Thursday, October 20, 2016

Do design researchers really know the work of Donald Schön?

It is well known that Donald Schön is one of the most influential design scholars in the last few decades. His ideas are often referenced and we can almost always assume that most people engaged in research about design is aware of these ideas. However, there is this suspicion that I have heard from several colleagues over the years that even though Schön is commonly referenced, researchers do not necessarily read his work carefully.

My PhD student Jordan Beck has together with a colleague, Laureline Chiapello, published a great paper in which they have examined how design researchers cite the work of Schön. The results are quite fascinating and actually confirm the suspicion mention above. From other work (Chai and Xiao 2012), we know that Schön is the most cited author in design research (at least in the venues examined). But how is Schön cited and for what purpose?

In the article "Schön’s Legacy: Examining Contemporary Citation Practices in DRS Publications" by Beck and Chiapello, it becomes clear that most citations are fairly superficial and almost none of the researchers engage critically or scholarly with Schön's ideas. After their serious examination (described in the paper) they write:

"We found very few instances of citations that function as critical engagements with Schön’s work or those that function as building upon his work. Moreover, where supporting and credit functions are concerned, we found that scholars tend not to expand on or discuss the concepts or works they cite. For example, “reflective practice” or “reflection-in-action” may appear in a text with no additional explanation or discussion" (Beck and Chiapello, 2016).

They discuss what these findings may mean and comments:

"Does a lack of critical engagement and building citations mean that the scholars publishing at the DRS conference are less interested in argumentation or cumulative knowledge building?" Based on these findings we may ask the question if this is a problem for the field or not? Personally I find it disturbing that the most cited author in the field is 'used' in this way. It suggests that there is an unwillingness to engage with fundamental theoretical assumptions. Even though I am personally someone who deeply appreciate Schön's ideas, these ideas can not be left alone. They have to be challenged and critically engaged with. Who will do that?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Relating Systems Thinking And Design 5

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the "Relating Systems Thinking And Design 5" symposium. This conference is for researchers and practitioners who are devoted to either systems thinking or design thinking or preferably both. This is an interesting and important topic. There is no design today that does not have to struggle with systems. And systems are usually not of interest unless as a way of understanding something for design. The ambition to do good and to change this world into something better among the participants is extraordinary. In some cases overwhelming since it leads to projects that almost crumbles as a consequence of their scope and complexity. But if you have are someone who believe that difficult and complex societal problems have to be approached by systems thinking and design, then this is the place for you!

Anyway, I had the opportunity to give a Keynote presentation on "Interactivity Fields and Systems" based on our forthcoming book "Things That Keep Us Busy--The Elements of Interaction". It seemed as if the topic resonated with the participants. I think a video will be available at some point.

Friday, October 07, 2016


The title of this blogpost is the same as a paper that my PhD student Jordan Beck and I have published. The question in the title is to me a difficult one and a question that is not taken seriously enough by those who produce knowledge about design or those who develop methods and tools for design.

The abstract of the paper is short and says:

"This paper asks, Can there be scientific theories of design that do not scientize design? And it answers in the affirmative. Not only can there be scientific theories of design that do not scientize design but also that a scientific lens can potentially reveal important aspects of the design process. We apply Karl Popper’s criteria for the scientific status of a theory to four seminal theories of the design process: Bounded Rationality, FBS Framework, Figural Complexity, and C-K Theory. We demonstrate that (1) some theories about design can be construed as scientific in Popper’s terms, and that (2) these theories do not “scientize” the design process."

I am aware that this kind of research is to many too abstract and theoretical and not 'useful'. However, I am convinced that if we did engage more with this kind of questions, it would seriously help us to better understand the relation between design and science. This relation is today filled with tension. This tension is emerging everywhere. All around campus. It threatens the traditional understanding of disciplines. It challenges what we consider to be valuable knowledge and what is accepted ways of producing knowledge.

Anyway, this is a tricky area. Any PhD student who studies in a field where science and design live together experience this tension on a daily basis.

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