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Design Representations. Connecting, Making and Reflecting in Design Research Education

Book Contribution - Chapter

When students think of design research, they tend to understand it as a process of, on one hand, making and, on the other, thinking or reflecting. In other words, students are often inclined to approach design research in a scientific way: “doing research” first in order to “make things” afterward. However, this is only one possible form of research and design. According to Frayling, design and research can be related in three different way. First, research for design concerns this dichotomous approach that most students use; here, design is the goal of the research. In other words, research produces insights and instruments that are useful for design practice. Second, in research into design, design is the subject of investigation, as in in art history, media studies, or literature; reflection upon practice happens subsequently and by others, rather than by the practitioner. Finally, research through design refers to design practice as research. This latter form is usually referred to as being the core of design research, where the practice itself is a substantial part of both the research process and the result. By definition, this approach does not separate practice from theory. Furthermore, the artist or designer is the person who is doing the research and is producing new knowledge. In the context of research through design, Donald Schön refers to this as the reflective practitioner. It is this latter approach from which design students can benefit most. In research through design, students learn to research in their own designer language (which is a visual, ‘making’ language wherein tacit knowledge is acquired). For students, making is a necessary activity in developing a designer language and in gaining design knowledge. Here, making is defined as the visualization or tactilization of research data and interpretations. The focus is on making that happens during the design process (e.g. iterations) as well as the making of the final output (for instance, a service, artifact, or film). However, when design and research are intertwined, students tend to lose focus on making—as was observed by the authors while developing an educational design research course at the Media, Arts & Design faculty (Genk, Belgium). Instead, students went through a process of reflection and, consequently, made something only at the end of this research process (as they tend to call it). Furthermore, students were eager to find a solution for a particular design problem as quickly as possible, thereby neglecting the value of iterations; while doing this, they lacked reflection on the design research and making process. In order to tackle, first, this dichotomous approach to making and reflecting and, second, the tendency to jump to solutions, the authors began exploring rich design representations to trigger a reflective design process wherein making is central throughout.
Book: Good Practices. Best Practices. Highlighting the Compound Idea of Education, Creativity, Research and Practice
Pages: 35 - 39
Publication year:2012