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DRSelects: Kees Dorst on the Rich and Diverse Field of Design Research

DRSelects: Kees Dorst on the Rich and Diverse Field of Design Research

To share research interests, put faces to names within the DRS governance and highlight contents of the Digital Library, the Design Research Society has launched a series called ‘DRSelects’. As part of this series, a DRS International Advisory Council or Executive Board member will share a selection of pieces from the Digital Library that relate to any subject of their choosing. Through their exploration, they will share a few words about the works they’ve chosen and how it relates to their research and broader DRS initiatives. In this edition, we have reflections from International Advisory Council Member Kees Dorst.


Please introduce yourself, your role in the DRS and your research.

I studied Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology, and Philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Currently, I am Professor of Transdisciplinary Innovation at the University of Technology Sydney’s TD School. I guess my contribution to design research lies in connecting a philosophical understanding of the logic of design with hands-on practice. As a bridge-builder between these two worlds, my writings on design as a way of thinking are read by both practitioners and academics. I have written several books in the field –including ‘Understanding Design’ (2003, 2006), ‘Design Expertise’ (with Bryan Lawson, 2009, 2013), 'Frame Innovation - create new thinking by design' (2015) ‘Designing for the Common Good’ (2016) and ‘Notes on Design – How Creative Practice Works’ (2017). Over the years, my focus has developed to exploring the use of designerly ways of thinking outside the traditional design domains – in particular as applied to the hyper-complex problems of the networked society. I am a member of the International Advisory Board of the Design Research Society.


Could you choose five papers from the DRS Digital Library to highlight? What do you find valuable in the DRS Digital Library?

What I find particularly valuable in the DRS library is the ability to search and trace discussions. When I started out in design research (way back in the early nineties) the field was reasonably small, and there was a sense of a community working together in a common purpose – building a methodology for design, if you want. A single person could more or less keep abreast of developments. Since then, design research has grown to be a rich and diverse field, with many discussions going on simultaneously (much more interesting, and a much better reflection of the complex world we live in as a field of practice, education and research).

When I delve into the DRS library it is often through search terms, to see who is involved in my areas of interest and get a quick sense of where the discussion is going. For instance, just typing in ‘co-evolution’ gives me 469 results – some papers that are centrally involved with the body of research around this notion, but also many that USE the notion in various ways. These applications & interpretations give a unique insight into where we are going as a community. This is exactly the kind of ‘meta-food for thought’ that I need as a springboard/ inspiration for taking the discussion forward in a next publication. 

For this reason, I wouldn’t quite know which 5 particular papers I would select: I am more focused on the ‘space in between’ the papers, the differences in interpretation and use that point towards the discussions we should have. After all, that is how a field moves forward…


Could you talk about the initiatives you’re involved with in the DRS and any upcoming events you’d like to share?

Part of my role at DRS lies in supporting and developing the infrastructure for the field. As the professional field of design has become bigger and more complex, there is also a need to branch out to other academic areas. Design research has always borrowed a lot from the ‘classics’ of other fields (e.g. cognitive science, management, etc), but it is important to really engage with these fields as they are now. For example, we are setting up a joint special issue of journals in design research and business venturing… to be announced soon, watch this space.

I am also looking to diversify the forms we use in our collaborations and discussions – very much looking forward to June 2024, when we first have the Design Thinking Research Symposium 14, in a focused workshop format being hosted by Malardalens Universitet in Sweden (11-13 June), and then later that month the large DRS conference in Boston.


What do you see as the benefits of being involved with the DRS and how can those interested become more involved in the Society?

A key function of DRS lies in welcoming new people into our community and intellectual space. Currently, getting into design research can be a bewildering and confusing experience. This is not good for the field, as it slows down progress. We do need to make sure new (and/or young) researchers get up to speed as quickly as possible. Not just for their sake, but for the whole field. 

IKEA sell these ‘starter kits’ for students that are just leaving home (with basic plates & cutlery and cooking utensils)… Perhaps we need ‘starter kits’ for design research, too. What would be in there?