'Design Research Through Practice' is at once a position statement, a commentary, a collection of best practices, an infomercial, and a textbook on `constructive design research'. This hybridity makes reviewing quite challenging. I choose to review this book by following the authors' three reasons for writing: `First design has increasingly become a growing academic field. We feel that a bird's eye perspective on it is useful for researchers, professors, and students alike. The second reason is that a PhD is fact becoming an entry criterion for teaching positions; however, this is not how design is traditionally taught: design has been like art, taught by masters to apprentices. The apprenticeship model has guaranteed that designers have sensitivities that are very difficult to put in words. To maintain these sensitivities, professors of the future need design skills, and one way to maintain these skills is to bring design into the middle of research. The third reason for writing this book is to add tolerance. Designers are not traditionally well versed is scientific practice and tend to understand science narrowly. We still hear talks about the scientific method, even though there clearly are many methods. A good deal of astrophysics and geology is not experimental. In contrast, we argue that there is a need for many types of methods and methodologies in design, just as there is a need for many types of methodologies in the sciences and the social sciences'.
For the first objective, I find the bird soaring not very high and the perspective hardly new. I read the second objective as a wish to maintain `designerly way of knowing' in the academy and the book as providing examples on how to do it. This objective is masterfully achieved. For the third aim, I see more testimonys than arguments. I will first start with the jewel in the book.
Here arguably one can find the best collection of examples of `constructive design research' in which `construction - be it product, system, spaces and media - takes center place and becomes the key means in constructing knowledge' and which `does most of the things that Findeli and Jonas call forth'. The international debates on what design research should be, as the authors also note, have gone on for over 15 years. Despite the fact that quite a number of models exist: Practice-Led Research, Project-Grounded Research and Research Through Design; there is a lack of good examples. Talks have become cheap. The authors, in a thoughtful manner and with sufficient details, showcase a variety of projects in Industry Design, Interaction Design, and Service Design from both the industry and the university. Although one might question whether some projects are suitable examples for Doctoral research; or whether the tone is sometimes too promotional; they provide concrete cases to argue about and build on. I find these to be very useful for teaching purposes and a commendable contribution to keeping `designerly way of knowing' in the university. Mission 2 completed with five stars!
Mission 1 and 3 are linked and I will treat them as one. Theory follows practice, so the authors believe; however, abstracting practices into a book is `what the university needs'. And yet the book is more descriptive than constructive. While the examples are valuable, the insights and concepts abstracted from these practices: lab, field and showroom hardly add anything new to the theoretical discourse. I cannot help but wonder why the authors acknowledge Jonas and Findeli and yet totally ignore their models when interpreting these exemplary projects. If the models from Jonas and Findeli are inadequate to describe or characterize these projects, is it not useful and valuable to correct or expand or reconstruct them? Perhaps the authors do not see this as their task, but that would strike me as very odd, given objective 1 and 3.
The serious theorists of Research Through Design have over the years put forward arguments for their positions. They have done battles. It might be that what they say has been practiced in different corners of the world for as long as they have been writing. But it might also be that we would not have recognized these exemplary cases without their discourse from the past 15 years. Theory might indeed follow practice but practice cannot be recognized without theory. The authors stop short of confronting existing design research theory with practical examples and pushing the boundary of our knowledge. For that, I have to take away one star.
Rosan Chow, Germany