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  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Exploring how design can drive innovation in policy and governance see more

    Introducing the New Design for Policy and Governance Special Interest Group

    We’re very pleased to announce a new DRS Special Interest Group (SIG)—Design for Policy and Governance (PoGoSIG). The group will bring together researchers, designers, and academics to explore how design can drive innovation in policy and governance. The group is led by convenor Scott Schmidt along with organising committee members Rachel Cooper, Michelle Douglas, Leigh-Anne Hepburn, and Louise Mullagh.

    Scott explains what inspired the SIG: “Recent global events such as the mass pandemic has led to calls for greater innovation in the interface between governments and their public. Design for Policy and Governance, a potential solution, is the process of systematically developing effective human-centered policies based on a combination of collaborative approaches, evidence-based criteria, and novel concepts while leveraging design-driven research methods.”

    PoGoSIG will be an engaging and informative resource for anyone interested in the intersections of design and policy, hosting discussions and events, developing new research materials, and collecting and sharing relevant information on the topic. Read more about this group and their mission on the PoGoSIG page and contact the SIG leadership team to get involved!

    The DRS has 12 SIGs including PoGoSIG. See the full list here. Members can join a SIG or start a new SIG by sending a proposal to the DRS Executive Board.

     December 17, 2020
  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    The keynote speakers are Paul Taçon, Judith Sheine and Dacheng Tao see more

    DRS2020 Keynote Speaker Announcement

    DRS2020 conference organisers have announced three keynote speakers for the event: Paul Taçon, Judith Sheine and Dacheng Tao. Taçon is a professor of anthropology and archaeology at Griffith University in Australia. He will speak on 12th August about the social meanings, narratives and ancestral connections in Australian Aboriginal rock art. His talk will also stress conservation in the context of climate change and discuss a recent collaborative project to develop digital records of rock art.

    Above: Paul Taçon, Judith Sheine and Dacheng Tao from left to right

    Judith Sheine, the second keynote presenter, will speak on 13th August about the future of timber. Her talk will stress the importance of an integrated approach between design, manufacturing and construction. Sheine is a professor of architecture at the University of Oregon in the USA and is the director of design for the TallWood Design Institute, a collaboration between higher education programs in design, engineering and forestry. 

    The third keynote speaker is Dacheng Tao, a professor of computer science at the University of Sydney in Australia. Tao is the inaugural director of an artificial intelligence research centre and has developed algorithms for autonomous driving and facial recognition technology. He will speak on 14th August about the historical development of AI and his vision of successful deep learning. 

    DRS2020 will be an online event hosted by Griffith University from 11–14 August. Visit the conference website for more information and full details about the keynote speakers:

  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Election of new DRS Chair, Executive Board Members and IAC Chair see more

    First Meetings of the New International Advisory Council

    Following the DRS elections in May this year, the newly formed International Advisory Council (IAC) met online for its first annual summit at the beginning of July. Over three productive meetings with breakout sessions IAC members began to map out the future priorities of the Society. 

    The meetings ended with the election of a new DRS Chair, Executive Board Members, and Chair of the International Advisory Council who will together lead in taking this new agenda forward. More details will follow in due course.

    DRS Chair & Chair of Executive Board

    Peter Lloyd, TU Delft

    Executive Board Members

    Rebecca Cain, Loughborough University

    Jodi Forlizzi, Carnegie Mellon University

    Anna Vallgårda, IT University of Copenhagen

    Heather Wiltse, Umeå University

    Chair of the International Advisory Council

    Paul Hekkert, TU Delft

    The new leadership team will be supported by a strong administration team of three people.


    Further Information

    DRS Executive Board:

    DRS International Advisory Council:

  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Darren will consolidate and develop the historic and ongoing publishing activities of the DRS see more

    Introducing Darren Umney, DRS Publications and Archive Editor

    The DRS is pleased to announce the appointment of Darren Umney as Publications and Archive Editor. Darren will take responsibility for consolidating and developing the historic and ongoing publishing activities of the DRS with a particular focus on academic papers, reports and conference proceedings.

    Darren will join the DRS support team that includes Online Editor Isabel Prochner and Administrator Linda Anderson. The support team works with the DRS Council and manages the day-to-day operations of the Society.  

    Darren began his career as an artist and has experience in film making, performance art, exhibition curation and online newspaper publishing. In addition to his role with the DRS, he works as Associate and Managing Editor of the Journal of Cultural Economy. He received his PhD from the Open University (UK) in 2016. His thesis explored the implications of studying parliamentary debate, and positioned the parliamentary process as a design process.

    Darren received a DRS 50th Anniversary Student Bursary, which he used to uncover the archaeological history of the Society. He also conducted an online performance—tweeting retrospectively about early DRS conferences. This work contributes to the growing DRS archive and was presented at DRS2016 in Brighton.

    As Publications and Archive Editor, Darren is looking forward to consolidating his historical exploration of the Society. He also has an important role sharing past, present and future DRS work with members.

     December 02, 2019
  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Nominations to stand for the first International Advisory Council are now open see more

    DRS Elections 2020: Call for Nominations

    We are pleased to announce that nominations to stand for the first International Advisory Council (IAC) of the DRS are now open. The DRS seeks 18 ambitious design researchers to form the new IAC and contribute to creating a truly international and inclusive Society to progress the field of design research. We encourage DRS Members from all parts of the world to consider standing for election, particularly those with a vision about how design research should develop, and awareness of the Society’s ambitions.

    The benefits of serving on the IAC include:

    • Influencing the field of Design Research;
    • Being part of a network of design research leaders;
    • Access to financial support to progress initiatives;
    • Entitlement to stand for a role on the Executive Board;
    • Career development that enhances your CV.

    Nominations must be submitted by 5 pm BST on Thursday 9 April. Further details about the 2020 DRS Elections and the nomination process are available here.


    Equal Opportunities

    The DRS celebrates and supports diversity for the benefit of our members, our services, and our community. The DRS is proud to promote equal opportunities in all the activities that it organizes and supports.

     March 02, 2020
  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    DRS Fellow Chuck Owen died on 17th October 2019, aged 86 see more

    In Memory of Professor Charles Owen, 1933-2019

    We lost another outstanding design researcher and DRS Fellow when Charles ("Chuck") L. Owen died on 17th October 2019, aged 86.

    He was one of the pioneers of design research, joining the Institute of Design at IIT Chicago in 1965, having studied both product design and computer science. At IIT he founded and directed the Design Processes Laboratory, and for many years published and distributed the Design Processes Newsletter, which was one of the ways research news was disseminated all those years ago. I met him for the first time when he came to Europe in the early 1990s on a study tour of PhD design work, prior to establishing the PhD programme at the Institute of Design. Several DRS Members and Fellows around the world are former students of his.

    Chuck Owen was a prolific researcher, working in design theory and methodology and computer aided design across domains from product design to urban planning. Perhaps his most significant research contributions were in linking design and systems studies in new approaches to complex systems design. He published several papers in Design Studies, the most recent being "Evaluation of Complex Systems" (2007).

    Some of his projects with colleagues and students at the Institute of Design made important contributions in environmental and urban planning. This includes Project Phoenix, which began in 1988 and gained international attention. The project investigated and proposed how to mitigate the global effects of greenhouse gases. Another example is the Future Living project, a systems study of housing design to support good standards of living while maximising environmental standards and economic self-sufficiency.

    In 1997 Charles Owen was elected an Honorary Member of the Japanese Society for the Science of Design, and the IIT Institute of Design honoured him by establishing an endowed chair for design research in his name in 1999. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of DRS in 2007.



    Nigel Cross, Emeritus Professor, The Open University, UK

     January 29, 2020
  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Victor Margolin was Professor Emeritus of Design History at the University of Illinois, Chicago see more

    In Memory of Professor Victor Margolin, 1941-2019

    Victor Margolin (1941-2019) was Professor Emeritus of Design History at the University of Illinois, Chicago, a seminal figure in the development of Design History and Design Studies and a proud collector of corny puns and kitsch objects. Born in Washington DC Victor enrolled to study English Literature and Film at Columbia University during which time he edited The Columbia Jester, made contributions to MAD magazine and published two books of puns. He graduated from Columbia in 1963 with a Fulbright Fellowship to study at the Institute of Higher Cinema Studies in Paris. On returning to the US Victor eventually settled in Chicago, in 1975. There, after completing a PhD on Russian constructivist designers, his career started to take shape with the publication of American Poster Renaissance: The Great Age of Poster Design 1890-1900 (1975), the edited volume Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion WWII (1976) and The Promise and the Product: 200 years of American Advertising Posters (1979). He then secured a tenured post teaching art and design history at the University of Illinois in 1982, remaining there until his retirement in 2006.

    Early in his career at the University Victor worked with colleagues to establish the academic journal Design Issues (first published in 1984) becoming its founding editor then remaining a committed member of the editorial board thereafter. From this point on Victor started to edit and co-edit important volumes of essays on design titled Design Discourse (1989), The Idea of Design (1995) Discovering Design (1995) and The Designed World: Images, Objects, Environments (2002). Returning to his PhD interests Victor published The Struggle for Utopia: Rodchenko, Lissitzsky, Moholy-Nagy, 1917-1946 (1997) followed by a collection of his own essays titled The Politics of the Artificial: Essays on Design and Design Studies (2002). His lifelong interest in puns and kitsch led to the creation of a private collection of objects he called The Museum of Corn-temporary Art (which is now in the permanent collection of The Wolfsonian, Miami) accompanied by the publication of Culture is Everywhere (2002). Victor’s final major publishing venture was the World History of Design printed in two volumes (2015). He was the recipient of Lifetime Achievement Awards from LearnXDesign (2015) and the Design Research Society (2016).

    Victor was a man of immense intellectual generosity and a reasoned advocate of design as a tool to create societies that were more just, equitable and compassionate. These values were accompanied by a keen mind and twinkling eye that drew Victor to people all over the world. His deep humanity, ideas and insights will live on through books and essays to inspire future generations of designers.



    Bruce Brown, Visiting Professor, The Royal College of Art and Goldsmiths, University of London


    Image source:

     December 11, 2019
  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Recent passing of Professor Victor Margolin and Professor Charles L. Owen see more

    Victor Margolin and Charles L. Owen

    We were deeply saddened to hear about the recent death of Professor Victor Margolin, one of our Honorary Fellows and the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the DRS in 2016 for his huge contribution to design research. His outstanding scholarship in design criticism, theory and history will be deeply missed by the research field and our thoughts are with his family and colleagues at this time.

    Victor’s passing follows the recent death of Professor Charles L. Owen, who was made an Honorary Fellow of the DRS in 2007 and served on the Editorial Board of Design Studies for many years. Charles’ ground-breaking and widely published research using computers to analyse and support design processes has provided inspiration to many present-day design researchers. Our thoughts are with his family and colleagues.

    Peter Lloyd, Acting Chair of the DRS said “Victor and Charles were two huge figures in making design research the field it is today and the DRS was proud to honour their achievements. They will both be deeply missed."

    Victor's funeral will take place on Tuesday December 3rd. Arrangements can be found in the attachment and messages can be sent to Victor's daughter:

    Charles L. Owen:

    Victor Margolin:

     December 02, 2019
  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Eleanor is Head of Research for the Enterprise Design Thinking program at IBM see more

    This Much I Know (About Design Research): Eleanor Bartosh

    This Much I Know (About Design Research) is an interview series that profiles members of the DRS. In this edition, we spoke with Eleanor Bartosh about her design research and current projects. Eleanor is Head of Research for the Enterprise Design Thinking program at IBM, which has so far trained 200,000 IBM employees and clients around the world.


    How did you get started at IBM?

    I began as a design researcher for an IBM Systems team. We worked on a product to help system administrators manage their server environments. I’ve held a few roles since then, and now I lead design research for the Enterprise Design Thinking product portfolio.

    What’s Enterprise Design Thinking?

    It's enhanced design thinking to meet the needs of big enterprise teams. My group works on a portfolio of products and services to help our clients adopt human-centered innovation in their own companies.

    And you provide training? 

    Yes—we train employees and clients in-person and through our online platform. Scalability is super important, since IBM operates around the world and has 380,000 employees! You can read about Enterprise Design Thinking and take training Level 1 at 

    What’s the role of design thinking at IBM?

    It’s our soul. It helps us and our clients stay user-focused, innovative and competitive. IBM rebooted the design program about 7 years ago. We hired more designers and started teaching design thinking to entire teams and to our clients.

    Do you do any design research at IBM? 

    I explore how teams adopt human-centered design practices and the conditions they need to succeed. I also collaborate with services partners to understand how to better meet client needs through the Enterprise Design Thinking portfolio.

    Do you have any favourite design research resources?

    Local and world news are amazing resources, especially when I read different news sources. The news helps me understand different perspectives, including those of my colleagues and clients.

    What are your hopes for the future of design research? 

    I hope design and design research communities can become more empathetic and curious. We should also realise that we don't always need to have the answer!

    Where can people find out more about you?

    Check out my LinkedIn page or follow me on Twitter My Twitter is a mix of stuff related to IBM, the design industry, food/travel and the occasional animal video.


    Interested in getting involved in this interview series? Tell us about your work or nominate another researcher. Contact Isabel at

     August 15, 2019
  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Reviving and reimagining Caribbean craft traditions through computation see more

    This Much I Know (About Design Research): Vernelle A. A. Noel

    This is the second interview in a new series for the DRS online called This Much I Know (About Design Research). Each article in this series profiles an interesting DRS member to highlight their work and reflections on design research. This time we spoke with Vernelle A. A. Noel about her research on craft practices and computation.

    Vernelle is an architect and PhD researcher at Penn State University in the USA. Her work is at the intersections of craft, design, computation and culture. Originally from Trinidad & Tobago, Caribbean culture and design are central in her work. Her current project explores the Trinidad Carnival and wire-bending craft traditions. She uses computation to help revive wire-bending practices and reinterpret them for application in architecture.



    Why have you focused on Carnival?

    Carnival is an important part of Caribbean history, culture and design. French planters introduced it to Trinidad in the 1780s and newly emancipated slaves reinvented it in the 1830s as a way to celebrate their freedom and creativity. Although it takes place once per year, people spend all year preparing! The festival includes a parade and serious music and costume competitions.

    How is your research related to Carnival?

    My research explores Carnival through a design lens. I’m troubled by the mass-production of costumes, which arrive ready-made from abroad. Design and making traditions risk being lost, so I try to re-engage people in these processes.

    What is it about wire-bending?

    Wire-bending is a beautiful local craft that’s incorporated in Carnival costumes. The details are astonishing! However, it’s a difficult and labour intensive process done mostly by men.

    How are you encouraging people to engage with wire-bending?

    I’ve been exploring how wire-bending can be reinterpreted through computation and digital technology, which I believe will help increase access to the craft, especially for women and children. I also have a background in architecture, so I’m investigating the application of wire-bending in architectural form.

    What are the outcomes of your research so far?

    I've been able to make wire-bending knowledge explicit and hold craft workshops. Youth seem engaged by computational making and the technology facilitates collaboration. Wire-bending is usually a solitary activity, so it’s exciting to consider the possibilities of group making. I’ve also been experimenting with wire-bending and developing prototypes (images above).

    What do you think about the DRS?

    Community is very important to me, so I love that the DRS brings together a strong design research community. 

    What design researchers are especially inspirational in your work?

    I draw on theorists like Nigel Cross and Michael Reddy, but one of my biggest inspirations was my professor Lucienne Blessing. She taught a course on design research, which helped me understand the field.

    How can readers learn more about Caribbean design?

    I enjoy reading Maco, a Caribbean design and lifestyle magazine.


    Interested in getting involved in this interview series? Tell us about your exciting work or nominate another researcher. You can contact Isabel at

     April 09, 2018
  • Derek Jones posted an article
    DRS2018 Keynote Debates announced see more

    DRS2018 Conference Keynote Debates Announced

    Anyone who has attended a DRS conference will know that the Keynote Debates have always provoked debate an acted as catalysts and prompt for wider discussion in the design research community. The DRS2018 conference debate themes look set to continue this with some superb speakers, moderators and topics. Here's the full line up.




    Design Research & Industry Impacts

    (Tuesday 26 June 2018)

    Moderator: Prof. Alex Milton

    Participants: Lorna Ross, Paul A Rogers, and Mariana Amatullo

    'Design Research & Industry Impacts' explores the changing nature of design research and practice within academia and industry.

    Design is moving beyond merely being an instrumentalised tool for industry, and becoming an altruistic agent for, and of, change as well as a force for social innovation.

    More information...


    Social and Public

    (Wednesday 27 June 2018)

    Moderator: Dr. Simon O'Rafferty


    'Social and Public' will explore the changing contexts of design research and practice through the intersections between design for policy and social design.

    The debate will critically examine intersections between existing and emerging trends around design for policy, social design alongside other emerging perspectives such as systemic design, transition design and public service design. By exploring these intersections the debate will open a discussion in the relationships between the research, practice and education domains.

    More information...


    Whose Design?

    (Thursday 28 June 2018)

    Moderator: Dr. Andrea Botero

    Participants: Sadie Red Wing and Arturo Escobar

    'Whose Design?' poses questions around the sharing of counterpoints to the traditional design gazes.

    In asking “Whose Design?” we seek to explore diverse understandings and counterpoints to dominant design gazes, both from the perspective of design as a noun (what is it that particular designs do in the world?) and as a verb (how should we go about designing our way out of the current mess?).

    More information...

     April 12, 2018
  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Discussion on building French-language design research see more

    This Much I Know (About Design Research): Stéphane Vial

    This is the third interview in a series for the DRS online called This Much I Know (About Design Research). Each article in this series profiles an interesting DRS member to highlight their work and reflections on design research. This time we spoke with Stéphane Vial about his work with Francophone design research communities. Vial is an associate professor of design at the Université de Nîmes in France, and is the author of many esteemed books and articles. 



    What inspires your work on building French design knowledge?

    Like many things, design research is anglocentric. It's important to foster dialogues and research communities in other languages. Further, each language offers its own contributions. For example, French design research often draws on French intellectual traditions.

    So how have you contributed to French-language design research? 

    I’m working to help develop Francophone design research through my publications and community engagement. I wrote an introductory book on design theory and history called Le Design (design). I co-founded Sciences du Design (sciences of design), the first design research journal in France, where I am now editor-in-chief. I also moderate a popular French-language design research mailing list at

    What can other design researchers do to help your project?

    Write in other languages! Sciences du Design accepts articles from Francophones, as well as new papers translated to French. It would also be great to see more localised panels at conferences and special issues of journals published in different languages.

    What is your design research speciality?

    I take a philosophical approach to the digital revolution, exploring how we experience design and the effect of the digital on perception. One of my most read books is L’Être et l’Écran (being and screen), which is currently being translated to English and will be part of the MIT Press' Design Thinking, Design Theory series. Together with Pieter Vermaas, I also co-edited Advancements in the Philosophy of Design, which was just released and will be introduced at the DRS2018 conference. 

    How do you view the DRS?

    The DRS is the origin of design research in Europe and represents research excellence. The conferences are also a great opportunity to meet other design researchers. For example, I met my new collaborator Nynke Tromp at DRS2016!

    What design researchers are you following now?

    I'm really inspired by Nynke Tromp's work on social design and Tomás Dorta's exploration of augmented co-design and research through design.

    What's next?

    I'm excited to announce a new book project called Vocabulaire du Design (design vocabulary). It will be a catalogue of design concepts and definitions, published by the Presses Universitaires de France (University Presses of France). 

    Have you got an inspiring quote to end on?

    "La fin ou le but du design est d’améliorer ou au moins de maintenir l’habitabilité du monde dans toutes ses dimensions" (The end or the goal of design is to improve or, at least, maintain the liveability of the world in all its dimensions) - Alain Findeli


    Interested in getting involved in this interview series? Tell us about your exciting work or nominate another researcher. You can contact Isabel at

  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Discussing Akama's socially and culturally-engaged design research and thoughts on DRS conferences see more

    This Much I Know (About Design Research): Yoko Akama

    This Much I Know (About Design Research) is an interview series that profiles interesting DRS members. This month we spoke with Yoko Akama about her socially and culturally-engaged design research and thoughts on the DRS conferences. Akama is associate professor of communication design at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.


    What’s your research about?

    One of my major research projects centres on Indigenous self-determination and governance in Australia. It’s a participatory design project with members of the Wiradjuri nation. We are designing various mechanisms to celebrate Wiradjuri sovereignty and cultural renewal.

    What have you found?

    This project has really affected me at a personal level and as a design researcher. It’s sensitised me further to power structures, bias and limitations in design knowledge and research. This includes colonialism and whiteness within the field.

    Can you give an example?

    Well, think about the blind peer review process. Within many worldviews, who you are and what you say brings credibility and accountability. So, this anonymity and objectivity preferred in design research becomes problematic when it's used to judge other forms of knowledge.

    Did you attend DRS2018 in Limerick?

    Yes - and it was really exciting. I noticed a greater acceptance for different design knowledge and voices, which is a sign that design research culture is diversifying. I hope this continues.

    What presentations stood out?

    Some PhD students and early career researchers are doing excellent work. I’m especially interested in feminist design research, 'designs in another name' and work addressing the Global South.

    What are your thoughts on DRS2020 in Brisbane, Australia?

    I think conferences should be shaped by agendas that are pertinent to the places where they're hosted. I’ve noticed a strong settler mind-set in Australia. There are also important conversations taking place on Indigenous treaties. It would be brilliant if these issues were addressed during the conference.


    Interested in getting involved in this interview series? Tell us about your work or nominate another researcher. You can contact Isabel at

     September 03, 2018
  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Discussing rigour, relevance and impact in design research see more

    The Impact of Design Research in Other Research Fields

    "Design research is increasingly weak in comparison with other fields; without action to increase scientific, theoretical, and methodological rigour there is a real possibility of the field being superseded and becoming obsolete through lack of impact.”

    This is an excerpt from “Developing Theory-Driven Design Research,” an article by Philip Cash that appeared in Design Studies (May 2018). We spoke with him about this article and his views on design research, with the goal of initiating a larger discussion about the rigour, relevance and impact in design research. Cash is Associate Professor in Management Engineering at the Technical University of Denmark. Along with his co-authors, he is the recipient of the Design Studies Best Paper Award in 2017 for a previous article.


    Let’s start with what might be the hardest question – how do you define design research?

    Here’s my attempt: design research is the scientific study of the phenomenon of design and the activity of designing.

    What’s your paper about?

    I express concern about the strength of design research. We struggle to build new theory and this is holding us back. We’re ready for a new way of doing things and to develop more theory-driven design research!

    How did you come to this conclusion?

    I reviewed articles in six design research journals, looking at the theory and methods used and how theory develops over time.

    What’s evidence of a strong body of research?

    There would be a literature stream on methods, detailed review papers about major theories and constructs, meta-analysis, consistent use of terminology, and standards of good practice.

    And design research doesn't have this?

    Not really! Although there’s lots of great work in design research, I haven’t seen structured reviews, consistent reuse of theories or clear standards. We also need to have a serious discussion on research ethics. For example, exploring systematic bias and problems like over focusing on positive results.

    Are these issues unique to design research?

    Every field goes through a process of research development. We could learn a lot by looking at what other fields have done or are doing. As an example, education could be a comparable field because of their theory-practice relationship. They’re also at a similar phase of research development. 

    What would you recommend to move forward?

    Individual researchers need to be explicit about the theory and constructs they’re using. My second point might seem obvious, but we also need to write expecting to be read! Clear presentation of research and results is really important.

    What role can organisations, institutions and publishers have?

    Their leadership can make a huge difference. They should initiate discussions on research expectations and establish best practices, including theoretical and methodological standards.  They could also aggregate data and develop theory databases.

    What’s next for you?

    I’m starting a deeper dive into theory development and methodology in design research through a massive review of literature. I’m also looking forward to having discussions on rigour in design research.


    Write your comments below or contact Isabel ( if you have thoughts on this interview. The DRS Online would like to prepare follow-up articles on this important topic.

     November 13, 2018
  • Isabel Prochner posted an article
    Reimagining the future of design research see more

    Design Research Talking Points: A Response to Philip Cash

    In his 2018 Design Studies article, “Developing theory-driven design research”, and in an accompanying DRS blog interview, Philip Cash describes a problem that can be reinterpreted as a puzzle: Design research is a growing, vibrant field, yet it often provides little in the way of usable theory for investigators (within the field and practice of design or elsewhere) to cite and build upon. On the one hand, design can offer unique and successful approaches to addressing the complex, pressing challenges facing the world, yet design research appears not to be producing a body of theory that is subsequently built upon, contested and confirmed like other fields. As Cash states, “We struggle to build new theory and this is holding us back. We’re ready for a new way of doing things and to develop more theory-driven design research!”

    Questions about the future of design research and the way it can (and should) seek to develop knowledge are long-standing in the field, and Cash’s article therefore represents a welcome addition to this ongoing discourse. We could claim that design research is a relatively young, emerging discipline within design, making it reasonable to speculate that it is still defining itself in terms of academic identity and clear articulation of its research landscape. However, it can also be argued that design research is in fact more mature than other research trajectories, which have nonetheless adopted clear standards and methods for rigorously producing knowledge; with Synthetic Biology, Computational Medicine, and Human-Computer Interaction representing just a handful of useful comparative examples.

    It is also evident that design research practice is not atheoretical. Design researchers can, and of course do use highly rigorous, theory-informed methods in their research, including those drawn from the sciences. To support this, and as Cash duly notes, publications in top design research journals often rely on the theoretical products of other fields, and the reverse is also evidenced within science and medicine (for example, the works of Mina Bissell and Donald Ingber). It is also clear that design situations can be theoretically defined and experimentally reproduced, permitting empirical scientific investigation (for example, in the work of Gabi Goldschmidt). Nonetheless, the question remains as to whether this should be the only way design researchers produce and advance knowledge?

    There is an extensive literature spanning at least the last 60 years that problematises the construct of objective science as a sole benchmark for understanding the world. Such constructionist approaches have been extensively applied to great effect in monolithic models of research, as well as a very large contribution to design research, drawing on post-structuralist thinkers including Derrida, Foucault and Deleuze. In fact, science itself is currently undergoing a profound moment of self-examination; questioning the validity and reproducibility of it’s prevailing universal, technocratic models (for example, see Monya Baker’s 2016 article). It is also worth taking note that medicine and healthcare are increasingly re-incorporating design research into their portfolios in a desperate attempt to help redress the disparities that a purely scientifically-led empirical model currently provides (for example, see Mark L Tykocinski’s 2018 commentary).

    An overriding theme of Cash’s article is the presence of a potentially-existential threat to design research through lack of relevance and impact in other fields. The literature Cash reviewed showed few examples of theory being drawn from design research, but the impact of design research is not only through citations of theory. The interdisciplinary and collaborative work involving design researchers can have impact on the world through the production of tools, systems and services, and via changes in policy and practice – all without the need for theory to describe and experimentally isolate its contributions. These forms of impact may be challenging to measure, especially in comparison with more traditional research metrics, but that does not make them necessarily less valuable as contributions of design research to humanity. We might be encouraged to see design researchers publishing in other fields as a route to impact, rather than positioning this as a force fragmenting the ‘territory’ of design research.

    The alternative perspectives offered here are not intended to dismiss Cash’s call for greater rigour, clarity and commensurability in design research. We see the diverse and elastic nature of this approach as a strength, not a weakness of the discipline, but this type of adaptability must be visible for research findings to be successfully shared. We see significant benefits for design researchers more consistently and rigorously stating the framings and connections that underpin their work, helping to reveal navigable pathways within the field. The role given to theory in science allows it to articulate experimentally-testable expressions and to define a landscape of domains, fields and specialisms. Design research would benefit greatly from the second of these functions, but need not require the former to do so. The distinctive and expanding ability of design to engage with complexity and human need is secondary to the need to predict its ability to do so.



    Roger Whitham, Lecturer in Interaction, ImaginationLancaster, Lancaster University, UK.

    Peter Lloyd Jones, PhD, Assoc Dean of Emergent Design & Creative Technology in Medicine, Jefferson University, Philadelphia, U.S. & Visiting scientist at ImaginationLancaster, Lancaster University, UK.


    Write your comments below or contact Isabel ( if you have thoughts on design research. We hope to continue this discussion through short articles, interviews and debates.

     April 04, 2019