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PHD-DESIGN  May 2007

PHD-DESIGN May 2007

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Subject:

Problems in design research

From:

Richard Buchanan <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Richard Buchanan <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 5 May 2007 13:31:22 -0400

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Dear Terry,
 
Your overly long post contains nothing new. It recycles the same old
material, whether itıs a complaint about me or Klaus or the state of the
field or the book by Gray and Malins or a current post or something else. It
has no more traction now than in the past. Klaus has already responded well
enough, and I donıt see anything that needs more of a response.
 
By the way, I wasnıt surprised by your personal attack on me, nor was I
particularly offended. I found it humorous. People sometimes write this way
when they are upset or when they deeply disagree with something and want so
badly to win a point. This is the fallacy of the ad hominem attack‹I know
you place great stock in your ability to detect fallacies. I remember very
well the nasty and vituperative review that you wrote for the DRS Newsletter
last year about the book by Gray and Malins. Whatever the merits of the
book, you could have been more kind to the authors, without indulging in
gratuitous personal attack.  It would have been healthier for the field.
You were over long in that review, too. Your point could have been made more
clearly and effectively if you had written less. By writing so much you
ended up demonstrating the fallacy of fallacies.  It reminded me of rugby.
Were you a rugby player in school?
 
Here is a fine passage from Chris Alexander that speaks to the limitations
of logic‹and also, I think, to the fallacy of fallacies.
 
³But, in speaking of logic, we do not need to be concerned with the
processes of inference at all. While it is true that a great deal of what is
generally understood to be logic is concerned with deduction, logic, in the
widest sense, refers to something far more general. It is concerned with the
form of abstract structures, and is involved the moment we make pictures of
reality and then seek to manipulate these pictures so that we may look
further into the reality itself.² (Notes, 8.)
 
Alexander is a fine dialectician with an instinct for philosophy, and he
understands the difference between the two logics with which we must deal in
our work.
 
Yes, there are problems in the field of design research. But there are many
good people working in the field, and the results are not as trivial as you
often suggest.  Your interest seems to be in finding fallacies. My interest
is in understanding the ³form of the abstract structures² that people are
trying to build in order to look further into the reality of design itself.
This is one reason why I have high regard for Klaus. He understands that the
concepts with which we deal in design research and design theory are highly
ambiguous‹that the words we use are filled with important ambiguities. The
fallacy police canıt remove those ambiguities.  Instead, we have to
understand the perspectives that different meanings represent. We need to
understand the meanings, the methods of exploring those meanings, and the
significance and goals that lie behind those meanings and methods. This
requires imagination and some ingenuity.
 
For example, there has been a lot of discussion about the nature of wicked
problems and the nature of design problems‹even whether ³problem² is a
suitable term for the designer. You may have been annoyed by the discussion
since it was filled with so much ambiguity.  I wasnıt annoyed.  I was
fascinated to see the variety of perspectives among the contributors. Yes, I
know that the matter has been discussed in the past and that eventually,
when someone decides to write a paper on the matter, they will find those
earlier discussions.  But the field builds from such contemporary
discussions.  Grumpy old men complain that it has all been done before, but
they are wrong.  The discussion today is new by the very circumstances of
being in the present.
 
Grumpy old men have a career problem, not a design history-theory problem.
Klaus is not a grumpy old man.  And I hope people donıt think I am a grumpy
old man, either.
 
So, I can understand why you attack me and why you are so sensitive to my
support of Klaus and his criticism of your posts. When you criticize people
the way you did in your review of the Gray and Malins book, you ought to be
able to take criticism, too, and with some grace, since you are older in the
field. Such an atrocious review cannot lead you to expect much sympathy when
your own views are criticized by Klaus.
 
Take it with some humor and move on. Listened better and make fewer
pronouncements. The list would do well and I suspect that more people would
be interested in joining the discussion who are now pushed away. A lot of
people have told me that they feel pushed away from this list.  That is a
shame.  I would like to see wider participation.


Richard

Richard Buchanan
Carnegie Mellon University

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