Discursive Designing Theory - Towards a Theory of Designing Design -
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Discursive Designing Theory - Towards a Theory of Designing Design- Juergen Faust Motivated by the immature theoretical framework of design, this thesis employs transdisciplinary discourse to provide a contemporary and forward-looking model of design and design theory, as well as the linkages between the two, along with the necessary methodology. The discourse involves research into the current understanding of design, its principles, its practice and conceptual framework. The methodology developed and employed in this thesis can be outlined in five steps: 0. Design briefing 1. Developing a conceptual model based on the writings of Michel Foucault and Helmut Krippendorff. 2. Presenting the model in a written form. 3. Using accounts of conferences as tools for Designing Design and building monuments. 4. Interrogating the theory through an expert system. 5. Summarising and evaluating the findings.
Design Briefing The present study delves into design, and into the design of theory. In Chapter A.1.6, a summary of Chapter A.0−A.1.5 is given, highlighting the underlying discourse. As shown, the theory behind this work is based on a hypothesis, which cannot be proved experimentally, or deduced from experimental data, at least at the time of its construction. Therefore, it needs to be understood that the case studies (A.3.2−A.3.5) in this thesis are not intended to serve as experiments that were conducted in order to prove the theory; rather, these case studies are design cases—products and artefacts—and should be viewed as discourse frameworks that can be adopted to design design. As described in Chapter 3.1, these are elements of monuments—in reference to Raichman (1988)—that have resulted from the discursive strategies and were designed within a community of designers, allowing the design understanding to be shaped. Methodologically, the theory is created through an indication of differences. These differences were elaborated on in the literature review, and can be explained using either logic-based or hermeneutical metaphors. As the latter approach is more flexible, it might be more applicable to the design environment. The generated knowledge can be located in three areas—design knowledge, epistemology, methodology (the process to get there), and phenomenology (the composition of the artefacts). While the main focus of this thesis has been on theory design, it was also important to delineate how to get there, as well as analyse the questionable differences between theory and practice, since they are ideal types that mark the extreme ends of a continuum (Jonsen and Toulmin 1988, p.36). The work presented in this thesis was conducted in a circular manner, like a design process, in order to encapsulate the instance. Therefore, essential topics reappear, allowing them to be reframed and newly contextualised. Chapter 0.0 to 0.7 reperesent the introductory part of this work. Thus, the content presented could be referred to as ‘the briefing’—as a parallel to a design case—to provide the background. It shows the motivation, a first hypothesis, some methodological considerations, and the research design and decisions. The aim is to provide insight into the phenomenon of interest and discuss some preconceptions. Thus, these introductory chapters provide orientation through locating some statements of the provided (design) discourse.
Developing a conceptual model based on the writings of Michel Foucault and Helmut Krippendorff. As a follow up, Section A consists of several key components, and encompasses the research methodology specificity, its theoretical underpinning, and its connection to design, a reframing and contextualisation. This section also provides the means to overcome the discrepancy between researching and designing. Therefore, in Chapter A1−A1.6, a more substantial discourse of design is provided, along with the theory and the essential knowledge. Here, we can see the method in operation, as a patching of discursive statements—akin to an additive process of designing. Clearly, the attempt made here belongs to the constructivist epistemology, as the idea of design is a mental construct. Nonetheless, the aim is to provide a broad perspective of what can be presently observed in the design field.
The employed methodology strategically aims to overcome the divide between designing and researching—between acting and reflecting—in order to provide a conceptual model. Still, it also makes the designing practice a conscious process, whereby theory is designed through discourse. Such discourse is revealed within the discovery of textual statements based on an extensive literature review, as well as through the discovery of textual statements from organised interactive conferences. The theory developed here is, in fact, a theory derived from theory, and is shaped through finding patterns and the simplification of the overall structure they form. In A.2, the concept of discourse and its designing quality is revealed. It shows how discourse, as the guiding method, is ‘excavated’ from the writings of Michel Foucault and Helmut Krippendorff. Methodologically, Michel Foucault’s ‘Archeology of Knowledge’ was analysed against and parallel to Helmut Krippendorff’s ‘Semantic Turn’, as these sources are complementary to each other. The goal of this process is a comparison of statements, yielding reasoning towards discourse and design discourse. In sum, this analysis helped reveal that it is a matter of design how the discourse is provided. The outcome of the aforementioned comparison is very interesting and satisfying. The findings revealed a difference in discourse, because engineering and design discourses are informed by rhetoric of design, rhetoric of deliberation, in opposite to humanistic discourse, which consumes textual objects (Perelman 1999). The discursive designing process within these chapters reveals some important elements, such as the conceptual frame of politics, referred to in Foucault’s discourse explorations. According to the author, power is a generating force in shaping discourse (Faucault 1980, p.119). In contrast, Krippendorff (1995b) sees power as emanating from language, which can be overcome through avoiding the construction of certain language.
In the research presented, the designing practice that took place during the conferences, as well as the aforementioned notions, play a role, as was shown in Chapter 3. Power, as it was experienced, is unavoidable. Yet, rather than seeing it as a problem, it should be viewed as a generating force. A second more substantial question arises around the notion of discontinuity (A.2.3), which is essential in Foucault’s concept. According to Krippendorff, knowledge is not partitioned; it rather provides continuity through the various disciplines. As this research shows, this view should not be seen as an opposite to Foucault’s concept of discontinuity, because statements can refer to the same object, but coming from a discontinuous field, from various disciplines. In other words, as design discourse can be viewed as a discourse hosted by various disciplines, it is discontinuous! With respect to Foucault’s concern of grasping of statements, the main goal of this thesis is to provide support for this perspective. As the author noted, the grasping of the statements needs to follow the exact specificity of their occurrence (Foucault 1972). The prudence and success of dissociating statements from their original context to place them in a new context is questionable, since no discontinuity can be ignored (Foucault 1972). Often, rather than paraphrasing the text so that it reflects one’s own understanding of it, the result is a mere citation of the original texts and con-texts. The awareness of discontinuity does not allow for this thesis to be presented according to the positivistic paradigm. Thus, rather than stitching the chapters together, as if they would naturally support each other, there might be some discontinuity ‘logic’. Presenting the model in a written form. In Chapter A.2.5 to A.2.7, further perspectives on the various elements of this thesis are revealed, in reference to the discussions presented in the preceding chapters. Scientific discourse, in Krippendorff’s (2006) view, is misleading, since the design activities are different from those involved in science, which focus on search for patterns, and are thus always driven by the past. However, designers are not motivated by the quest for knowledge (patterns), by the challenges, or conflicts that need to be resolved. Rather, they are motivated by opportunities for creating something better (patterns), or by the potential for introducing variations. In sum, designers generate various versions of the future, as they are always interested in the possibilities (variables) and realistic paths (Krippendorff 2006, p.28). Discursive designing of design theory is seen in this way. It is an overcoming of the divide between the past and the process of generating the future, since statements are driven by the past. The monument that emerges as a result, as well as the resulting theory, is thus the future generated by patterning past statements into something new—something we can call future. Generating future in discourse is common for designers, as shown in A.2.6. Designers live in discourse, as sketching is a kind of dialogue (Cross 2007). If not working on design theories, designers produce discourse in conveyance matter, but do not necessary generate knowledge. Drawings and texts serve as evidence of a discourse held, rather than being the discourse itself. Design discourse can be conveyed in various textual forms. Designers turn documents into monuments (Rajchman 1988) when creating objects based on documents. Such dialogues, such discourse, and specifically the design discourse, follow ‘rules’. These ‘rules’ lie in connections with textual matter, with constructed artefacts, with the community of its practitioners, its recurrent practices, and boundaries that justify its identities to outsiders (Krippendorff 2006). In Chapter A2.7, the difference among discourse, discourse analysis and discourse practice is clarified. Discourse practice is not limited by language, as it relies on textual matter. On the other hand, discursive analysis involves search for discourses, discourse formations and rules. It has transformed into the analysis of media texts and talks, the relation between discourse and pictures, photographs or film and many other fields, including therapeutic discourse (van Dijk 1989). While the aforementioned process yields valid results, research that produces explicit knowledge is more desirable. Communication through images is often not accessible for individuals outside the design community (Robbins 1997). Still, practice-based research is what designers do (Dorst 2008a). The differentiation between reflective practice and research should remain (Hart 2006), since the latter is the methodical search for knowledge, while the same is not always true for the former (Friedman 2003). Even though design knowledge arises from practice, not all (design) practice is systematic and methodological. Accounts of conferences as tools for Designing Design and building monuments. Several examples of a systematic design practice and methodology are provided in Chapter 3. While an overview of the setting and method is provided in Chapter 3.1, the conferences included in this study, and the discourse summaries they generated, are presented in Chapter 3.2−3.4. The process of designing these events and evaluating their respective outcomes was very informative for the search for theory. Moreover, the theory itself has led to the discourse of the presented designing design theory. On the other hand, not all conferences were relevant for this study, as not all design practice has been successful in providing knowledge. In three of the conferences held during the period of this study, the design practice was only partially successful. In one instance, the possible knowledge yielded was not sufficiently clear, since it was not documented in usable form. The conference reflection yielded results similar to those arising from the discursive practice that took place when excavating texts. Discourse based on the previously generated textual matter shows clearer evidence of knowledge and influence of the understanding of design. This is to be expected, since the shaping and reshaping, the summarising and condensing has taken place over time. Conference results and discourses are highly depended on the already available documentation. In this work, all other rules of discourse have been observed as well. Thus, it is evident that discourse design can be influenced through the speaker selection, their backgrounds and topics of presentations, as well as the time allocated to each. In this selection, the politics involved is always latent. In Chapter A.3.5, the discourse of the conferences as discursive as cases is validated. The outcome is very interesting, as it reveals statements that have and might influence not only the concept of design, but also its understanding. For instance, design thinking is the foundation of the discursive practice design. Such a design practice is marked by the shift towards a rhetoric and dialectic. Designers can solve design problems, such as creating a design theory, only through conversations. Designing design aimed at conceptualising the future of design is designing based on rhetoric and dialectic, because the base is text and conversation with the actors in the network—the community of individuals who come together in order to solve some design problems. It is important to note that, designing in a conference setting, as presented in the three cases, is participatory. In such instances, design is a social process, as the design activity extends beyond one designer. When engaged in a participatory design workshop, the attendees are an integral part of the social process of design. Moreover, they play an active role in the issue/problem raising, discussion and decision-making processes that are part of the early design stages of a project. When such an approach is adopted, the boundary between designers and users becomes blurred (Luck 2003, p.523). Reflecting on what was previous stated in Chapter 3.7, various social practices are recognized, namely (1) the way we are doing a job—i.e., using language; (2) discourse serves as representation and re-contextualisation of other practices to incorporate them into their own; and (3) discourse helps in the constitution of identities (Fairclough 2000). When discussing these events, it is possible to apply discourse analysis, adopting discursive methods to design theory. However, discourse should not be seen as the hammer that treats everything as a nail, since ‘…there exists no strictly Foucauldian method of analyzing discourse’ (Hook 2001, p.521). In other words, when the aim of an event is generating a discursive designing process, it should not be governed by strict rules. For instance, we can see the entire process of discursive designing from an action theory perspective, as was shown in Chapter 3.8. All criteria can be applied, since action research is a group activity with an explicit critical value basis and is founded on a partnership between action researchers and participants, all of whom are involved in the change process. The participatory process is educative and empowering, involving a dynamic approach in which problem identification, planning, action and evaluation are interlinked. When such approach is adopted, knowledge may be advanced through reflection and research, and qualitative and quantitative research methods may be employed to collect the data. Different types of knowledge, including practical and prepositional, may be produced by action research. Theory may be generated and refined, and its general application explored through the cycles of the action research processes. Yet, it also highlights presence of differences, since not all participants have been invited to consciously design theory in an action research process. The action research frame also demonstrates the value of the process applied, allowing and framework of the designing design theory to be better understood. The discursive design theory process—designing design—can also be framed as grounded theory (Chapter A.3.9). In social research, generating theory goes hand in hand with verifying it (Glaser and Strauss 1967, p.2). It is a systematic inquiry to construct theory (Bryant 2010). This is succinctly explained by Hannafin (1997), who noted: ‘theory-based approaches provide designers with powerful heuristics that guide design processes and procedures rather than provide explicit prescriptions’ (p.102). Developing a theory that can be applied to elucidate the shaping of the understanding of the notion of design and applying this theory in order to reshape the understanding of design is a grounded theory process, whereby theory merges into practice. ‘It assists designers in synthesizing across, as well as recognizing important distinctions among, various theoretical perspectives’ (Ibid, p.102). As Hannafin (1997) ponted out: Finally, grounded designs and their frameworks are validated iteratively through successive implementation. Methods are proven effective in ways that support the theoretical framework upon which they are based, and the framework itself is refined as implementation clarifies or extends the approach. The design processes and methods continuously inform, test, validate, or contradict the theoretical framework and assumptions upon which they were based, and vice-versa. (p.103)
Therefore, it can be said that discursive design theory in action—Designing Design—is a grounded design process. While all the conditions are met, Hannafin (1997) cautioned that we need to be aware that ‘Clearly, not all design practice is grounded’ (p.103). We should also be mindful that the discursive designing practice was not intended to be grounded. Within the circular process of designing the research, discussed in Chapter A.4 to A.9, further defining and contextualising the process of designing design helps with generating and exploring the discourse and stating the theory. In A.4, a history of designing design is presented, highlighting some rudimentary statements of relevance for this study (Jonas 1996) which puts it into the context of Universality. In the view of Giaccardi (2005), designing design as a meta design concept, as it is a design by anticipation. Glanville (1999) described a process of simplification and pattern finding to develop our understandings. Glanville argued that design is a process of continuous modification and unification—the inclusion of an increasing number of elements into a coherent whole. It may also involve an occasional re-start, extension, and revolution, as well as the increase in range and of simplification. When designing design, theory designing can be accomplished in different ways, as was shown in Chapter A.5. While it can be achieved through externalisation within a group process, it can also be an individual process (conferences and text-based individual patterning). However, while the designing of theory has to be based on some clear conditions, it can also be seen as a basic human activity (Chapter A.6.) Everybody designs; design is not a monopoly of designers (Rittel 1988). Each iterative process that changes existing situations can be referred to as design. Based on this premise, design is not an exclusive profession, since many professions include processes based on iterations and changes of existing situations. Still, there is a difference between professional designers and non-designers because a ‘reflective practice approach to design engages in knowing-in-action that serves as a substantial base of design skills’ (Wakkary 2005, p.1). This definition leaves only the explicit knowledge in the realm of the design profession and indicates the need for a design theory designer, a design theory specialist. As shown in Chapter A.7, Designing Design is driven by design thinking which should be viewed as an instance in a discursive practice reaching the goal. It is thus a technique, developed based on the understanding of what is needed for the production, as well as the consequences of such a theory and model. Design thinking is about the dependencies and the acceptance of such a theory within the community of professionals, within the design theory community. Designing of design (theory) is also designing a system, since all systems comprise several components, which are interdependent and interact with each other to form an integrated whole within a specific context. This is exemplified in the design theory developed in this thesis. The interdependent group of statements is thus organised to form the systemic whole. As the observer is the one that decides what belongs to the system, not only the system space, but also the designing design theory space and its boundaries, changes with the research process and statements produced within the discursive system. This is presented in Chapter A.6−A.9, which also define the system boundary, while also ensuring viability of this approach by limiting input to the discourse system. In Chapter A.9 and A 9.1, the discursive theory design is put into an epistemological context. In this process, it is assumed that designing design does not solve finite problems, as it creates new problems—more problems appear concurrent with the theory. An object of design, and thus the process of designing design, cannot be observed; still, what will be said and written about design theory is observable. According to Simon (1969), this is the foundation of the science of the artificial. Epistemological facts that constitute knowledge are discontinuous—a characteristic common to every discursive statement. There is no knowledge without a particular discursive practice. Knowledge is the space in which designers—if translated into the current frame—or scientists speak about the objects or processes of design that are relevant to the discourse. Design knowledge is the knowledge explicated and shared by the design community. Despite being relative, such knowledge is conveyed through the statements created in discourse . Moreover, the knowledge statements are inherent in and true within their contexts. Design knowledge can, therefore, be different. It thus follows from this premise that ‘designerly knowledge’ can be specific to the field of design and may not be perceived as scientific knowledge. Interrogating the theory through an expert system. Since the theory developed is known, the statements generated are sufficient for communication. Thus, in Part C of this thesis, the theory developed is tested through the semi-structured interviews with professionals. The information gathered is analysed in order to establish whether the designing design theory through discursive action is valuable. All discourse documents utilised in this work were sourced in written form (extant literature and documents from the conferences). Yet, as they all belong to the world of theory, to scrutinise their thought content, verification was necessary. For this reason, seven interviews have been conducted with professionals, designers, scientists, managers and researchers. Still, the ‘expert system’ applied also required the expansion of the idea of an expert system (Feigenbaum 1993). Expert systems are designed to solve complex problems by reasoning about knowledge, as an expert does. In this context, the usage of the term could be seen as misleading, since one is not dealing with a system comparable to a computer system. Here, a group of experts (and their superior knowledge) help in answering questions pertaining to a social system, which is far less predictable. The research methodology adopted here is qualitative, and is thus subject to some limitations. While interviewing is a standard data collection method employed in qualitative studies, other methods could have generated useful results. The interviews conducted as a part of this study can be called ‘general interviews’ (McNamara 2009). As they are semi-structured, they facilitated emergence of commonalities and forms that provided more focus than a purely conversational approach would yield (Ibid). The questions that the interviewees had to answer have been designed and tested prior to the data collection process. Once completed, all interviews were transcribed, allowing the analysis that yielded common topics and codes. The statements that helped reveal these codes have been summarised in tables for subsequent analysis. Among the views the interviewees shared on the topic of designing theory, the following examples are particularly noteworthy. Design is not a discipline available only to designers. A difference between science and design remains—as the aim of the former is to arrive at the answers through investigation, while the latter focuses on production. Moreover, while scientific facts are immutable, design is a changing entity. It is fluid, since it is constructed over time, while science fixes terminologies. Strong individuals, through their language, shape the change in design, without being able to control the change. Instead, the community controls and shapes these changes. Another distinction between design and science is that the former creates objects, while the latter generates knowledge and artefacts that help understand phenomena. Therefore, Designing Design is a useful concept—as confirmed by the majority of the interviewed experts—because it is a model that captures changes. It is a process of designing change according to the circumstances in which it is being practiced. Moreover, designing will transform the theory into something tangible that can be tested today. On the other hand, thus far, discourse has failed to articulate what design is actually contributing. Therefore, not all discourse is as successful as design is. Design is very similar to management because, ultimately, it is not about understanding or explaining an outer truth to somebody; rather, it is like drawing a decision (as noted by one of the interviewees). We live with other people and, within this interaction, we construct the world around us. In response to this social aspect of our existence, design has shifted towards humanities, redesigning discourse and establishing meanings of artefacts as a second-order understanding. Designing Design, as proposed, is not claiming universality. It is a designing act, extending the field of design into a profession with the aim of taking responsibility for the meaning of design. As one interviewee stated: 'Designing is the doing of science,' or as indicated from interviewee No 2: 'Scientific research is a sub category of design research.' Nonetheless, this interviewee also pointed towards some limits of designing design, stating that, if we were to see design as capable of changing reality, this would be too big a loop. Some interviewees also indicated that designing must be conscious in order to confirm the hypothesis of designing design. They also posited that the most important opposition to the theory is the recognition of how to avoid the loss of meaning if design is defined in too broad terms as designing design through discursive action is.
Summarising and evaluating the findings. Chapter D.0 summarized the main research findings and provided the conclusion in relation to the research questions guiding this study. It reiterated that the theory developed is a metaphor since it cannot be deduced. Theory is based on patterns that produce objects and allow discerning recognizable behaviours. Such a circular process of finding and simplifying is valuable in science as well as in design. With respect to design theory, the research conducted has confirmed that theory construction needs to include purpose, scope, constructs, form and function, artefacts, testable propositions, justificatory knowledge, principles of implementation, and an expository instantiation.
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