Design Theories, Models and Their Testing: On the Scientific Status of Design Research

  • Pieter E. Vermaas


In this chapter I characterise design theories and models of design, and analyse their testing. Using resources from the philosophy of natural science, I argue that testing design theories and models by falsification can improve the scientific status of design research. First, design theories and models are compared to their scientific counterparts and grouped by their descriptive, demarcating and prescriptive aims. Second, the testing of design theories and models is considered in relation to two deficiencies that are by design researchers lowering the scientific status of the discipline: a lack of generally accepted and efficient research methods for testing design theories and models, and a fragmentation in separate research strands. It is shown that both deficiencies can be related to the view in design research that testing consists of the validation of design theories and models. Third, I argue that testing by falsification can address the deficiencies: naïve Popperian falsification provides effective means for testing design theories and models; sophisticated falsification as described by Lakatos enables comparing design theories and models from different research strands.


Design Research Scientific Theory Design Theory Scientific Model Design Practice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    Ruse M (1995) Theory. In: Honderich T (ed) The oxford companion to philosophy. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 870–871Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Simon HA (1996) The sciences of the artificial, 3rd edn. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Gero JS (1990) Design prototypes: a knowledge representation schema for design. AI Mag 11(4):26–36Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Pahl G, Beitz W, Feldhusen J, Grote KH (2007) Engineering design: a systematic approach, 3rd edn. Springer, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    McDonough W, Braungart M (2002) Cradle to cradle: remaking the way we make things. North Point Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Lawson B, Dorst K (2009) Design expertise. Architectural Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Verganti R (2009) Design driven innovation: changing the rules of competition by radically innovating what things mean. Harvard Business Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Akao Y (ed) (1990) Quality function deployment: integrating customer requirements into product design. Productivity Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Hatchuel A, Weil B (2009) C-K design theory: an advanced formulation. Res Eng Des 19:181–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Vermaas PE (2010) Beyond expert design thinking: on general, descriptive and prescriptive models. In: Dorst K, Stewart S, Staudinger I, Paton B, Dong A (eds) Proceedings of the 8th design thinking research symposium (DTRS8) Sydney, 19–20 Oct 2010. DAB documents, Sydney, pp 405–413Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Frigg R, Hartmann S (2012) Models in science. In: Zalta EN (ed) The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition).
  12. 12.
    Boon M, Knuuttila T (2009) Models as epistemic tools in engineering sciences. In: Meijers AWM (ed) Philosophy of technology and engineering sciences. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 693–726CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Morgan M, Morrison M (1999) Models as mediators: perspectives on natural and social science. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Meijers AWM (ed) (2009) Philosophy of technology and engineering sciences. Elsevier, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cross N, Christiaans H, Dorst K (eds) (1996) Analysing design activity. Wiley, West SussexGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    VDI (1993) VDI Guideline 2221: Methodik zum Entwickeln und Konstruieren technischer Systeme und Produckte. Verein Deutscher Ingenieure, DüsseldorfGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
  18. 18.
    Bailer-Jones DM (2009) Scientific models in philosophy of science. University of Pittsburgh Press, PittsburgGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Hubka V, Eder WE (1988) Theory of technical systems: a total concept theory for engineering design. Springer, BerlinCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Suh NP (1990) The principle of design. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Müller R (2009) The notion of model: a historical overview. In: Meijers AWM (ed) Philosophy of technology and engineering sciences. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 637–664CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Birkhofer H (2011) Introduction. In: Birkhofer H (ed) The future of design methodology. Springer, London, pp 1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Blessing LTM, Chakrabarti A (2009) DRM: a design research methodology. Springer, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Reich Y (2010) My method is better! Res Eng Des 21:137–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Wallace K (2011) Transferring design methods into practice. In: Birkhofer H (ed) The future of design methodology. Springer, London, pp 239–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Frey DD, Dym CL (2006) Validation of design methods: lessons from medicine. Res Eng Design 17:45–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Seepersad CC, Pedersen K, Emblemsvåg J, Bailey R, Allen JK, Mistree F (2006) The validation square: how does one verify and validate a design method? In: Lewis KE, Chen W, Schmidt LC (eds) Decision making in engineering design. ASME, New York, pp 303–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Brown T (2009) Change by design: how design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. Harper Business, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Popper KR (1968) The logic of scientific discovery. Hutchinson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Lakatos I (1978) Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes. In: Lakatos I, Worrall J, Currie G (eds) The methodology of scientific research programmes. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 8–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Koskinen I, Zimmerman J, Binder T, Redström J, Wensveen S (2011) Design research through practice: from the lab, field, and showroom. Morgan Kaufmann, WalthamGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Doran GT (1981) There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. Manage Rev 70(11):35–36Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Vermaas PE (2012) On managing Innovation by design: towards SMART methods. In: Hansen PK, Rasmussen J, Jørgensen KA, Tollestrup C (eds) Proceedings of the ninth norddesign conference, Aalborg University, paper no 67Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Kuhn TS (1970) The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Feyerabend P (1975) Against method. Verso, LondonGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Vermaas PE (2013) On the co-existence of engineering meanings of function: four responses and their methodological implications. Artif Intell Eng Des Anal Manuf 27:191–202Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Cross N (2006) Designerly ways of knowing. Springer, LondonGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Schön DA (1983) The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. Temple Smith, LondonGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations