Design science

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  • Design sciences related to disciplines that build things.
  • “Design is an interdisciplinary and integrative process constituting an intellectual field of thinking and research and a professional field of practice and applied research. Therefore, design research will play one of two roles: (1) the scientific study of the process and the content of design, and (2) the development of methods and tools to enhance the quality of design practice based on the body of knowledge developed by the scientific study” (J. of Design Research Home Page (2006).
  • “The design of new products drives to solve problems which solutions are still partial and which tools and methods of assistance are rudimentary. Design is applied in extremely various fields and implies numerous agents during all the process of elaboration and realisation” Intl. J. of Design Sciences & Technology home page, (retrieved 2006)
  • “Design is the conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaningful order.” (Papanek, 1971)
  • “An essential element in the act of designing is the formulation of a conceptual model for a finished work in advance. The second element is the expectation of the realisation of an artefact that takes place through a creative step. This definition covers the central activities of architecture, engineering, certain sciences, industrial design and applied art and craft. This implies a purposeful seeking after solutions and the existence of limitations.” (Edward Prince Furniture Design, retrieved July 2011)

See also:

Key elements of design-oriented approaches

The Järvinen model

(according to Pertti Järvinen, 2004)

  1. Technological rules
    • tell you how to do things and are dependant on other theories (and beliefs)
    • Bunge (quoted by Järvinen:99): "A technological rule: an instruction is defined as a chunk of general knowledge, linking an intervention or artifact with a desired outcome or performance in a certain field of application".
  2. Types of outcomes (artifacts, interventions):
    • Constructs (or concept) form the " language " of a domain
    • Models are sets of propositions expressing relationships among constructs
    • Methods are a set of steps to perform a task (guidelines, algorithms)
    • Instantiations are realizations of an artifact in its environment
  3. Types of research:
    • Build: Demonstrate feasibility of an artifact or intervention
    • Evaluate: Development of criteria, and assessment of both artifact building and artifact usage

What does this mean ?

  • There are 4*2 ways to lead interesting design research.
  • Usually, it's the not the artifact (i.e. program or course) you build that is interesting, but something behind it (constructs, models, methods, ...) or around it (conditions, perceptions, usage, ...).

The picture below shows some of the relationships between elements of a design process:

Design Research Overview.gif

Venable's model

Figure 3 shows how theory building is a central activity related to problem diagnosis, technology invention or design (to solve problems), and technology evaluation. While problem diagnosis and technology evaluation may be undertaken in the empirical domains of natural and particularly social/behavioural sciences, theory building is the necessary link between them all. (Venable 2006: 16)


R.B. Fullers' Design Science Methodology

Sometimes design science is associated with R. Buckminster Fuller's problem solving approach that aims to improve global life-quality (ecology).

The function of what I call design science is to solve problems by introducing into the environment new artifacts, the availability of which will induce their spontaneous employment by humans and thus, coincidentally, cause humans to abandon their previous problem-producing behaviors and devices. For example, when humans have a vital need to cross the roaring rapids of a river, as a design scientist I would design them a bridge, causing them, I am sure, to abandon spontaneously and forever the risking of their lives by trying to swim to the other shore.

(Buckminster Fuller from Cosmography as cited in BFI Design Science, retrieved 2006)

Design as a cognitive process

Détienne (2003) likens the design process to the cognitive process model of essay writing presented by Flower and Hayes (1980) with cyclical phases of planning, translating, and revising in the effort to solve a problem.

  • planning - retrieving knowledge and possible solutions
  • translating - implementation of solutions for given context and medium (e.g.: programming language)
  • revising - evaluation and modification of implementation (translation), including a possible redefinition of the problem space (planning)

Design Thinking: Towards the Construction of Knowledge

Brad Hokanson (University of Minnesota) according to Kenny identifies features of emerging design thinking in various disciplines. Below of quotes of Kenny's summary:

  1. Design is involved throughout the solution of the problem, not as an afterthought
  2. Design thinking is a leading trend in the business world and in the field of medicine
  3. Cross (1982) describes Design Thinking as a mode of thinking different than either the rational, logical, deductive method of science or the inductive, reflective methods of the humanities.
  4. Design values practicality, ingenuity, empathy, and appropriateness in contrast with the scientific values of objectivity, rationality, and a focus on absolute truth. Contrary to scientific thinking, design thinking could be described as forward looking, (Nelson & Stolterman, 2001)
  5. As a distinct mode of thought, design thinking does have it’s own epistemology, including (Archer, 1979) that design has it’s own distinct “things to know, ways of knowing them, and ways of finding out about them.” Design thinking is future oriented; concerned with “the conception and realization of new things”. At its core is a focus on “planning, inventing, making, and doing.” (Cross, 1982).
  6. Aspects of design thinking include challenging assumptions, being transdisciplinary, visualization, empathic research, use of metaphors, designing one’s own behavior, facing consequences, embracing constraints, and an action oriented agenda
  7. The process of design is iterative and extensive, with a series of gambits, of experiments that develop an expanding body of knowledge. Designers learn through the practice of design. Designers learn about given topics as they design solutions, a deep or “thick” method that is consistent with problem based learning or the case study method. Design is centered on doing; results and knowledge generally evolve from tangible artifacts (Löwgren & Stolterman, 2004) such as drawings, models or prototypes.
  8. At the same time, beyond the simplistic definition of design as “problem solving,” it is, at skilled levels, problem setting. It is “… the process by which we define the decision to be made, the ends to be achieved, the means which may be chosen” (Schön, 1983, p. 40). A central aspect of the design process, and consistent with most design fields, is a questioning of the design challenge itself; examining the assumption of the problem, and stretching the “problem space” (Cross, 1997, Gero, 2002).

Fundamental design principles

According to Vita Hinze-Hoare, the four fundamental design principles for "human centered systems" are:

  1. Learnability/Familiarity
  2. Ergonomics/Human Factors
  3. Consistency/Standards
  4. Feedback/Robustness

Daniel K. Schneider wonders if this HCI perspective could be applied to all designs...

Design methods

Types of design research

Van den Akker (1999:3) presents the following not exhaustive list of "natural kinds" and also points out that "the situation is rather confusing":

  • Design studies; Design experiments; Design research;
  • Development/Developmental research;
  • Formative research; Formative inquiry; Formative experiments; Formative evaluation;
  • Action research;
  • Engineering research.

After a longer discussion of various design and development activities that happen in in development research, van den Akker (1999:6) suggests to categorize development research within two categories:

  1. Formative Research. Research activities performed during the entire development process of a specific intervention, from exploratory studies through (formative and summative) evaluation studies; aimed at optimization of the quality of the intervention as well as testing design principles.
  2. Reconstructive Studies. Research activities conducted sometimes during, but oftentimes after the development process of several interventions; focused on the articulation and specification of design principles.

The author also add a Explorative Design Studies category, but since these studies do not aim to generalize they don't qualify as academic research. “These activities, preceding the actual development work, aim at clarifying the design problem-in-context and at generating tentative design ideas. Such explorations can be very valuable in directing the development work.” (van den Akker, 1999:6)

Recently, in educational technology, design-based research gained popularity. It's particularly suited for small but long term intervention studies (Anderson, T., Shattuck, J. « Design-Based Research: A decade of progress in education research », Educational Researcher, vol. 41, n° 1, p. 16-25)

Various issues

Design science in the digital age

“Being digital has begun to affect the way we represent, present, communicate about, and materialize our designs by integrating media in the conceptualization, realization, communication, and production of designs. [...] Furthermore, digitally mediated design is becoming inter-related with concepts of the virtual. Virtual design environments are becoming increasingly immersive, knowledge rich, and intelligent. [...] Digital design thinking is now emerging as the set of phenomena that characterize the way in which the digital designer is beginning to think, employing digital tools and interacting with representational media. His mediated work-place and his electronic community are becoming his expanded e-identity.” (Oxman, 2006: 225)

See also: social computing and virtual environments. There should be an article on collaborative design environments.

The status of theory

Theories are design artefacts. The outcome of research is often formulated as theory; that is, highly universal representations, pretending to be independent of concrete context, practice or situation. From the point of view of design, theories are design artefacts, taking different roles in design; from worldviews, guiding the designer and helping him assess the situations and keep the goals in mind, to tools mediating the achievement of specific results. In this way, the direct outcomes of research mediate design. (Bertelsen, 2000:23).

Who is a designer ?

According to Berg (2007, retrieved July 2011), we could distinguish between six types of designers:

  • where the designer specialises in a particular material or object: graphic design, book design, furniture design
  • where the material is metaphorical so design is an approach: service design, interaction design, experience design
  • consultancy, where “designerly thinking” is a way of approaching problems in product, marketing, brand, organisational change, etc in a holistic and intuitive but also measured way
  • designers who manage, giving direction and explaining but not working on the material
  • designers who create “design objects,” which are more like art (I believe that this kind of design is the true modern art. Art has always been commercial. Mass manufacture and retail are now just parts of the canvas)
  • designers because of job role distinction, eg sitting in-between architects and engineers, doing technical drawing and making decisions.


Associations and journals

Thesis Examples Using Design Science Methodology

  • Adams, R., Hobbs, V., Mann, G. (2013). The Advanced Data Acquisition Model (ADAM): A process model for digital forensics practice. PDF


  • Gero,J.S., T. Mc Neill (2998). An approach to the analysis of design protocols, Design Studies, 19 (1998), pp. 21–61.
  • Akin, Ö, (1986), Psychology of architectural design, Pion, London (1986)
  • Anderson, T., Shattuck, J. Design-Based Research: A decade of progress in education research, Educational Researcher', vol. 41, n° 1, p. 16-25
  • Archer, B. (1979) Design as a discipline, Design Studies, 1 (1979), pp. 17–20
  • Bertelsen, Olav W. (2000). Design Artefacts, Towards a design-oriented epistemology, Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems 12 (15-27) 15-28. PDF
  • Brooks, Frederick P. (2010). The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Professional. ISBN 0-201-36298-8.
  • C. Eckert, M. Stacey (2000), Sources of inspiration: a language of design, Design Studies, 21 (2000), pp. 523–538
  • Carlsson, Sven A. (2006) Towards an Information Systems Design Research Framework: A Critical Realist Perspective, First International conference on Design Science Research in Information Systems and Technology.
  • Cross, N, H. Christiaans, K. Dorst, Analysing design activity, Wiley, Chichester, UK (1996)
  • Cross, N. (1982) Designerly Ways of thinking. Routledge.
  • Cross, Nigel (2000). Editorial, Design Studies, 21 (2000), pp. 1–3
  • Dorst, K. & J. Dijkhuis (1995), Comparing paradigms for describing design activity, Design Studies, 16 (1995), pp. 261–274
  • Détienne, F. (2003). Memory of past designs: distinctive roles in individual and collective design. [1]
  • Flower, L. S. and Hayes, J. R. (1980) The cognition of discovery: defining a rhetorical problem. College Composition and Communication, Vol. 31. pp. 21-32.
  • Friedman, K. (2003) Theory construction in design research: criteria: approaches, and methods, Design Studies, 24 (2003), pp. 507–522
  • Gero, J. S. (1996). Creativity, emergence and evolution in design: concepts and framework, Knowledge-Based Systems 9(7): 435-448
  • Gero, JS (2002) Computational models of creative designing based on situated cognition, in T Hewett and T Kavanagh (eds), Creativity and Cognition 2002, ACM Press, New York, NY, pp. 3-10. pdf
  • Gero, JS (2011) A situated cognition view of innovation with implications for innovation policy, in K Husbands-Fealing, J Lane, J Marburger, S Shipp and B Valdez (eds), The Science of Science Policy: A Handbook, Stanford University Press, pp. 104-119. pdf
  • Gero, JS and Kannengiesser, U (2011) Design, in Runco MA, and Pritzker SR (eds) Encyclopedia of Creativity, Second Edition, Academic Press, Vol. 1, pp. 369-375. pdf
  • Hinze-Hoare, Vita (2004). Four Principles Fundamental to Design Practice for Human Centred Systems, Abstract/PDF.
  • Järvinen, P. (2012). On Goodness of Models and Instantiations in Design Research: Some Potential Perspectives. ;In Proceedings of SCIS. 2012, 131-144.
  • Järvinen, Pertti (2007). Action research is similar to design science, Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Vol 41(1), Feb, 2007. pp. 37-54
  • Laurel, B. (2003). Design Research: Methods and Perspectives. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
  • Lawson, B. (2005). How designers think: The design process demystified. Boston: Architectural Press.
  • Löwgren, J. & Stolterman, E. (2004). Thoughtful interaction design: A design perspective on information technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Martin, R. (2007). The opposable mind. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
  • Nelson, H., & Stolterman, E. (2003). The design way: Intentional change in an unpredictable world. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
  • Oxman, Rivka (2006). Editorial - Special Issue of Design Studies on Digital Design Design Studies Volume 27, Issue 3 , May 2006, Pages 225-227.
  • Papanek, Victor (1971). Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, New York, Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-394-47036-2.
  • R. Finke, T. Ward, S. Smith (1992). Creative cognition: Theory, research, and applications, MIT Press Cambridge, MA (1992)
  • Reymen M. M. J., D. K. Hammer, P. A. Kroes, J. E. van Aken, C. H. Dorst, M. F. T. Bax and T. Basten (2006), A domain-independent descriptive design model and its application to structured reflection on design processes, Research in Engineering Design, 16 (4), 147-173. Abstract PDF/HTML (Access restricted) (This is also a good overview article)
  • Rowe, P.G. (1987). Design thinking, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass (1987)
  • Schön, D. (1985). The design studio: An exploration of its traditions and potentials. London: RIBA Publications for RIBA Building Industry Trust.
  • Ullmark, Peter, Research And Design Practice – An Exploratory Update Of Donald Schön, Chalmers University Of Technology, Paper presented at Nordic Design Research Conference 2011, Helsinki ( PDF
  • Van Aken, J.E. (2004): Management research based on the paradigm of design sciences: the quest for field-tested and grounded technological rules, Journal of Management Studies, 41(2), 219-246.
  • Van den Akker, J. (1999). Principles and Methods of Development Research. In J. Akker, van den, R. Branch et al. (Eds.) Design Approaches and Tools in Education and Training (pp. 1-14). ico, Kluwer Academic Publishers. PDF
  • Verstijnen, I.M.; C. van Leeuwen, G. Goldschmidt, R. Hamel, J.M. Hennessey (1998) , Sketching and creative discovery, Design Studies, 19 (1998), pp. 519–546
  • Visser, W. (2006), The cognitive artifacts of designing, CRC (2006)
  • Zeisel, J. (1981). Inquiry by design: tools for environment-behavior research. Monterey, California: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.