Dear David, Eduardo, and All,
Thanks for both your posts. I agree with both of you, and for exactly the reasons you state.
Eduardo is describing a degree in advanced professional practice. Degrees in advanced professional practice are valid and useful, and they serve an important role in society. If I need a physician, I want someone with a degree in the practice of medicine rather than a degree in medical research.
David is also right. The PhD is both a research degree and a degree in research training.
Eduardo notes -- quite rightly -- that some PhD awards in design might well be granted for work in other fields. In my view, the nature of interdisciplinarity for a field such as design means that people doing research for a PhD in the field may well earn degrees that could also be labeled as engineering, anthropology, psychology, and so on if the scholar took a different frame. That said, many degrees in engineering, anthropology, or psychology could also be awarded in design -- depending on the frame. A few years ago, I was one of the opponents (examiners) for the doctorate of Bo Christensen in psychology at Aarhus University in Denmark. Bo works on design cognition, and his articles could as easily appear in Design Studies, Design Issues, or the International Journal of Design as in the journals where he has been publishing.
What is common to good PhD degrees in all fields is that they are research degrees that provide research training. The thesis is offered as a journeyman work in research. The criterion of an original contribution
to knowledge must be seen in the context of a demonstration that the candidate is, indeed, an appropriately skilled researcher. The problem in design faculties has been that some faculties hire people with PhDs, expecting them to be able to supervise doctorates, as well as to conduct and direct research when in fact they are actually trained to practice design at an advanced level.
Would I hire someone with an advanced degree in professional practice at my faculty? To teach and conduct courses in advanced professional practice, I would indeed. But I would not hire a doctor in professional practice with the expectation that they would supervise or conduct research. At Swinburne, in fact, we have a rigorous process for ensuring the quality of our research supervisors, whatever degree they hold, and this is one reason for our strong completion rate and the acknowledged research quality of our PhD degree. (We also offer a DDes, and our DDes awards entail a research component that can often be significant.)
David mentioned Chris Rust's work on these issues. One of Chris most useful projects was a review of practice-led doctorates, including an online workshop that captures and summarizes many significant areas of the debate. You will find it archived at:
In my view, there is probably a need for advanced design professionals who can understand and interpret research as a physician must do to practice medicine. That is one key reason for a research training course within a DDes. It would also be the case for a DArch, DA, DFA, and so on.
There is a need for advanced professional practice in all fields. As John Langrish points out, research is itself a practice, and we give the PhD for advanced professional practice of research in those fields where we award the degree. That's probably why you get a PhD when you undertake design research in many places, whether or not design practice is part of your research program.
The problem we often face is that many universities are awarding the PhD to people who should properly earn a DA or a DDes.
As for my now-postponed DA, I would expect to write a thesis. Let me give it some thought!
Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS
Swinburne University of Technology
Telephone +61 3 9214 6755