The Specificity of Design Research: How Practice-Based Design Knowledge Can Enter the Great Archive of Science

  • Paolo VolontéEmail author
  • Lucia Rampino
  • Sara Colombo
Part of the Design Research Foundations book series (DERF)


In this chapter, we call into question the nature of academic design research. A reconstruction of the debate over the role of academic research in the field of design shows that its origins created the bias of attempting to model design research on the historically contingent form of scientific research rather than on its deeper reason. Indeed, design academics often imitate what scientific disciplines do when they do research (i.e. applying codified methods), yet the discussion about why such disciplines behave that way is still limited. According to science studies the answer to this why lies in scientists’ habit of making the results of their research public, thus building what we refer to as the Great Archive of Science (GAS). By analyzing the dynamics of the GAS, we show that the rules, methods, and models typical of the research environment have as their main purpose to make the reliability of researchers’ knowledge claims as durable as possible. Regarding design research in general, and research through design more specifically, we thus argue that what turns designers’ work into academic research is not just the application of scientific methods but primarily the participation in the grand game of the GAS, whose dynamics enables a circumscribed corpus of knowledge to be held reliable by a community.


Design research Research epistemology Scientific method Design knowledge 


  1. Agnew, K. (1993). The spitfire: Legend or history? An argument for a new research culture in design. Journal of Design History, 6(2), 121–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andersen, T., Halse, J., & Moll, J. (2011). Design interventions as multiple becomings of healthcare. In I. Koskinen, T. Härkäsalmi, R. Mazé, B. Matthews, & J. Lee (Eds.), Proceedings of the Nordes ‘11: The 4th Nordic design research conference (pp. 11–20). Helsinki: School of Art and Design, Aalto University.Google Scholar
  3. Archer, B. (1981). A view of the nature of design research. In R. Jacques & J. A. Powell (Eds.), Design: Science: Method (pp. 30–47). Guildford: Westbury House.Google Scholar
  4. Archer, B. (1995). The nature of research. Co-design: Interdisciplinary Journal of Design, January, 6–13. (republished in Grand and Jonas 2012, pp. 109–122).Google Scholar
  5. Backlund, S., Gyllenswärd, M., Gustafsson, A., Ilstedt Hjelm, S., Mazé, R., & Redström, J. (2007). Static! The aesthetics of energy in everyday things. In Proceedings of design research society wonderground international conference 2006.
  6. Bang, A. L., Krogh, P. G., Ludvigsen, M., & Markussen, T. (2012). The role of hypothesis in constructive design research. In The art of research 2012: Making, reflecting and understanding. Helsinki: Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Accessed 30 Sept 2013.Google Scholar
  7. Bardzell, J., Bardzell, S., & Koefoed Hansen, L. (2015). Immodest proposals: Research through design and knowledge. In Proceedings of the 33rd annual ACM conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 2093–2102). New York: ACM.Google Scholar
  8. Barnes, B. (1974). Scientific knowledge and sociological theory. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  9. Bernal, J. D. (1939). The social function of science. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  10. Binder, T., & Redström, J. (2006). Exemplary design research. Paper presented at the DRS Wonderground conference, Design Research Society, November 1–4.Google Scholar
  11. Blijlevens, J., Mugge, R., Ye, P., & Schoormans, J. P. L. (2013). The influence of product exposure on trendiness and aesthetic appraisal. International Journal of Design, 7(1), 55–67.Google Scholar
  12. Bonsiepe, G. (2007). The uneasy relationship between design and design research. In R. Michel (Ed.), Design research now: Essays and selected projects (pp. 25–39). Basel: Birkhäuser.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bourdieu, P. (2004). Science of science and reflexivity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  14. Bowers, J. (2012). The logic of annotated portfolios: Communicating the value of ‘research through design’. In Proceedings of the ACM designing interactive systems conference 2012, DIS2012, 11–15 (pp. 68–77). New York: ACM.Google Scholar
  15. Brandt, E., & Binder, T. (2007). Experimental design research: Genealogy, intervention, argument. In Proceedings of the International Association of Societies of design research conference, IaSDR07, Hong Kong, November 12–15.Google Scholar
  16. Brown, T. (2009). Change by design. New York: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  17. Buchanan, R. (2001). Design research and the new learning. Design Issues, 17(4), 3–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Chen, L. (2007). International journal of design: A step forward. International Journal of Design, 1(1), 1–2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Chubin, D. E., & Hackett, E. J. (1990). Peerless science: Peer review and U.S. science policy. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  20. Cole, J., & Cole, S. (1981). Peer review in the National Science Foundation: Phase two of a study. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  21. Cole, S., Rubin, L., & Cole, J. (1978). Peer review in the National Science Foundation: Phase one of a study. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  22. Collins, H. (2001). What is tacit knowledge? In K. Knorr Cetina, T. R. Schatzki, & E. von Savigny (Eds.), The practice turn in contemporary theory (pp. 107–119). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Cross, N. (2001). Designerly ways of knowing: Design discipline versus design science. Design Issues, 17(3), 49–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Cross, N. (2007). Designerly ways of knowing. Basel: Birkhäuser.Google Scholar
  25. Crouch, C., & Pearce, J. (2012). Doing research in design. London: Berg.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dorst, K. (2008). Design research: A revolution-waiting-to-happen. Design Studies, 29, 4–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Durrant, A., Vines, J., Wallace, J., & Yee, J. (2015). Developing a dialogical platform for disseminating research through design. Constructivist Foundations, 11(1), 8–21.Google Scholar
  28. Etzkowitz, H. (1990). The second academic revolution: The role of the research university in economic development. In S. E. Cozzens, P. Healey, A. Rip, & J. Ziman (Eds.), The research system in transition (pp. 109–124). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fenko, A., Schifferstein, H. N. J., & Hekkert, P. (2011). Noisy products: Does appearance matter? International Journal of Design, 5(3), 77–87.Google Scholar
  30. Findeli, A. (1998). A quest for credibility: Doctoral education and research in design at the university of Montreal. In R. Buchanan, D. L. J. Doorden, & V. Margolin (Eds.), Doctoral education in design: Proceedings of the Ohio conference (pp. 99–116). Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon.Google Scholar
  31. Findeli, A., Brouillet, D., Martins, S., Moineau, C., & Tarrago, R. (2008). Research through design and transdisciplinarity: A tentative contribution to the methodology of design research. In “Focused” – Current design research project and methods (pp. 67–91.) Accessed 23 May 2015.Google Scholar
  32. Frayling, C. (1993). Research in art and design. Royal College of Art Research Papers, 1(1), 1–5.Google Scholar
  33. Frens, J. (2007). Research through design: A camera case study. In R. Michel (Ed.), Design research now: Essays and selected projects (pp. 135–155). Basel: Birkhäuser.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Friedman, K. (2001). Creating design knowledge: From research into practice. In Design and technology educational research and development: The emerging international research agenda (pp. 31–69). Loughborough: Loughborough University Department of Design and Technology.Google Scholar
  35. Friedman, K. (2003). Theory construction in design research: Criteria: Approaches, and methods. Design Studies, 24, 507–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grand, S., & Jonas, W. (Eds.). (2012). Mapping design research. Basel: Birkhäuser.Google Scholar
  37. Hallnäs, L., & Redström, J. (2006). Interaction design foundations, experiments. Borås: University College of Borås.Google Scholar
  38. Hekkert, P. P. M., Keyson, D. V., Overbeeke, C. J., & Stappers, P. J. (2000). The Delft ID StudioLab. Research through and for design. In H. Achten, B. de Vries, & J. M. Hennessey (Eds.), Design research in the Netherlands 2000 (pp. 95–103.) Accessed 8 Apr 2016.Google Scholar
  39. Hobye, M., & Löwgren, J. (2011). Touching a stranger: Designing for engaging experience in embodied interaction. International Journal of Design, 5(3), 31–48.Google Scholar
  40. Höök, K., & Löwgren, J. (2012). Strong concepts: Intermediate-level knowledge in interaction design research. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), 19(3), 23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Jarvis, N., Cameron, D., & Boucher, A. (2012). Attention to detail: Annotations of a design process. In Proceedings of the 7th Nordic conference on human-computer interaction: Making sense through design (pp. 11–20). New York: ACM.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Jonas, W. (2004). Forschung durch design. In Swiss Design Network (Ed.), Erstes design forschungssymposium (pp. 26–33). Basel: Steudler Press. (in German).Google Scholar
  43. Jonas, W. (2012). Exploring the swampy ground. In S. Grand & W. Jonas (Eds.), Mapping design research (pp. 11–42). Basel: Birkhäuser.Google Scholar
  44. Jonas, W. (2015). A cybernetic model of design research: Towards a trans-domain of knowing. In P. A. Rodgers & J. Yee (Eds.), The Routledge companion to design research (pp. 23–37). London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  45. Keller, I. (2007). For inspiration only. In R. Michel (Ed.), Design research now: Essays and selected projects (pp. 119–132). Basel: Birkhäuser.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kelly, J., & Wensveen, S. A. G. (2014). Designing to bring the field to the showroom through open-ended provocation. International Journal of Design, 8(2), 71–85.Google Scholar
  47. Keyson, D. V., & Bruns, M. (2009). Empirical research through design. In Proceedings of IASDR ‘09 (pp. 4548–4557). Seoul: Design Research Society.Google Scholar
  48. Knorr-Cetina, K. (1981). The manufacture of knowledge. An essay on the constructivist and contextual nature of science. Oxford: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  49. Koskinen, I., Zimmerman, J., Binder, T., Redström, J., & Wensveen, S. (2011). Design research through practice: From the lab, field and showroom. Waltham: Morgan Kaufmann.Google Scholar
  50. Krippendorff, K. (1995). Redesigning design: An invitation to a responsible future. In P. Tahkokallio & S. Vihma (Eds.), Design: Pleasure or responsibility? Helsinki: University of Art and Design. Reprinted by University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communication Departmental Papers (ASC). Accessed 30 Sept 2013.Google Scholar
  51. Krippendorff, K. (2006). The semantic turn: A new foundation for design. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Krippendorff, K. (2007). Design research, an oxymoron? In R. Michel (Ed.), Design research now: Essays and selected projects (pp. 67–80). Basel: Birkhäuser.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  54. Lambourne, R., Feiz, K., & Rigot, B. (1997). Social trends and product opportunities. In Proceedings of CHI 97 (pp. 494–502). Eindhoven: Philips Corporate Design.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Milton: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1986). Laboratory life: The construction of scientific facts. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Laurel, B. (2003). Design research: Methods and perspectives. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  59. Lynch, M. (1993). Scientific practice and ordinary action: Ethnomethodology and social studies of science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Mareis, C. (2012). The epistemology of the unspoken: On the concept of tacit knowledge in contemporary design research. Design Issues, 28(2), 61–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Matthews, B., Stienstra, M., & Djajadiningrat, T. (2008). Emergent interaction: Creating spaces for play. Design Issues, 24(3), 58–71.Google Scholar
  62. Margolin, V. (2010). Doctoral education in design: Problems and prospects. Design Issues, 26(3), 70–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Mattelmäki, T. & Matthews, B. (2009). Peeling apples: Prototyping design experiments as research. Paper presented at the Nordic design research conference 2009 – Engaging artifacts, Oslo.Google Scholar
  64. Merton, R. K. (1957). Social theory and social structure: Revised and enlarged edition. New York: Free Press. (first edition 1949).Google Scholar
  65. Olsen, S. L. (2002). Observation of large CP violation in the B-meson system. In J. Lee-Franzini, P. Franzini, & F. Bossi (Eds.), Lepton-photon 01 (pp. 4–13). Singapore: World Scientific.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Petersen, M. G., Iversen, O. S., Krogh, P. G., & Ludvigsen, M. (2004). Aesthetic interaction: A pragmatist’s aesthetics of interactive systems. In Proceedings of the 5th conference on designing interactive systems: Processes, practices, methods, and techniques (DIS’04) (pp. 269–276). New York: ACM.Google Scholar
  67. Polanyi, M. (1958). Personal knowledge. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  68. Povh, B., Rith, K., Scholz, C., & Zetsche, F. (1993). Teilchen und Kerne. Eine Einführung in die physikalischen Konzepte. Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer.Google Scholar
  69. Rampino, L., & Colombo, S. (2012). Toward a taxonomy of design-research methods. In L. Rampino (Ed.), Design research: Between scientific method and project praxis (pp. 83–94). Milan: FrancoAngeli.Google Scholar
  70. Rodgers, P. A., & Yee, J. (2015). Introduction. In P. A. Rodgers & J. Yee (Eds.), The Routledge companion to design research (pp. 1–6). London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  71. Roedl, D. J., & Stolterman, E. (2013). Design research at CHI and its applicability to design practice. In Proceedings of the 2013 ACM annual conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 1951–1954). New York: ACM.Google Scholar
  72. Ross, P. R., & Wensveen, S. A. G. (2010). Designing behavior in interaction: Using aesthetic experience as a mechanism for design. International Journal of Design, 4(2), 3–13.Google Scholar
  73. RTD. (2015). 21st century makers and matrerialities. In Proceedings of the 2nd biennal research through design conference. Accessed 15 Jan 2018.
  74. Rust, C. (2007). How artistic inquiry can inform interdisciplinary research. International Journal of Design, 1(3), 69–76.Google Scholar
  75. Rust, C., Roddis, J., & Chamberlain, P. (2000). A practice-centered approach to research in industrial design. In S. Pizzocaro, A. Arruda, & D. de Moraes (Eds.), Design plus research: Proceedings of the Politecnico di Milano conference, May 18–20, 2000 (pp. 358–365).Google Scholar
  76. Schneider, B. (2004). Design Forscht. In Swiss Design Network (Ed.), Erstes design forschungssymposium (pp. 4–13). Basel: Steudler Press. (in German).Google Scholar
  77. Schneider, B. (2007). Design as practice, science and research. In R. Michel (Ed.), Design research now: Essays and selected projects (pp. 207–218). Basel: Birkhäuser.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Scrivener, S. (2002). The art object does not embody a form of knowledge. Working papers in art and design 2.​artdes_research/​papers/​wpades/​vol2/​scrivenerfull.html. ISSN 1466-4917. Accessed 7 July 2013.
  79. Seago, A., & Dunne, A. (1999). New methodologies in art and design research: The object as discourse. Design Issues, 15(2), 11–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Simon, H. A. (1969). The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  81. Snoek, H., & Hekkert, P. (1999). Directing designers towards innovative solutions. In B. Jerrard, M. Trueman, & R. Newport (Eds.), Managing new product innovation (pp. 167–180). London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  82. Stappers, P. J. (2007). Doing design as a part of doing research. In R. Michel (Ed.), Design research now: Essays and selected projects (pp. 81–97). Basel: Birkhäuser.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Stolterman, E., & Wiberg, M. (2010). Concept-driven interaction design research. Human Computer Interaction, 25(2), 95–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Strengers, Y. A. (2011). Designing eco-feedback systems for everyday life. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 2135–2144). New York: ACM.Google Scholar
  85. Vallgårda, A. (2009). Computational composites. Understanding the materiality of computational technology. Manuscript for Ph.D. dissertation submitted to the IT University of Copenhagen. Accessed 13 Nov 2015.
  86. Van Campenhout, L. D. E., Frens, J. W., Overbeeke, C. J., Standaert, A., & Peremans, H. (2013). Physical interaction in a dematerialized world. International Journal of Design, 7(1), 1–18.Google Scholar
  87. Vaughan, L. (2017). Practice-based design research. London: Bloomsbury.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Visser, T., Vastenburg, M. H., & Keyson, D. V. (2011). Designing to support social connectedness: The case of snowglobe. International Journal of Design, 5(3), 129–142.Google Scholar
  89. Volonté, P. (2006). The social context of scientific knowledge production and the problem of demarcation. Pragmatics and Cognition, 14, 527–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Volonté, P. (2012). The GAS tank: Remarks on the real scientific method. In L. Rampino (Ed.), Design research: Between scientific method and project praxis (pp. 95–108). Milan: Franco Angeli.Google Scholar
  91. Wallace, J., Yee, J., & Durrant, A. (2013). Praxis + poetics. research through design 2013 conference proceedings. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Northumbria University.Google Scholar
  92. White, D. M. (1950). The ‘gate-keeper’: A case study in the selection of news. Journalism Quarterly, 27, 383–390.Google Scholar
  93. Ziman, J. (1978). Reliable knowledge: An exploration of the grounds for belief in science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  94. Ziman, J. (2000). Real science: What it is and what it means. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Zimmerman, J., & Forlizzi, J. (2008). The role of design artifacts in design theory construction. Human computer interaction institute, Paper 37, Accessed 31 July 2013.
  96. Zimmerman, J., Forlizzi, J., & Evenson, S. (2007). Research through design as a method for interaction design research in HCI. In CHI ‘07 Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 493–502). Scholar
  97. Zimmerman, J., Stolterman, E., & Forlizzi, J. (2010). An analysis and critique of research through design: Towards a formalization of a research approach. In Proceedings of the 8th ACM conference on designing interactive systems (pp. 310–319). Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of DesignPolitecnico di MilanoMilanoItaly
  2. 2.Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridge, MAUSA

Personalised recommendations