Dear Birger, Tiiu, and list

Tiiu wrote:

When working on a Ph.D., we are interested in... contribut[ing] new
knowledge to disciplines... designing is not "research" in the way that one
does research to earn a Ph.D... research in the disciplines of design... is
grounded in the concept of a Ph.D. where new knowledge is constructed.

I agree with Tiiu's position. It's important to distinguish between design
activity which aims to produce a design, and research activity which aims
to produce knowledge. I think Horváth (2001, p.1) puts it well when he
defines design research as "generating knowledge about design and for
design". I like this definition because in only a few words it clearly
states that the aim of research is to produce knowledge, that this
knowledge concerns understanding design (what is it and how does it work?)
and that this knowledge should be used to improve or support the design
process and design practice.

Emphasising the distinction between design activity and research activity
is separate from the debate as to whether designing should be
scientific (Cross,
1981), a debate which has recurred throughout the history of design
methodology at least since the 1960's and perhaps back to the 1920s (and
I'm sure superior historians such as Eduardo can find many earlier

And I wish to sidestep the debate about which "research method" is best for
"designers". Empiricism or rationalism, deduction or induction... there are
many many more approaches to "generating knowledge about design and for
design" than Popper's method of falsification, or ethnography (a
methodology) or grounded theory (another methodology).

Instead, as I see it, the key point is whether individual doctoral
programmes in design choose to locate themselves in either Isolationist or
Situated relationships with the other disciplines and faculties (Biggs,
2008, p. 6). The Isolationist position claims that design research is
somehow special and should be granted special criteria and regulations. In
contrast, the Situated position maintains that because design research is
positioned in a comparative competitive environment it must place itself in
relation with its peers by finding commonalities with the academic
community as a whole.

My guess is that doctoral programmes in design that take an isolationist
position will probably degenerate over the long term while doctoral
programmes that take a situated position will be progressive (see Lakatos's
Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes in Lakatos 1970). I don't
have a knock down argument for this, it just seems intuitive to me that
taking an isolated approach is kind of like incarcerating yourself -
disciplinary incarceration. That's what you do to people who have been

warm regards,

Biggs, M. A. R., & Buchler, D. (2008). Eight criteria for practice-based
research in the creative and cultural industries. *Art, Design &
Communication in Higher Education, 7*(1), 5-18.

Cross, N., Naughton, J., & Walker, D. (1981). Design method and scientific
method. *Design Studies, 2*(4), 195-201.

Horvath, I. (2001, August 21-23). *A contemporary survey of scientific
research into engineering design.* Paper presented at the International
Conference On Engineering Design ICED 01, Glasgow.

Lakatos, I., & Musgrave, A. (Eds.). (1970). *Criticism and the growth of
knowledge : proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy
of Science, London, 1965 Volume 4*. London: Cambridge University Press.


Luke Feast | Early Career Development Fellow | PhD Candidate | Faculty of
Design, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia |
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