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Title: An investigation into the experience of designing
Author: Spencer, Nicholas
ISNI:       0000 0004 2706 133X
Awarding Body: Northumbria University
Current Institution: Northumbria University
Date of Award: 2009
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Cross (1999 & 2006) describes a taxonomy of the field of design research, stating that there are three main categories, based on people, processes and products: (i) Design epistemology - study of designerly ways of knowing; (ii) Design praxiology - study of the practices and processes of design; (iii) Design phenomenology - study of the form and configuration of artefacts (Cross, 1999: 6). Cross highlights that design is a socio-cultural activity and therefore the description of designing cannot be complete without taking the opinions and experiences of designers into account, rather than just studying the objects and processes of their work. Dorst (1997: 19) argued that design researchers have paid insufficient attention to the experience of designing and that by improving our knowledge of this phenomenon a more complete account of design activities would be achieved. If design researchers can develop a more comprehensive account of design activities it will contribute to bridging the gap between design theory and design practice. In design methodology there has developed two fundamentally different ways of approaching design, formalised into two paradigms: 'rational problem solving' (also known as technical rationality) (Simon, 1969) and 'reflective practice' (SchOn, 1983 & 1987). Simon defined designing as an instrument of rational problem solving where, in its best and purest form, it is a process of optimisation. Within the paradigm of rational problem solving, problem solvers (designers) are goal-seeking information processing systems, operating in an objective and knowable reality. Under the paradigm of rational problem solving, studying the inner environment, experience or phenomenology of designers is unimportant and illogical. Sch6n criticised the prevailing positivist paradigm, of technical rationality, stating that it fails to account for practical competence in divergent situations. Schiin's theory of design as reflective practice, attempted to address the dilemma and balance between rigour and relevance, focusing upon acts of intelligence within situations of uncertainty and developing an epistemology of practice, which places technical rationality within a broader context of reflective inquiry. In the constructionist paradigm of design as reflective practice the designer is placed in a central role in design activities. However, while the theory of design as reflective practice places the practitioner centrally, describing the action-orientated steps in reflective inquiry, it objectifies the practice of design; and therefore, the theory of reflective practice, as defined by SchOn, falls short of an understanding of the experience of designing. Progress can be made toward developing the theory of reflective practice and further increasing the theory's relevance to design as it is practised by developing our understanding of the experience of designing. This study is concerned with the experiences and conditions that occur as expert designers practise reflective practice within design practice. It develops our knowledge of design as it is experienced by providing descriptions of the design experience based upon the reflections of expert designers. This thesis describes an embedded multiple-case study with multiple units of analysis, where qualitative data about the experience of designing were obtained from eight semi-structured interviews with expert designers. Based upon the process of conjecture and refutation the thesis presents a discourse analysis to test theoretical propositions and draw conclusions about the experience of designing. The findings of this data analysis support the following conclusions: The design process of uncertainty resolution generates emotional fluctuation and disquiet. When operating in situations of volatility and ambiguity, expert designers use creative thinking as a coping mechanism to escape their fear and uncertainty. Creative thinking is used to frame and reframe the design situation in an attempt to create conceptual certainty and synthesis explored through propositional change experiments. Contextualised by the challenge of the design situation the creative element of the design experience is stimulated by: iterative attempts to escape the discomfort of uncertainty and manifest clarity through the creative moment; attempts to protect the conceptual certainty and joy of a design proposition; and the need to do better and have their propositions accepted and considered valuable by other people. The significance of the study is that it moves beyond design practice theory and descriptive models of design processes; it focuses on the practise of design practice, describing the experience of expert designers' professional activities. The key contribution is to further our understanding about, and help describe elements of, the experience of designing, relating those descriptions to the theory of design as reflective practice. This study frames designers' activities from the perspective of their experience and their relationship with uncertainty, thereby providing new ways to understand designing.
Supervisor: Hilton, Kev Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: W200 Design studies