How to Plan for the Unimagined  Reformulating the Support for Design Discoveries

Author: Claus Peder Pedersen, Aarhus School of Architecture

Category: Individual position statement

The CA2RE/CA2RE+ network has continuously developed its presentation and peer feedback model and supporting workshops. The network has expanded, fellows from more institutions present their research, the panels have grown to cover a broader range of artistic and creative fields. In contrast, the events have kept their supportive and communal spirit. This expansion has only enriched the wealth of design-driven research practices and underlined the impossibility of applying one size fits all criteria for research rigour.

However, across this diverse field, there is still a need to deepen the understanding and reformulate the notion of discovery in design-driven research. Discovery is a well-established notion in the literature on design knowledge. Donald Schön reflects, for instance, on how it can emerge in the interdepending dynamic of reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. The reflection-in-action refers to the considerations, choices and decisions made by the designer while designing. The reflection-on-action is a post-design reflection ‘in order to discover how our knowing-in-action may have contributed to an unexpected outcome’. 1 Schön argues that practice- and thereby implicitly design-based knowledge surfaces by linking the experience of being embedded in the design activity with the distanced examination of what happened in the process. He is not addressing design-driven research, but it is not difficult to imagine how the documentation and unfolding of the activities could become a helpful methodology in design-driven research. Research is addressed in Designerly Grounded Theory (DGT), although from a different academic position. Johan Verbeke articulated DGT, and it builds, as suggested by the name, on Grounded Theory formulated by Kathy Charmaz and others in the social sciences. 2 DGT describes a qualitative research methodology based on design practice. It is, like Grounded Theory, based on inductive reasoning that uses partial understandings and insights to construct argumentations in contrast to the hypothetico-deductive models often used in scientific research. DGT operates without a pre-established hypothesis but iteratively collects ‘data’ produced through designing that is registered, mapped and ‘coded’. The codification is preliminary and helps refine the design operations and data collection in an iterative process that supports knowledge formation and eventually leads to theory-building. Reflection in/on action and DGT both point out that knowledge production occurs by shifting perspective back and forth between embedded actions and distanced reflections. They also both associate this knowledge production with discoveries occurring due to the perspectival changes, whether they are ‘…an unexpected outcome’ as in Schön or the notion ‘that new knowledge and theories come into being’ as stated by Verbeke. 3

The design-driven research discoveries come in many different forms and arguments. However, some of the most exciting and challenging CA2RE+ presentations have insisted on letting the open-ended explorative design processes guide the development and direction of the research and outcomes.

Suppose design-driven research discoveries are based on inductive reasoning and iterative design processes. How can future doctoral fellows propose research proposals based on explorative design-driven research that address criteria such as delimitation, contextualization, and expected outcomes that funding agencies and academic institutions require? How can we encourage and support the patience needed by researchers who search for design-driven discoveries to emerge? Moreover, can we mitigate the risks that might not happen? Are there valuable models, strategies or techniques to support open-ended design-driven research explorations? How can we support the unfolding and sharing of design discoveries to make them relevant beyond the particular design project or practice?

  1. Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions (1. ed.). Jossey-Bass. P. 26
  2. Verbeke, J. (2017). “Knowledge and Architectural Practice”, in R. Hay, & F. Samuel (ed.), Professional Practices in the Built Environment: Conference Proceedings (s. 155-164). University of Reading.
  3. Ibid. P. 162