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Design theory: a foundation of a new paradigm for design science and engineering

Abstract

In recent years, the works on design theory (and particularly the works of the design theory SIG of the design society) have contributed to reconstruct the science of design, comparable in its structure, foundations and impact to decision theory, optimization or game theory in their time. These works have reconstructed historical roots and the evolution of design theory, conceptualized the field at a high level of generality and uncovered theoretical foundations, in particular the logic of generativity, the “design-oriented” structures of knowledge, and the logic of design spaces. These results give the academic field of engineering design an ecology of scientific objects and models, which allows for expanding the scope of engineering education and design courses. They have contributed to a paradigm shift in the organization of R&D departments, supporting the development of new methods and processes in innovation departments, and to establishing new models for development projects. Emerging from the field of engineering design, design theory development has now a growing impact in many disciplines and academic communities. The research community may play a significant role in addressing contemporary challenges if it brings the insights and applicability of design theory to open new ways of thinking in the developing and developed world.

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(Source: El Qaoumi et al. 2017)

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We do not define what design theory as a field of study is in this paper, or what a design theory is. We also do not precisely state what it means for design theory to function as a new paradigm for science. We assume intuitive interpretations of these important concepts and leave the rest for future elaboration, including by other members of the community. We also do not conduct a philosophical analysis of the (im)possibility or over-generality of design theory as we base our paper on significant body of work that demonstrates the possibility and value of design theory.

  2. 2.

    The identity of object is defined through the perception of people organizing the word into categories of cognitive artifacts. Simplistically, it could be done by a set of properties or functions that people commonly associate with the object but it could be more complicated than that (Subrahmanian et al. 2013). For example a “phone” used to be characterized by its function of facilitating voice communication. Today, a “cellular phone” has very different identity than early cellular phones, marking its radical change of identify. Similarly, Uber started with the identity of a sharing economy brand, turning into a disruptive taxi company, and moving fast towards automated mobility in a form antithetical to its original identity.

  3. 3.

    Note that design thinking is today a particular design practice that insists on prototyping and user knowledge. Design theory corresponds to a scientific program that can account for the logic and performance of design thinking in specific cases, see (Le Glatin et al. 2016).

  4. 4.

    Note that as we explain later, generativity is different from the general notion of an ability to generate or create. It has clear definition as well as formal description that could be found in references such as (Hatchuel et al. 2011a, b, 2013b). This definition makes our generativity different from the word 'generative' that is used in generative design grammars or even in different disciplines such as generative grammar in linguistics.

  5. 5.

    This could be the reason why abduction works for diagnosis where one adopts a hypothesis or a set of hypotheses in identifying the cause of the symptoms and is confirmed or refuted by the available and new evidence. For comprehensive treatment of abduction and diagnosis see (Josephson and Josephson 1996).

  6. 6.

    But see recent attempts to define abduction in a way that is more akin to design (Kroll and Koskela 2017). See also the very interesting work on abduction and design theory in Sharif Ullah et al. 2011

  7. 7.

    We contend that models of analogy such as those presented in Goel (2013) that lead to the creation of new objects and their elaboration have generative power. Consequently, different analogical inferences could be evaluated on their generativity, rather than on their capacity to create novelty, value and surprise that are context dependent.

  8. 8.

    Note that there is no value judgement here but the observation that different theories need to be scoped well and could be evaluated based on their generativity. There is no attempt to discount any theory as different theories may be better in particular cases, similarly to other methods (Reich 2010).

  9. 9.

    Knowledge structure here is meant to signify a body of knowledge that heretofore is not integrated. For example, user interaction studies bring new knowledge structures to interactive software design.

  10. 10.

    Biomimicry is a recent area that builds upon at least two distinct disciplines such as engineering and biology and allows the creation of new knowledge structures to bridge them (Goel et al. 2014; Cohen and Reich 2016). It was shown that Design Theory such as C-K theory is a strong support to teaching biomimicry in engineering (Nagel et al. 2016).

  11. 11.

    In this invitation, we are being consistent with our proposed ontology of design, adhering to the principle of reflexive practice (Reich 2017). Developing better design theories can arise from diverse independent knowledge that may come from opening the social space of people involved in the generation of new theories.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the reviewers of this paper for their useful comments that have helped making the paper better. The design theory SIG acknowledges the support of the design society and the industrial sponsors. We also thank all the participants in the workshops over the last 10 years.

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Correspondence to Pascal Le Masson.

Additional information

Pascal Le Masson and Eswaran Subrahmanian are the two co-chairs of the design theory SIG of the design society. Armand Hatchuel and Yoram Reich are the two founding co-chairs of the design theory SIG of the design society.

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Hatchuel, A., Le Masson, P., Reich, Y. et al. Design theory: a foundation of a new paradigm for design science and engineering. Res Eng Design 29, 5–21 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00163-017-0275-2

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Keywords

  • Generativity
  • Design theory
  • Decision theory
  • Knowledge structure
  • Social spaces