Thanks for your comments. You might be reading more into these lists than my
reasons for making them!
The reason for the list of definitions was simple. I was reviewing around a
thousand design research related documents in the mid-90s and found that the
authors used those terms( the ones I defined) in many different ways with
different meanings- some of which didn't make much sense, some that were
consistent with some terms sometimes and then not others, and often the
terms were used erratically with multiple different meanings in the same
text. It made reviewing impossible - like trying to pin down a
thousand-legged octopus. I needed somewhere to stand. The definitions I
posted were based on thinking through what definitions of those terms needed
to do in terms of separating the different epistemological constructs whilst
aligning with the common meanings of the terms. The only overlap is
'engineering (noun)' and 'engineering-practice' which is a particular subset
of it. I can see that others would likely prefer different definitions.
The advantage of these ones is only that they form a coherent and
epistemologically distinct body of terms that made good sense for analysing
theory and making new theory. A similar process led me to the three
definitions of 'design' that I've been putting forward because they are
'useful' and theoretically sound ('design' (noun) - a specification for
making or doing something; 'designer' - someone who creates 'designs'; and,
'design/ing' (verb) - to create 'designs'). They might not be the meanings
that other researchers would prefer. Their advantage, however, is they
provide a simple, solid and coherent theoretical basis for analysing the
research literature in ways that make sense, and they are an ontologically
and epistemologically simple, coherent and reliable foundation for making
new theory. Both lists of definitions 'ain't fancy', their value is
primarily that they work well, give good answers, and are simple to use.
The nine 'levels' categories were created for a way different purpose than
how I think you are thinking of them. Reading your comments, I think you're
taking them into the area of improving how we design. Great! When I made the
tool, however, it was for a far simpler job. I simply wanted to: a) map the
hundreds of different design 'theories' I found in the design research
literature; b) identify what each theory depended on for its validity and
what depended on them; and c) check how well justified they were. Like in
all disciplines, design theories depend on each other in an hierarchical
way: theories depend for their validity on other theories being valid and,
in turn, they provide the basis for the formation and validity of other
theories. A lone theory doesn't really work - it is effortless to challenge
it and impossible to prove. There is a confusion of strands and clusters
of mutually-supporting theories in design research and two big problems in
reviewing the validity of individual theories: much of the design research
field is a theoretically-careless mess; and it comprises mainly of
speculative unjustified 'theories' and claims in which the dependence on
other theories are typically not well explained nor are theories adequately
justified. Analysing the relationships and validities of theories required
coming up with a set of analytical 'tools' that do the job. The key ones
were easily available 'off the shelf' from the field of 'Theory of
Knowledge'. The problem was the design theory field is in such a mess that
it's not easy to directly use formal analytical tools on it or the
individual theories. The most obvious step was to create an intermediary
tool that provided a way to apply the analytical tools from the field of
Theory of Knowledge to the mess of theory in the design literature. The
'nine 'levels' categories' was this tool. The approach I used was to
identify a comprehensive and epistemologically unique sequence of theory
categories that were 'generic' (in terms of design theories) and had a
hierarchical dependence on each other's validity. This meant that a) all
design theories could be placed 'somewhere' in these nine categories; b) the
theoretical dependencies of each theory can be identified upstream and
downstream; c) any theory can be identified in terms of whether it is part
of a whole theory path from one end to the other of the hierarchy; d) it
allows identification of 'gaps' or failures of justification of individual
theories; and, e) it provides a really effective and obvious tool of
identifying where new design theories are needed, i.e. opportunities for new
funded design research.
These categories might not be the exact ones that other researchers would
have identified. They seem to provide, however, the only (to date) solid and
coherent theoretical basis for fully and coherently analysing the
relationships and validity of individual design theories, and an
ontologically and epistemologically coherent and reliable foundation for
identifying and making new theory. Again the approach ain't fancy, and may
not be the best. The categories just do their job .
In the current discussion, the nine level categories also form a basis for
identifying, classifying and checking the validity and justification of
If you or anyone on the list knows of better tools for the same tasks,
please let me know. I'd love to use them.
Sorry to take so many words. I look forward to your thoughts and comments.
From: PhD-Design - This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related
research in Design [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Charles
Sent: Wednesday, 31 August 2011 5:17 AM
To: Dr Terence Love
Subject: Re: Distinctions between different types of design research
On Aug 29, 2011, at 11:14 AM, Terence Love wrote:
> From: Love, T. (1998). Social, Environmental and Ethical Factors in
> Engineering Design Theory: a Post-positivist Approach. Perth,
> Western Australia: Praxis Education.
> Engineering-as a verb denotes the activity of producing technology,
> or an activity related to the production of technology.
This sounds to me like procedural thinking.
> Engineering research-research into engineering issues that results
> in engineering theory.
This sounds to me like intentional thinking.
> Engineering theory-one of many theories that engineering designers,
> that is, those practising engineering design, use to gain further
> information about the likely behaviour of designed artefacts, for
> example, theories about machine dynamics, behaviour of materials and
This sounds to me like the action plans I associate with formative
> Engineering-practice-the activity of producing technology, including
> its basis in technical knowledge, its organisation and its cultural
Except for the activity of producing technology which I attribute to
procedural thinking above this seems to me a statement of reflective
thought which deals with all issues related to cultural knowledge.
> Engineering science-the scientific study of engineering and the
> scientific practices by which technology is produced. Engineering
> science is used in engineering practice.
This statement is really weird to me. Taken seriously it means how
engineering is evaluated as a discipline.
> Engineering design-the activity of designing technological artefacts.
This rings my bell as the engineering expression of formative
artifacts. (American spelling.)
> Engineering design research-research that investigates the activity
> of designing technological artefacts.
This one really needs better definition. I identify it with the issues
of modeling and analysis that I associate with reflective thought.
So far I love your model as it manifests the one I like. What you say
next blows it out of the water.
> Level - Classification -Description
> 1 Ontology of design The ontological basis for design theory and
> activity of designing. It is at this level that the human values and
> fundamental assumptions of researchers, designers and others
> implicated in designing are included in critiques of theory. I find
> this obscure.
There is no sense of how the views of those implicated in design are
ontologically related to theories.
> 2 Epistemology of design theory The critical study of the nature,
> grounds, limits and criteria for validity of design knowledge.
This sounds OK as critical thought about evaluative thinking and its
consequences for design knowledge but where is the meat?
> 3 General design theories Theories which seek to describe the whole
> activity of designing and its relationship to both the designed
> objects and the environment..
No problem. I live there.
> 4 Theories about the internal processes of designers and
> collaboration Theories about the reasoning and cognising of
> individual designers, of negotiated design in collaborative design
> teams, and of socio-cultural effects on designers' output.
This too I love. It relates directly to my stuff on the Role Oriented
Approach to Problem Solving
> 5 Theories about the structure of design process Theories about the
> underlying structure of design process based on domain, culture,
> artefact type and other similar attributes and circumstances.
I dislike this whole approach. I think it should be focused on aspects
first and cultural understanding of them second.
> 6 Design methods Theories about and proposals for design methods and
Fishing expeditions unless grounded in how the brain works.
> 7 Theories about mechanisms of choice Theories about the ways that
> choices are made between different elements, designed objects,
> processes, systems or other types of possibility.
Mechanisms of choice exist through intentions about what is to be
> 8 Theories about the behaviour of elements Theories about the
> behaviour of elements which may be incorporated into designed
> objects, processes and systems, e.g. 'the camshaft rotates at 600
> 9 Initial conception and labelling of reality This is the level at
> which humans descriptions of objects, processes and systems are
> coined, e.g. 'a vacuum cleaner', 'a car body', 'a groyne', 'a
> database', 'sitting' at a 'desk', 'hearing' 'noise', 'smelling'
> 'fumes' from an 'exhaust' and 'watching' 'sunsets'.
This isn't adequate! What is needed is a semantic process by which
definitional objects are related to the situation they define.
Terry, You are absolutely great because you risk what you believe.
Keep it up -with an open mind.