On Design Research

On Design Research

by Sep 28, 2014
by 风景园林新青年 Sep 28, 2014

by Juergen Weidinger

Design is currently under discussion in architecture, landscape architecture and cultural studies circles as an alternative academic method. The “design method” is seen as a possible mediator between divided academic areas. The methodological foundation here is “Entwerfen als Forschung” or “research through design”. Which concepts and theories make up this foundation? Which contemporary challenges are emerging for design research? In the following, I will first discuss the current relevance of the “design method” as the missing link between (academic) cultures of knowledge and the relationship between systematic and normative design research. This will be followed by a description of certain milestones in systematic design theory, which pioneered research through design. On this basis I will describe knowledge within the design disciplines of architecture and landscape architecture as “synthetic knowledge” and will approach the opportunities, problems and tasks of the method of research through design.

1. The current relevance of the “design method” as the missing link between (academic) cultures of knowledge

Science and the humanities, quantity and quality, measurement and elucidation, explanation and understanding, techne and poiesis, quantity and quality, data and gestalt, knowledge and skills: all these describe different cultures of knowledge. Within academic theory the natural sciences, the humanities and the arts have each been assigned different spheres of responsibility. Natural science can explain, the humanities can understand, art can enable experiences and these can be developed much further. These divisions form the foundation for teaching in the architectural and landscape architectural disciplines, and the structural terms of reference for institutional research in these disciplines. In the practice of design the above divisions are seen as irrelevant to the disciplines of fine art, stage design, design, architecture, urban design and landscape architecture. Within the design process and during social discussions about the design of space, academic and formal arguments intertwine and become inseparable. Designers, unable to come to terms with the schizophrenic situation, thus rejected it. This rejection was underpinned by new academic discourse. Academia is these days interested in different forms of knowledge, and is beginning to question this division of knowledge cultures. The humanities disciplines of philosophy, visual studies, art history and epistemology draw attention to the importance of action, of making, of the tools used, and of design within the various fields of knowledge production. Approaches used in cultural studies examine how a result depends on the tool used (1). This research also covers the question of the study of actions, i.e. how design, production, building and knowledge develop through actions. Natural science can also no longer ignore parallels with the design process or the aesthetic aspects of their own methods. Applications are designed in the implementation sciences, such as engineering and medicine, but also in the basic research disciplines, such as genetics. These disciplines have until now been practicing “design on the side” without being aware of it, and without developing appropriate models and methods. In terms of action and design, similarities and commonalities can be seen between the separate academic cultures. In this sense design can be understood as a link or a bridge between divided academic cultures.

Wolfgang Schäffner, who teaches cultural studies at the Humboldt University in Berlin, has developed a new research programme for cultural studies, which he has called the “design turn”. “Here the focus should be shifted away from purely theoretical analysis and the history of ideas, and towards the analysis of actual practices through their implementation and form” (2). Since the English language is dominant in international design research discourse, the term “design” is usually used, instead of the German word “Entwurf”. The English word “design” covers all activities involved in the design process. It is not restricted to only product design and graphic design, as in German. In German, the word “Entwurf” has a more precise meaning. Schäffner sees design as the missing link between the natural sciences, the humanities and technology. The “design method”, or more precisely the method “research through design” is recognized as an epistemological method. Positioning the method of research through design within the academic framework creates a delightful and meaningful basis for the participation of designers in current academic issues. Since until now design had no epistemological function from the perspective of academic theory, academic work in the area of architecture or landscape architecture was forced to assimilate itself into other academic areas, such as engineering science, history, sociology, etc., and to use their content and methods. The results of such research are usually of little relevance to design practice in architecture and landscape architecture, as they address marginal aspects of architecture and landscape architecture due to their chosen approach via other academic disciplines. Thus they do not manage to discuss the design process for the design of concrete space, which is the core of both architecture and landscape architecture. This raises the question as to how research projects based on the pivotal expertise of the method of research through design in architecture and landscape architecture, should be structured, and which criteria should be observed for research through design. Before I address this question I need to make some clarifications, and to describe some essential preparatory work. In the following I will first highlight the relationship between systematic and normative design theory. This will be followed by a description of some of the milestones in systematic design theory leading to the method of research through design. Based on this foundation I will describe knowledge within the design disciplines of architecture and landscape architecture as “synthetic knowledge”, and will then approach the opportunities, risks and tasks of the method of research through design.

2. The design research siblings: normative and systematic design theory

What is understood by design research? The term design research includes designing as a research topic and designing as a research activity. Designing as a research topic is studied in systematic design theory, while designing as a research activity is represented by normative design theory.

Systematic design theory is interested in the fundamental processes of designing. The “design method” is studied as a separate procedure and as an epistemological activity. This general design theory studies individual or normative design theories, which are understood as the value systems and design methods of individual designers upon which his/her work or teaching concept is based. Normative design theory is interested in the creation of new design results, which engage with current discourses, phenomena and general conditions. Here the systematic investigation of the design process is not a priority. Departments of architecture and landscape architecture, and university departments of design, are usually staffed by people with a design background, who have developed a particular approach to design. They are distinguished by their innovation, and by the relevance and originality of their individual design approach. Since general and normative design theory differ in their content and methods, this has resulted in the two varieties of design theory being established at different locations, and occurring within different disciplines. Normative design theories are being developed in the disciplines of architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture. Systematic design theory was originally located within philosophy, e.g. as art theory, or as theories of artifact creation. Following the differentiation of the academic disciplines, studies necessary for the continuation of general design theory took place in the academic fields that deal with perception, cognition, language, or aesthetics. These are the humanities disciplines of art theory, epistemology, media studies and the natural science disciplines of psychology, biology and computer science / artificial intelligence. These days, architects and landscape architects hardly ever represent the field of systematic design. In view of the thesis that design holds a central intermediary position between the cultures of knowledge, it is useful to set up new encounters between normative theory and systematic design theory. In the following some key milestones of systematic design theory will presented, which show approaches towards overcoming the divided (academic) cultures of knowledge.

3. Important milestones in systematic design theory

Unfortunately there has as yet been no comprehensive description of the relationship between academic models and systematic design theory. It is helpful to investigate and identify connections, similarities and analogies between academic models and design research. In the following I will limit myself to certain significant milestones. Here academic models and theories that have a similar influence on systematic design theory are consolidated into thematic areas.

Qualitative order

In 1870 Charles Saunders Pierce, the philosopher and mathematician, and one of the founders of semiotics and a representative of American pragmatism, described the process of perception in his abduction model (3). The large amount of information received by the sense organs is classified qualitatively through the process of abduction. Perceived sensory information is organized through establishment of a thesis. Either the thesis is validated, or a new thesis is set up and the process repeats itself. It is a question of increasing the efficiency of the process of perception, since not every individual piece of perceived information needs to be looked at and sorted. Later, in the 1920’s, representatives of Gestalt psychology including Max Wertheimer and Wolfgang Köhler described this process in a similar way (4). The laws of Gestalt perception show how a figure is formed from perceived sensory data. An analogy in epistemology is given by scientific theorist Carl Popper`s headlight model of the mind (5). It describes an active human mindset in the process of the acquisition of knowledge. By establishing a thesis, a target is formulated, and thus the analytical work is structured and is thereby protected from the infinite variety of potential information, the sorting of which would demand infinitely long cognitive processes. An academic dissertation is called a thesis in English for good reason. Popper distinguishes between his headlight model and the container model. As the name suggests, the container model assumes that it is sufficient during the knowledge process to collect information, in order to arrive at new insights. Examination of the headlight and container models in terms of designing shows that the headlight model represents a good description of designing. The container model as a design method is seen in design novices, who hope through extensive analysis of the situation and the task not to miss any important aspect, until they are forced to recognize that the mountain of information cannot be dealt with without a structuring thesis. In the field of systematic design theory, for example, the design and communication researchers, Horst Rittel (6) or Jane Darke (7), have described procedures using active abductive application of a design proposition. Horst Rittel was able to contribute a critical clue to understanding the design process with his definition of “wicked problems” which contrast with “simple problems”. Wicked problems, such as the task of design, are characterized by a complex interaction of aesthetic, functional, economic, and environmental and other aspects, and thus cannot be fully described. Only through the development and application of a thesis, i.e. by abduction or through the alignment of a headlight upon the problem, is it possible to deal with a complex problem, one that it is otherwise impossible to describe completely. Darke describes how the process of applying a design thesis promotes the understanding of the design problem and hence fine-tunes the thesis itself. Frequent repetition of this method leads firstly to a design result and thus to comprehension of the problem. This produces knowledge about the problem, knowledge of procedures for finding solutions, and knowledge in the form of a design result. This procedure differs considerably from the deductive methods applied in planning studies. As an intermediate result, it should be noted at this point that the methods of the planning disciplines and the methods of design differ significantly. I will consider this difference in more detail below.

Rules and Broken Rules

Paul Feyerabend, the philosopher of science, describes the development of scientific knowledge as a methodological anachronism, i.e. to generate scientific progress it is necessary to infringe accepted rules, in order to bring new ideas or “revolutionary theories” into the world (8). The idea of revolutionary theories was picked up by the philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, and developed further into the concept of the paradigm (9). Regarding designing, it can be established that the anachronistic method and the operation of new paradigms or approaches is a self-evident part of design disciplines. The deliberate transgression of processes and the basic willingness to question both the starting conditions and the brief, are common design strategies used to create new design solutions. The philosopher Günther Abel, teaching at the TU Berlin, describes process of creativity in a similar way (10). He defines knowledge or design results with the term radical creativity, which not only considers changing the composition of known elements, but also creating a fundamentally new form of organization that is characterized by new rules. This explanation is related to evolutionary epistemology, which represents a transfer of the theory of evolution from biology. Here new knowledge is created by chance, i.e. through mutation as an emergent phenomenon (11). In terms of the design process, an analogy can be drawn between evolutionary epistemology and the unpredictability of certain decisions taken during the design process, i.e. the sequence of experiments following different design theses. Just as a melody is developed out of tones, as described by Christian von Ehrenfels in his model of design qualities, similarly new quality is created through design (12). The enumeration of quantitative data achieved by measurement cannot explain an emergent quality. Perception and atmosphere theorists are now developing the concept of gestalt, a concept that is more than 100 years old. The philosopher Gernot Böhme defined atmosphere or ambience (13), with reference to Hermann Schmitt, philosopher of the new phenomenology, as the field between object and subject. The atmosphere does not consist only of a subjective sensation, but is formed from the interaction of the structure of the lived space and the conscious activity of the recipient. This conceptual approach opens the way for systematic design theory, through which spatial design assertions can be established, and which resists scientific criteria such as generalization and transferability.

Terms of Knowledge

The chemist and philosopher Michael Polanyi has recognized and, in his model of “tacit knowledge” (14), investigated another problem of the theory of knowledge. Polanyi introduces the term tacit knowledge, which is implicit or unconscious knowledge. Tacit knowledge describes knowledge that is unconscious and only available during in the process of performance of an action. Unconscious knowledge is often exemplified by the example of cycling. When cycling you do not think about the laws of physics, or the necessary sequence of movements, or the principle of balance, you simply cycle. You run the risk of falling if you start to actively think about the prerequisites and physical laws of cycling. Tacit knowledge is needed in order to live efficiently and so as not to question each daily task, in short, in order to be able to live and to move. Tacit knowledge can be explicated and can be a stimulus for gaining new knowledge. The form and content of tacit knowledge, contained in everyday knowledge and in cultural techniques, are important subjects of research in the humanities. Also in the design disciplines, every-day knowledge and cultural techniques are being analyzed and used for the formulation of new design solutions. For example, the “creating knowledge” project at Leibnitz University in Hannover shows the application of this concept to the planning disciplines of urban and landscape planning (15). A study of the relationship between tacit/implicit and explicit knowledge in the field of architecture and landscape architecture, i.e. in the drafting of precise spatial solutions, has not yet been carried out. At the same time designing can be described as tacit knowledge on a fundamental level. It is not necessary for a designer when designing to know or think about the theory of “wicked problems” or of abduction, or to consciously reflect on the design process in order to achieve good design results. In conversations with known designers I have seen that experienced designers are able to outline their individual concepts of the design process, and these show similarities to scientifically described models of design techniques. This observation is reflected in discussions by Bryan Lawson with successful designers, which are described in his published works (16). This experience illustrates the theory of tacit knowledge and draws attention to the hitherto unexplored field of the tacit knowledge of experienced design practitioners. In design research another approach, which extends the concept of knowledge, is also interesting. The philosopher Jean Francois Lyotard, destroyer of the grand narrative, and the originator of the “postmodern condition”, understands knowledge also as education and culture. He introduces a concept of knowledge, so-called dense and narrative knowledge, which bundles together several areas of competence. Here he combines knowledge, thought and action. Dense knowledge is directed towards “ethical, aesthetic and economic fields” (17). Lyotard sees the “savoir-faire”, the “savoir-vivre”, the “savoir-dire” and the “savoir-entendre” as being contained in this concept of knowledge. This describes an understanding of knowledge with which a designer can easily identify. Wolfgang Welsch with his models of aesthetic thinking (18) and of epistemological aestheticism was the culmination of this approach. He shows how cognitive processes and their results are inescapably aesthetic, i.e. aesthetic aspects are always involved in the form of the perceptual process in the cognitive process and the cognitive result. Media studies interpret these concepts by focusing on the medium used. Tools influence results to a high degree, whether language, hammer, tattooing needle, or presentation software, and they enable solutions that could not be achieved using different media. From the perspective of media studies it is about the design process being a tool for knowledge creation. Recent research in the field of art history and the history of science on the relationship between the mediums of sketching or model-making to the formation of a theory, show that scientific work, also in the natural sciences, does not always conform to an ideal procedure of the formation of a theory through the medium of language, empirical proof and associated visualization through drawings or three-dimensional models. As in the creative design process creative experiments using sketches and models have a considerable influence on the discovery of starting points for setting up a theory in the sciences. The art historian Horst Bredekamp showed, in his studies of Galileo Galilei, the influence of artistic, aesthetic interests and competencies on the creation of a theory in Galileo’s work (19). Science historian Hans-Jörg Rheinberger`s model of epistemic objects argues in a similar way (20). Knowledge is incorporated in both artifacts and design results. So we have both reason and opportunity to understand this knowledge, and to extract it from the artifact by contesting and working on the object. Bredekamp and Rheinberger’s investigations, together with the concept of knowledge developed in the 1990’s by a team of authors around the sociologist and academic researcher Helga Nowotny, can be seen as Mode 2 knowledge (21). Mode 2 knowledge is contrasted with the traditional Mode 1 concept of knowledge. Mode 1 knowledge, the knowledge of the pre-commercialized and pre-globalized world, is characterized as hierarchical, academic and separate from the processes of practical life. Mode 2 knowledge is interested in achieving goals and is aligned with practice, as in Lyotard’s concept of knowledge. Similarly, several approaches to research through design are working on describing the relationship between design, the corresponding design results and the knowledge emerging from the design. Theories of research through design = RTD lead the way into academic theory and methodology. It can be concluded from the theoretical approaches presented here that RTD is concerned with the consequences of an alternative approach within the research context. This research is not only interested in the collection of factual knowledge, i.e. in describing the world as it is. RTD is also interested in instrumental knowledge and projective practice, i.e. in the relationship between describing of the world as it is and the question of how the world should be. Specifically, RTD has a perspective on the investigation of “situations of use and enjoyment” as practical wisdom (22), and the distinctiveness of design, which Nigel Cross calls “designerly ways of knowing” (23). RTD uses the specific tools of practice disciplines, including art, cuisine, fashion, architecture and landscape architecture. The difference to established research can be seen in the fact that it is not concerned with research for design, therefore not with research previous to the actual design process, in order to develop precise designs on this basis. RTD is also not concerned with research about design as a branch of research dealing with the contents of art history. It goes beyond that to the aspiration to be able to create actual new knowledge through design, to create fundamental knowledge alongside practical application knowledge. Rosan Chow examines and compares three important and fundamental RTD models (24). One version is “practice-led research”, which has been formulated and applied by, among others, Chris Rust in England. Chow characterized this version as being research in which practices from the fields of art, design and architecture become components of an academic method of study. Another version outlines research as “project grounded research”, described by the work of Alain Findeli. Findeli analyzed the fact that practitioners’ knowledge, as incorporated in design results, as a rule does not fulfil academic requirements, while academic knowledge is often not relevant for a practitioners’ work. To overcome this unsatisfactory situation a pragmatic approach is used, which concentrates on the design and the application to a project. In the project grounded research model, the academic method is viewed as an equal partner with design. This cooperation produces new solutions as well as reliable knowledge. In the third version of RTD as studied by Chow, a model by Wolfgang Jonas gives designing a prominent place in the process of cognition and in epistemology. Jonas describes the inevitability of design as a condition of human life, just as Welsch described the inevitability of aesthetics. Jonas advocates the idea that the scientific method of cognition is only one partial discipline within a fundamentally based method of gaining knowledge through design. It differentiates between three academic areas. Analytical knowledge obtained through science, projective knowledge obtained through art, and synthetic knowledge obtained through design. Synthetic knowledge is placed above analytical and projective knowledge, since it includes both types of knowledge. According to Jonas the fundamental task of knowledge is the organization of life. Therefore knowledge should not only analyze the world, but should also direct actions. With this Jonas maintains that design should be raised as a new paradigm, as the central constituent for coping with life. Jonas emphasizes the establishment of his scientific theory paradigm in the following assessment. If a design is concerned with devising and creating as yet unknown artifacts, which cannot be predicted in advance, then sufficient knowledge cannot possibly exist before the design process begins. It must therefore be concluded that new knowledge is generated through the creation of a new design result.

Mediality and Presence

Phenomenologically oriented art theory shares common ground with the concepts of RTD, and contributes a crucial idea. Design artefacts, due to their materials and forms, exhibit a quality or a presence that cannot be detected and translated using specific scientific instruments such as measurement, mathematical formalization, language, or sign theory (25). Thinking this through from the design results, it means that all designs and artefacts, such as artwork, designed objects, fashion, film, or landscape architecturally designed space, are characterized by idiosyncrasies, in the sense of a particular medium and materiality, which cannot be translated into different sign systems. Consequently the instrument of language has limitations when used for the theoretical description of design results. Explicit, theoretical knowledge of design results is fundamentally incomplete when it is communicated solely through the medium of language. From this perspective the presence of design results, and with them some personal experience of design practice, are necessary components of the theoretical description. Practice and theory become unified. This requires a different researcher profile and another type of researcher. Sufficient experience in design practice and an overview of current discourse are equal conditions for the “design method”. Donald Schön proposed the concept of the reflective practitioner in his work on learning and the learning process (26). The concept of the reflective practitioner can be consulted as a model for the researcher profile required.

4. Knowledge as synthetic knowledge in the design disciplines of architecture and landscape architecture.

In order to be able to understand more precisely the concept of knowledge and the concept of the “design method” in the spatial design disciplines, it is necessary to emphasize the distinction between them and the surface planning disciplines such as regional planning, urban planning and landscape planning. The planning disciplines also use the term design even though the characteristic processes of design should not occur in the planning method. The task of the planning disciplines is the development of justifiable processes and contents. The planning disciplines are concerned with the use of standards and types, and the allocation of quantifiable properties. This information is conveyed through text, the allocation of areas and number tables. The objectivity of planning is thus achieved through reducing the complexity of the tasks. Through limiting themselves to a sectoral view and restricting themselves to working with quantitative data, “simple problems” are defined and thus derivable solutions can be given. Here the planning method follows the Hempel-Oppenheim model in the philosophy of science, this shows how the prediction of the result is derived based on the “antecedent conditions (initial conditions)” and through use of the “law-like statement (method)”(27). Planning is not interested in the particular case, i.e. in phenotype and quality. The intellectual tradition and methodology of the planning disciplines are significantly different to the intellectual tradition of design, which is characterized by the abductive management of “wicked problems”. The above-mentioned milestones in design theory, such as quality and presence, are irrelevant for the planning disciplines and are therefore meaningless in this context. This means that knowledge in the planning disciplines differs from knowledge in the design disciplines. Below I will describe knowledge in the design disciplines.

Approaches that aim to translate design results into language are always incomplete. Similarly it is impossible to make designs ad hoc from linguistic theoretical texts. Knowledge of architecture and landscape architecture that is exclusively composed in the medium of language is always incomplete. Complete knowledge comes through the synthesis of “knowing about” with “knowing how – the knowledge of action”. In the 1950s the English philosopher Gilbert Ryle introduced the terms knowing that (propositional knowledge) and knowing how for these two types of knowledge (28). I will use Wolfgang Jonas’s term synthetic knowledge to describe the basic condition of the completeness of knowledge in the disciplines of architecture and landscape architecture. Synthetic knowledge exists in architecture and landscape architecture when three components are present: implemented results, elucidation of the essential principles of the design solution and location in the context of other academic discourses. It is not the first time that the academic notion of the synthetic has been used in a science of architecture; the academic concept was outlined earlier by Vitruvius, but was subsequently lost. For Vitruvius the scientia of architecture consist of fabrica, praxis, and ratiocinatio, the explanation and coherent demonstration of praxis. Fabrica and ratiocinatio form a unity. Practice and theory are related and each fulfils requirements, and provides stimulus and critique for the other. Werner Oechslin expands this further: “a theory of practice is based on the fact that without a process of creation and production nothing can be achieved, and this requires thorough consideration… “Nasci ogni Arte della Isperienza” is the decisive insight with which Barbaro develops a route leading from individual experience, via repeated application, to the art which is the product of this experience and is thus ‘established’ from it (in the old sense of human ability and competence leading in a specific direction). So from this a ‘habitus’, a human habit, arises, which has long found a home in the circle of intellectual abilities – and has become ‘theory’ – and now it has its effect on the next experience in line – namely on practice” (29). Synthetic knowledge within architecture and landscape architecture, which consists of implemented design results, the elucidation of the essential principles of the design solution and the location within the context of academic discourse, forms the basis for another alignment of design research using other methods and other formats.

5. The opportunities, risks and tasks facing the “design method” in research through design

The above account detailing recent milestones in systematic design theory shows that the methods of research by design have matured and have become issues of contemporary interest. This development presents a challenge to every university design department. Paradigmatic turns will also always be understood as a claim on the prerogative of interpretation of the world and thus used as a means to claim power and as the basis for new business models. It is imperative that the new methods be examined both critically and carefully. It is important to identify criteria that can continue to describe the quality of good design results in the future, and also to identify criteria that can describe the quality of the results of research through design.


Each paradigm shift involves opportunities and risks. The opportunities of the “design method” are contained in the possible connection of previously separate academic areas, and as a catalyst for communication between different cultures of discourse. Interfaces already exist with fundamental and applied research. In terms of fundamental research the “design method” questions the established philosophy of science and epistemology. These disciplines need to investigate the results and methods of research through design, and to develop criteria for transferability between academically secured knowledge and the synthetic knowledge of the design disciplines. The “design method” offers an alternative procedure for applied research, and creates a variety of contact points that are highly relevant to the practice of architecture and landscape architecture. Furthermore new methodological tools are on offer, such as joint brainstorming workshops and think-tanks with both designers and scientists. Faced with the presentation of a problem from an academic discipline, design representatives can demonstrate new and surprising approaches and solutions, which can then be pursued in the individual academic disciplines. The “design method” is particularly flexible and fast when it comes to outlining innovations. Every design process involves a large number of “unborn” ideas that are no longer present later in the design solution. These are ideas that are not pursued for reasons based on the specific design situation, but which contain a high potential for innovation in the form of abductive hypotheses and daring design theses. Scientific work has to comply with more stringent criteria, and is thus more cautious and therefore slower. Such cooperation between the “design method” and established academic methods holds the promise of some exciting encounters.

The “design method” contains a proposal for an alternative academic method and in the context of synthetic knowledge it forms the foundation for a new orientation of architectural and landscape architectural study, where individual practice plays an essential part. It is time that doctoral studies within the design disciplines set their aim upon the acquisition of synthetic knowledge, as a unity of practice and theory. It is necessary to establish new formats for doctoral studies, which accept the individual practice of researchers as an important element of the work. Synthetic knowledge continues to form the basis for the an attempt to repel those disciplines auxiliary to the design disciplines such as sociology, management, technology, building technology out of architecture and landscape architecture courses, and replace these with design skills and academic expertise through design practice.


The “design method” also poses some risks. These are due to a lack of design skills. In my opinion it takes about ten years to bring sufficiently experienced and good quality design abilities to fruition, 5 years at university and 5 years in practice. In the latest wave of reforms university courses have been increasingly dumbed-down, filled with subsidiary subjects and shortened, with the consequence that students receive less design training. Teachers who are supposed to teach design, but who were trained in other disciplines, do not have sufficient design skills. This runs two risks: The first is that by splitting one person into designer and researcher, design skills are neglected, from which bad design results follow. The second risk is the danger that again by splitting one person into designer and researcher, the criteria for reliable knowledge would be lowered. It is possible to expect too much of the method of research through design, with the production of a high quality design or artistic results as well as academic discoveries. In the design disciplines these aspirations are set very high, and cannot be achieved without appropriate training. A certain level of design experience is necessary in order to carry out research through design in the architecture and landscape architecture disciplines. An approach involving a search for innovation within the design context is a prerequisite for the development of a personal design approach and autonomous design results, but whether this always involves design research is another question. It looks suspicious when young architects and landscape architects entitle their work as research, trying to get ahead of the competition in an oversaturated market with a unique selling point vis-à-vis the established discipline. Design as research is not possible without design repetition, i.e. without sufficient design experience and without the presence of different design results. There is a parallel here with the conception of scientific experiments and the criteria for statistical methods. Without a comparison between results, no significant findings can be formulated. Another misconception lies in the assumption that one or more design outcomes constitute research results. According to the definition of synthetic knowledge, practice requires theoretical reflection of design principles and comparison with theories from other disciplines. Presentation of only single results in text form or a concept sketch is not sufficient in the design disciplines for the purpose of synthetic knowledge. It can thus be concluded that the method of research through design in the design disciplines of architecture and landscape architecture is an exclusive method, since multiple qualifications are a prerequisite for researchers in this field.


An approach to systematic design research and normative design research is required; this could create a wider basis for discussions about the method of research through design. The main priority of design research in relation to the method of research through design is the establishment of criteria to describe the quality of research results and their relationship to knowledge in the established academic disciplines. How is it possible to extract and present the knowledge that is contained in the design results, which are understood to be epistemic things? How should the representation of knowledge be constituted, so that generalisability or at least transferability is ensured? It is just as important to study the design processes involved in the creation of knowledge. The difficulty here is due to the fact that the design process does not produce deductive conclusions, but rather abductive experiments. With abduction it is not possible to infer the initial brief and the method used in a linear or causal way back from the result. Science has always been problem-based, in contrast to this, design is based on the development of solutions. Hence design processes and design results are characterized by a network of relationships involving coherent decisions. These multiple coherencies with respect to the solution are an essential feature of the synthetic knowledge of the design disciplines. It is necessary to determine the state of synthetic knowledge with respect to other academic concepts of knowledge. It is also necessary to work on the rules of translation and transfer between the academic concepts of knowledge. If successful, the “design method” could become an interface between the different academic concepts and a basis for collaboration between different disciplines. Whether successful or not, discussion of the method of research through design offers all those who are interested in creativity, design methodology and the production of exceptional spatial design an opportunity to fine-tune their own methods and to clarify their own position.

Translated into English by Sarah Rivière, January 2011

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