Author: Wolfgang Jonas
1 Overview Design research is a wide field. In this proposal we take Practice-Based Design Research (PBDR) in its various forms and terminologies in the focus of interest. We consider design as a process of „generating the unknown from the known“ or of „organizing the transition from knowns to unknowns“ (Hatchuel), aiming at exploration and innovation. Design conceives lifeworld situations in future contexts. It is thereby confronted with the fundamental problems of control (non-reducible complexity), of prediction (not-knowing of evolutionary emerging futures) and of incompatible domains of knowing. The problems show up in causal gaps between bodily, psychic and communicative systems and between the phases of evolutionary development.PBDR explores the possibilities of bridging these gaps in the medium of design projects and thereby creates new knowledge. This is necessarily done with scientific support, but in a situated, „designerly“ mode, which means that the designer is part of the design / inquiring system. This is the epistemological characteristic. The differentiation between Design and PBDR is fuzzy, the transition is continuously. We argue for a strong coupling of PBDR and Systems Thinking.
2 RTD and CFU as epistemological frameworks.The model or theoretical framework of „Research Through Design“ (RTD) is taken as one possible realiazation of PBDR. The cybernetic concepts of 1st and 2nd order observation are helpful for the distinction between classical detached inquiry and situated inquiry. Furthermore, the RTD model can be interpreted in a systemic perspective. It comprises three core systemic dimensions: (1) the wider context of a design situation or the relevant environment, (2) the design / inquiring system, which may be a designer / scientist, a group, a company, a community, etc. and (3) the driving force, which is determined by the value base and motivation of the inquiry. The „cube of future uncertainty“ (CFU) is a methodically generalized designerly framework for scenario approaches. The CFU is defined by the three above mentioned systemic dimensions of RTD and thus establishes the systems-based connection between RTD and scenario-building.
3 The limits and blind spots of PBDR.Two fundamental characteristics of PBDR have already been mentioned: the problem of control (systemic complexity) and the problem of prediction (evolution, future uncertainty). These aspects can be expanded in various ways: Rittel´s paradoxes of rationality. Rationality means the attempt / claim to predict the consequences of intended actions. But: (1) One cannot start to be rational, since one should have always started one step earlier. (2) One cannot stop to be rational because one should draw the consequence of every consequence. (3) The uncertainty of factors grows, the further we look into the future of a causal chain. Finally (4) the causal model of the phenomena to be designed would have to include itself as central part. Krippendorff still sharpens the argument and describes design research as an “oxymoron”, a contradiction in itself, since it is impossible to do research about something that does not yet exist. Further blind spots comprise: (1) Unconsciously defined and intransparent value systems, mainly based on today´s zeitgeisty beliefs, and the mixing of facts and values. (2) Implicit driving forces based on the optimistic or pessimistic views of an assumed future from the subjective perspective and motivation of the observer. (3) Starting from biased, selective pasts, which means that trajectories of the past are continued without reflection. The pasts outside the observer‘s perspective are neither integrated in his presence nor his future image. (4) Pseudo-objective scenario-techniques, which convey the illusion of an ideal, value-free observer. Scenarios are normative in any case. Observers are unaware of their involvement or they are consciously concealing their role.
4 Conclusions and perspectives. All these seeming deficits should be turned into the strengths of a new paradigm of inquiry, which comprises (1) systems thinking and the positive acceptance of multi-perspectivity. Mikulecky proposes to develop “distinctly different ways of interacting with systems … in the sense that when we make successful models, the formal systems needed to describe each distinct aspect are NOT derivable from each other.” (2) The conscious adoption of generative, designerly approaches like scenario thinking as „playgrounds“ for explorations. (3) The explicit integration of facts and values into our systems of inquiry. Ulrich´s Critical Systems Heuristics can be regarded as an approach towards transparency of this kind. The further development of this pro-active position means that Design might be the new model for Science, as has been suggested by Glanville, who describes Science as a specific sub-category of Design. The concept of Mode-2 science with its emphasis on socially robust instead of true knowledge might be a strong theoretical support, as well as the emerging framework of transdisciplinarity. Radical transdisciplinarity explicitly addresses all the indecent issues of designerly inquiry as described above and takes them as the basis for a new kind of science.