while I enjoy the direction this exposition is taking, I am getting a little concerned that theory has become THEORY. I support the thrust of syncretist research - that is, we should aim to get at least three if not four of the elephant's legs in the drawing and not mistake the trunk for another leg. But, while expanding the possible usefulness of a theory cluster we are not actually elevating any one theory or the process of forming theories into some kind of super theory. Theories are ways of showing was its not obvious (axiomatic) - we may grade them according to their coherence, sufficiency, coverage, neatness etc. but in doing so we are not doing anything more than showing something that was not obvious.
>>> Terence Love <[log in to unmask]> 30/04/10 11:08 AM >>>
When we write theories, we write them in short form without dotting and
All individual theories depend on assumptions relating to other areas of
theory. These include assumptions about how/why we identify and name
entities in out theory; assumptions about the modelling of behaviours of
entities; assumptions about human emotion, cognition, learning,
interaction; assumption about the ways we make those theories; general
theories; epistemological assumptions; ontological assumptions at heart
involving human values; and a raft of other theory dependencies.
To 'make full sense' of any individual theory involves making these explicit
and looking at the way the theory depends on them.
One of the problem areas in theory construction has been at the empirical
end of research where there has been two problem tendencies. The first is to
blur the differences between empirical findings and theories as if this was
unproblematic. There are good political reasons to do this because inferring
a research finding is a theory offers extra status. The second is to presume
that these problem conflated findings/theories are independent of any
epistemological assumptions. Again there are good reasons to do this: it
avoids having to address the problem as to the exact relationship between
research findings and theories (with the risk of finding out that many
claimed theories aren't); it avoids a lot of epistemological justification
work; and it removes the need to do the difficult work of identifying
causal explanations and validating them against theory in other fields.
Historically, activity in some areas of design research have been
particularly enthusiastic about going down this path.
I'm suggesting that to make sense of a theory it has to be linked to other
theories that it depends on assumptions about. In Design Studies in 2000, I
suggested that it is useful to ask about any individual theory's
relationship with other theories in nine specific 'layers' of theory.
This from observation is useful because it identifies holes in the original
theory. It is in that sense that to make sense of a theory depends un
understanding its links with other theories. The same appears to apply to
theories linked to empirical findings - if they are theories and not simply
Warm regards from sunny Perth,
Dr. Terence Love
PO Box 226, Quinns Rocks
Western Australia 6030
[log in to unmask]
Tel/fax: +61 (0)8 9305 7629
From: PhD-Design - This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related
research in Design [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of David
Sent: Thursday, 29 April 2010 9:39 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: A new field of design research
I am sadly now even more confused.
> For any single theory to make sense it has to
> link with theories on all layers.
Why? I don't see the necessity in this statement. This is an assertion not
an argument. One could equally well assert that a theory can only make sense
if it ignores any link with theories on other levels.
What has to be teased out here is what you might mean by 'making sense'. Is
there some type of 'making sense' that is better than some other? If you
believe that is the case then you are arguing for a particular epistemology,
a type of knowledge that is for some reason better than other types of
knowledge. Is that what you want to argue (or just assert)?
Your example of the medicine bottle example-one I know a little about-seems
oddly confusing to me.
> There are many types of theory about how people interpret and act on the
> instructions on a medicine bottle.
Fascinating! What are these types of theory. Can you point me to the
literature? Or are you just saying that there are many possible ways of
explaining how people interpret and act on the instructions on a medicine
bottle? If the latter, then you are not really saying anything very
interesting. The interesting question for me is which of the many possible
explanations is the one or group of explanations that enables me to do
something useful, like design a better label, or help governments regulate
the design of labels and provide industry with guidelines on how to design
You go on to state:
> At the moment, the theories don't fit together well
> with each other, with the empirical evidence and with theories more
> (neuro-cognition, affective-cognition, cultural factors social issues...)
> and they don't define design guidelines.
Now I always thought that theory and 'empirical evidence' go hand in hand.
You cannot have one without the other. Are you suggesting a kind of radical
empiricism in which 'empirical evidence' is theory free?
Also what is the imperative that makes it necessary for theories to fit
together. Is this some form of academic housekeeping in a messy world. (BTW,
we have sign up in our office which says: 'a tidy home is a sign of a wasted
There is not much point in bringing in 'neuro-cognition,
affective-cognition, cultural factors, social issues... etc etc, unless
these things can usefully add to what we want to do, which is help the
public avoid death and harm by misreading medicine labels and misusing
medicine. However, if they can be demonstrated to be useful, bring them in.
As to the question of design guidelines, we seem to have done quite well in
developing those both for regulators and industry. Now there is always room
for doing things better, and taking account of the context in which medicine
labels are used is part of that, as are the findings and ideas from of other
disciplines. But is it really necessary or even productive to cloak any of
this in terms such as 'theory', 'epistemology' or 'neuro-cognition'
These terms seem to me to be the sorts of things you put in fairy tales or
text books to frighten little students. If what you are saying, through all
of this is that we need to be systematic and rigorous in our thinking about
what we do and how it might relate to things that other people do, well of
course we should! And should we look at our own thinking and that of others
and try and see common patterns that we might usefully share, well yes
indeed! And should we question the assumptions that lurk in our thinking,
yes we should!
Now, having cleared the decks, what is this new field of design research?
Professor David Sless BA MSc FRSA
CEO . Communication Research Institute .
. helping people communicate with people .
Mobile: +61 (0)412 356 795
Phone: +61 (0)3 9489 8640
60 Park Street . Fitzroy North . Melbourne . Australia . 3068