope of placing mathematics on completely solid,
The third lesson lies in another branch of
philosophy, and it is the lesson of human
achievement in the face of our ultimate inability
to achieve absolute knowledge. The
years and decades since Goedel rendered Hilbert’s hopes impossible have seen
some of the best and boldest progress in
mathematics since Euclid the theorist and
Archimedes the designer practiced their art.
During these years, mathematicians have solved fundamental theoretical and
philosophical problems, contributed to rich
developments in physics and the natural
sciences, and they have even shaped applications
that make it possible for all of us
to live a better daily life.
That is what I hope to see coming out of design
research. If design research can
make that kind of progress, it will be a very good century indeed.
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>From David M. Cannon
[log in to unmask]
I have your email, but it will take me a few days to respond. I hope that’s OK.
My dissertation topic *used* to include philosophy and design, but has since
changed. I hope to finish that work as, perhaps,
a book or something in the future,
Also, I thought at one time that I was subscribed
to the PhD-Design list, and that
perhaps it had died or something, as I wasn’t
seeing any messages. Maybe there’s
something wrong with my subscription (or my email address; I had occasional
trouble subscribing to other lists, too). At any
rate, once you get your compilation
together, could you email me a copy directly
also, since I don’t know when I’ll have
time to try to straighten out my list subscription.
Sounds like a very interesting and valuable thing you’re working on, and as I
anticipate writing to you in my next email, one
of the big things to note will be which
works some people would include in this
compilation and which they would not, and
why -- I suspect there will be quite a number
that some people think belong, and
others don’t see a relevance. Perhaps along with
such a list, you should include
some explanation about why that person thinks the item belongs. For instance, I
would absolutely include Wittgenstein’s
“Philosophical Investigations,” but that may
not even occur to some other people...