Birger Sevaldson Discussions & Movements in Design Research
Discussions & Movements in Design Research
A systems approach to practice research in design
The main approach of this paper is to look at design research from a systems-oriented perspective. This implies that design research is understood as a dynamic and emergent field of interrelated or contradicting thoughts, concepts and ideas. The first three sections of this paper draw cross-sections into the emerging richness in design research as it matures as a genuine mode of knowledge production. They address some of the positions, concepts, and discussions going on in the field, arguing that practice research in design is the most central. The current state is discussed and the relation between design research and other modes of knowledge production are looked at. A main tendency seems to be that design research is moving towards greater complexity both in issues and approaches and that Research by Design is becoming ever more central. Research by Design emphasizes insider perspectives, a generative approach, operates in rich and multiple layers and relates to real life contexts. The output is new communicable knowledge that is only found within design practice. The next two sections of the paper discuss the various possible relations between design practice and reflection. These span from distant perspectives where design practice is observed by outsider researchers, looking at practice retrospectively or contemporarily as in case studies, to participatory research and insider perspectives where the designer-researcher uses his or her own practice as a means for investigation and a bases and subject for reflection and knowledge production. The last section proposes the critical application of multiple perspectives, methods and media in composite approaches to design research. This analysis does not claim to provide a complete picture, but it suggests a method of looking at the field of design research in both a more holistic and more specific way. This could be helpful to position the individual design researchers approach in the complex landscape of design research. Arguing that ‘traditional sciences’ are very complex and manifold, design research is in itself a very complex, if not one of the most complex field of knowledge production. The paper claims that such a complexity demands an equally rich repertoire of interrelated methods and positions.
Keywords: design research, research by design, practice based research. Introduction
After many years the concepts and methods for design research are still in a state of development. To move forward, I suggest that we need to do two seemingly contradicting things:
1) We need to see the whole in design research. Richard Buchanan (1992) stated early that there is no single definition that adequately covers design. Equally, design research approaches and methods are manifold and complex, a fact that frequently has been overlooked when conceptions of rigour and traditional scientific methods have been discussed and simplistic models have been suggested. A systems perspective on the field of design research provides a holistic and dynamic view that looks at design research as a complex field on the move where new ideas and positions are formed, where there are ideological contradictions and where new patterns of research practice emerge. The systems perspectives that form the backdrop of this analysis stems from the Systems Approach as described by C.West Churchman as a legacy from World War II and Operations Research developing 2010©FORMakademisk
Vol.3 Nr.1 2010, 8-35
Birger Sevaldson Discussions & Movements in Design Research
systems thinking as a means of planning and action (Churchman, 1979). It is also inspired by Soft Systems Methodology as defined by Checkland (2000), Systems Architecting as defined by Maier and Rechtin (2000), people like Donella H. Meadows (2008)...
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