Academic journal article Visible Language

Where Are the Design Methodologists?

Academic journal article Visible Language

Where Are the Design Methodologists?

Article excerpt


Methods still attract both confusion and dissension in design. "Design" and "method" ace defined in order to carefully locate meaning in the following discussion. A brief reflection on the history of design methods, precedes reasons for supporting this investigation and reasons resistant to such work. An analogy is drawn to other domains such as thermodynamics, now thoroughly established with a useful body of knowledge, that originally soffered from the resistance of practitioners to codification of knowledge about the domain. An anatomy of method is offered that describes its key features and indicates possible areas for generation of new or improved method, given the changing context of design performance. The essay argues that developing methods that ace explicit, useful and whose efficacy can be measured is essential for the development of design as a discipline.

Do you know one? A design methodologist, I mean. You know, a professional or academic who is concerned with how design is done in addition to doing design. Do you know of anyone who makes a conscious act to select a particular approach to working through a design problem? By this time in the development of the discipline, most designers should have a thorough education in design methods and apply them regularly in practice. There were a good number of methodologists in the 1960's representing numerous design disciplines including architecture, product design, city planning and others. Yet, the discussion at the 2003 2byTwo Conference gave the impression that design methodology is still just emerging or at least that it remains on the periphery of academia and practice. Have design methods skipped a generation? Has the postmodern backlash to modernism submerged methods along with high modern expression? Has technological support for design processes cheapened thinking? Attendees in the conference session on methods were there to present their current experiments with methods, how they taught methodology and to just see what was going on in design methods today. For someone who has been immersed in the development, practice and rhetoric of design methods for over fifteen years, the state of affairs, as much as it could be characterized by the interactions at the 2byTwo symposium, was certainly striking.

In this paper, I attempt to explore why design methods seem to remain a contested possibility in the field. I draw on some history, look critically at the culture of design and seek analogies from other fields. My ultimate goal is to break down some of the apparent barriers and misconceptions about design methods and sketch out potential ways of encouraging their development and adoption as a normal part of design research and practice.


There are two important definitions with which to begin. They are "design" and "method." I use the term "design" in this paper in much the same way as Herbert Simon who I paraphrase here: "Design is devising courses of action aimed at turning existing situations into preferred ones" (Simon, 1996). Design, as it is used herein, is intentionally broad and encompasses any discipline whose goal is to create new artifacts and systems. The particular fields of design that are normally implied by the attendees of the 2byTwo symposium and perhaps by readers of Visible Language are design fields generally interested in visual solutions that mediate the relationship between artifact and human user: communication design, information design and industrial design. Throughout the paper, the term "human-centered design" or HCD will be used when referring to the fields of communication, graphic, product and environmental design. Design will be used in its much broader sense.

The definition for "method" is: "A means or manner of procedure, especially a regular and systematic way of accomplishing something." Methodology means: "A body of practices, procedures and rules used by those who work in a discipline or engage in an inquiry; a set of working methods" (American Heritage® Dictionary, 2002). …

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