An Empirical Study of Understanding in Order to Act and Acting in Order to Understand in Digital Design Practice

Format: Papers, RSD11, RSD11: Methods and the worlds they make, Topic: Architecture & Planning, Topic: Methods & Methodology

Chitraj Bissoonauth, Christiane Margerita Herr, and Thomas Fischer

1Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University | 2Southern University of Science and Technology

We present an ongoing empirical study into a distinction between two kinds of purposeful action: understanding in order to act and acting in order to understand. This distinction is referred to in several design theories and has received limited empirical attention. One such effort investigates Tetri’s play and labels the two kinds as pragmatic and epistemic actions. With Tetris being characterized by simple rules and a well-defined goal, the question arises whether it offers a suitable context to account for human action in the context of design, given its ill-defined goals and often-conflicting requirements. To address this question, we are conducting a lab study of individual designers concurrently thinking-aloud during digital design processes. We analyze data acquired in this setting using the lithography method. Our preliminary analysis shows that pragmatic design objectives frequently lead to epistemic fulfilments (or dead-ends) and vice versa. In total, we identify six design episode categories. Numerous design episodes we observed fall into different categories when analyzed across different observational time frames. 

KEYWORDS: digital design, linear and circular processes, pragmatic and epistemic actions, protocol analysis, linkography

RSD TOPIC(S): Cases & Practice, Modelling & Mapping, Architecture & Planning

Citation Data

Author(s): Chitraj Bissoonauth, Christiane Margerita Herr, and Thomas Fischer
Year: 2022
Title: An Empirical Study of Understanding in Order to Act and Acting in Order to Understand in Digital Design Practice
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD11
Article No.: 088
Host: University of Brighton
Location: Brighton, UK
Symposium Dates: October 3–16, 2022
First published: 23 September 2022
Last update: 30 April 2023
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404

Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


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Author(s). (20##). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD##. Article ##.

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