Integrating Social Issues into Design Theory

William H. Wood
Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore MD 21250, USA

A reductionist approach to inquiry in the field of design theory and methodology leads naturally to examination of the lone designer and is the foundation for the development of theories for design. Even in this simplified setting, the two `heads’ of design research emerge: describing what effective designers actually do vs. prescribing what they should do. Without partnership between the two sides there is little hope that developed theories will be applied. Another bifurcation in design occurs between the two primary cognitive activities: generating design options vs. selecting among them. These activities are interleaved; theories that isolate one from the other cannot grasp the real nature of design. This paper examines existing paths toward building design theories that extend beyond the lone designer into groups of interacting designers and further into design situated in a social environment. This analysis points to the need to develop tools that anchor successful real- world design strategies into more formal foundations, helping design teams interact in ways that are both effective and natural.


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