Witnesses to Design: A Phenomenology of Comparative Design
Author(s)Bucciarelli, Louis; Earl, Chris; Eckert, Claudia; Blackwell, Alan
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This research is concerned with describing the experience of being a designer and doing design. Many case studies have described individual experiences, both of designers reflecting on their own work, and academic studies of expert design work as performed in a professional context. Such studies are an important component of design research, and provide an essential foundation and sounding board for design theory. Traditionally, this research has concentrated on practice in a particular industry or company, generalizing to an industry sector or designing at large, from a relatively small number of cases. We depart from the common practice by comparing the experience of designers across a very wide range of domains, reported outside of its normal professional context, and in comparison to other design contexts. We report on a series of research workshops, each including several professional designers, initiated with the specific objective of making a comparison across design disciplines. At each workshop, designers presented case study illustrations of their practice for discussion with designers from other disciplines. This paper describes the motivation, methodology, and results of this project. We also propose a novel theoretical basis for our comparative approach, and the implications that this might have for other design research. The nature of our research and findings naturally is quite different from research that focuses on specific design activities. Previous comparative research more often has aimed to establish general criteria for defining concepts and theories, relating core concepts in research and theory-making to designing and designs1 Our aim is not to produce generic findings applying to all cases of design in all circumstances, but rather to develop a rich understanding of recurring behaviors across different domains, even though these might not apply to every process. As a result, comparative design is complementary to research on specific design practice, as well as research that aims to describe design in generic terms.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. School of Engineering
MIT Press Journals
Blackwell, A. F. et al. “Witnesses to Design: A Phenomenology of Comparative Design.” Design Issues 25.1 (2009): 36-47. © 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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