It's possible to see this in a different way. Much of the discussion so far
seems to assume that Design activity is a fixed phenomenon.
The reality is more interesting and exciting. Design in the Art and Design
world is changing.
One way of looking at the practice-based PhD is that it is:
1. A product of the factors acting at this moment in the evolution of design
practice (similar to way that sundry factors created temporary enthusiasm
for professional doctorates a decade ago)
2. An ephemeral phenomenon that is naturally evolving into a dead end,
rather than a new development.
3. A temporary consequence of transformation to mass education of the
previously privileged university sector (which requires a reduction in the
Until recently design was an almost completely a tacit skill. It is rapidly
becoming a well explained semi-professional activity whose improvement is
based on science. Many other fields of design have been through this change
from art to science, it is now the turn of the Art and Design schools
At the moment, best practice in design is marked by an evolving mix of
theory skills and tacit art skills in which the importance of theory is
increasing and art skills are reducing. In this process of change, sometimes
industry leads, sometimes universities lead. Whichever happens, older
skills, mostly the art skills, become outdated and redundant. Computer
software such as that of Adobe enables designers to produce output beyond
their artistic skill level by basing output on expert systems and making
these systems easy to use via the Mac interface. The outcome is less need
for art skills.
Sometimes industry pays for the new theory knowledge that is evolving the
field of design (and replacing the need for tacit artistic skills),
sometimes governments pay universities to develop it.
Typically it is universities that teach the theoretical understanding and
industry that offers learning through practical experience.
Taken together, these factors seem to explain most of the issues that emerge
in relation to PhDs in many design fields, and many of the current drives
to include practice in Design PhDs.
"At present, it is virtually impossible for an artist-lecturer to maintain
the highest level of practice and also study for a PhD. So we are heading
a situation where leading practitioners in applied arts are only available
students as occasional guests, wheeled out now and then, while most teaching
is delivered by theorists or lapsed practitoners. It is a particular problem
where the 'expressive' arts coincide with the applied arts such as my own
area of illustration. A colleague who is an internationally recognized
practitioner was recently advised to undertake a PhD in order to safeguard
her position in a fractional post. As things stand, this would be impossible
if she were to maintain her level of practice, which is so important to her