Some Consequences of the Academicization of Design Practice

Design Philosophy Papers 9 (1):41-55 (2011)
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This paper aims to contribute a design-focused perspective on the ‘alternative paradigm research’ discussion. To clarify the aspect of ‘design-focus’ that we wish to refer to, we will use the term ‘areas of design practice’ to cover those activities that focus on the conception and production of artefacts, in contrast to the activities of theorizing and writing histories. The literature on academic research in areas of design practice encompasses a board range of subjects and terminology -- it refers to the creative and performing arts, the arts, design, etc., however what we take to be common in the literature is an interest in research involving the creation of original artefacts. In this paper, we cluster together the currently academicized, previously vocational areas. We claim that researchers in different disciplines operate in different research paradigms owing to different worldviews. A worldview is determined by a set of foundational beliefs that are taken on faith, and a research paradigm is defined by axioms and assumptions that are a consequence of that worldview. For example, the scientific view of the world is that it exists independently from the individual and the individual’s thoughts about it; and it is possible to find out objective facts about the world by following certain procedures. This worldview conditions a research paradigm with an ontology of a real external world; that methodologically the data that is collected in procedurally appropriate ways will yield objective facts about that world; and that epistemologically the researcher stands in a disengaged relation to the world that is being investigated. The procedures that are regarded as appropriate within a particular research paradigm form the research models that are acceptable in that paradigm, and these research models determine what one should do in order to extend knowledge in a particular subject. Of course, the scientific worldview is not the only one, and this paper will contrast it to the design worldview as indicating the emergence of a unique research paradigm. The relationship between a community’s worldview and the academic models that it adopts may be functional or dysfunctional. We claim that the relationship in the areas of design practice is often dysfunctional. This is because the academic model has not developed authentically in relation to its fundamental beliefs, but has done so in response to external forces for academicization. When pushed into the academy, areas of design practice did not possess their own academic models that were effectively linked to its worldview. We claim that, as a result, these areas simply co-opted research models from other disciplines. The paper proposes a rationalistic approach for investigating the relationship between worldview and research paradigm -- between fundamental beliefs, theoretical concepts and methodology in research models. The rationalistic approach enables a critique, which reveals that there are indeed problematic issues with adopting academic models from other research paradigms in an uncritical way, and concludes that areas of design practice should be investigated as an example of a distinct worldview.

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Michael Biggs
University of Hertfordshire


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