Hello Derek and all,
IMHO this discussion reveals the problems and issues of design research when this becomes confused with "design thinking".I am wading into this conversation with a suggestion or two.... here goes.
As I myself have been working out these ideas, I suggest that there is confusion about what is designing and what is "doing research" in or about design.It seems to me that there is confusion about- design as research;- how to do "scientific research"; - what constitutes research in design problem-solvng;- how research, and scientific design research specifically, might be useful in the world.
When working on a Ph.D., we are interested in developing research proposals to contribute new knowledge to disciplines. As Joseph Maxwell (1996) suggests, these must be "designed" as well, but not in the way we think of "designed" as designers.
Here are some ideas:- design as a process of "thinking and doing" and the conception, based on design judgement, of "...that-which-is-not-yet-in-existance" ( Nelson & Stolterman, 2012, p. 154);- designing is not "research" in the way that one does research to earn a Ph.D.;- research in "doing design" is a form of information-gathering that includes reflective practices, theorizing the practice and engaging practice into theory, in one form or another ( Vaikla-Poldma, 2003);- research in the disciplines of design, be it industrial design, interior design or other design disciplines, when this occurs to earn a Ph.D., is grounded in the concept of a Ph.D. where new knowledge is constructed. This is done using a rigorous process of creating a research proposal with key questions, issues, a problematic, and so on. As Michael Crotty (1998) suggests in "The Foundations of Social Research":
" ...in developing a research proposal, we need to put considerable effort into answering two questions in particular. First, what methodologies and methods we will be employing in the research we propose to do? Second, how do we justify this choice and use of methodologies and methods? The answer to the second question lies with the purpose of the research - in other words, with the research question that our piece of inquiry is seeking to answer. ...There is more to it than that, however. Justification of our choice and particular use of methodology and methods is something that reaches into the assumptions about reality that we bring to our work. To ask about these assumptions is to ask about our theoretical perspective." (p. 2)
So, what are the theories and epistemologies that underlie our research questions, what do we want to know and how? What are the outcomes of what we propose and how do we go about supporting the outcomes we propose with sound theory and method?This is an overarching basis of research of any type that I feel is necessary, and in the case of the Ph.D., imperative.And so on......
One may argue back, for instance, that " well, I am doing design research so social issues do not apply" and that may be. But I would counter that when we are engaged in trying to understand design of artifacts and environments for people, and when studying this phenomena involves solving real problems for real people in their lived situations, then the research is pragmatic, based in real-world experience, and that the social construction of this phenomena is part of this reality ( Berger & Luckmann, 1966).
In terms of practice and design, any kind of designing that involves questioning the world around you, complexity in human relations, service related issues, etc....demands asking specific questions that allow for the design to happen ethically. For this to happen the research must come first. For example, currently I am working within a "Rehabilitation Living Lab" here in Montreal with a team of 10 researchers from medicine, anthropology and design ( among other disciplines), where collaborators and stakeholders include developers, industry, government, designers, persons with disabilities, shopkeepers, therapists, community agencies and local residents. You can imagine that not only are the structures complex but the research must proceed with a certain level of clarity and to generate enough data so as to be able to then provide outcomes and results for both potential solutions to issues of social inclusion and participation for the medical researchers, and also to be able to inform the design decision-making that will allow the designing of appropriate solutions. ( This is an extremely brief overview of a much more complex project, but hopefully you get the idea).
A little caveat...I trained and became a designer some 31 years ago. I studied and earned a Doctor of Philosophy, Faculty of Education at McGill University here in Montreal about 10 years ago. When I earned my Ph.D. my research interests were specifically about how to bring research together with design practices, to more effectively solve design problems, and how to engage practice with theory as well as theorize practices, both of which I still do.
Hopefully this adds positively to the conversation.
Tiiu PoldmaUniversité de MontréalMontréal, Canada
ReferencesBerger, & Luckmann (1966) The Social Construciton of Reality. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday.Crotty, M (1998). The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and
Perspective in the Research Process.
Thousand Oaks, CA : Sage Publications.Nelson, H. & Stolterman, E. (2012).the design way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World. second editiion. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Vaikla-Poldma, T. (2003). An Investigation of Learning and teaching Processes in an Interior Design Class: An Interpretive and Contextual Inquiry. Unpublished doctoral thesis. Montreal, QC:McGill University, Author.
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