The Question of Theory: A Coevolutionary Approach to Design Theses

DS 74: Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Engineering & Product Design Education (E&PDE12) Design Education for Future Wellbeing, Antwerp, Belguim, 06-07.9.2012

Year: 2012
Editor: Lyndon Buck, Geert Frateur, William Ion, Chris McMahon, Chris Baelus, Guido De Grande, Stijn Verwulgen
Author: Wylant, Barry Dean
Series: E&PDE
Institution: University of Calgary, Canada
Section: Postgraduate Design Education
Page(s): 723-728
ISBN: 978-1-904670-36-0


This paper addresses the use of theory within student efforts to complete design theses. Background sections outlining features of problem space and solution space are provided to contextualize and offer insights into the design thinking surrounding the consideration of information, research and theory within a given thesis or design process. The inherent pitfalls associated with the a priori framing of problems, or methodological approaches, are discussed as means of illustrating where the use of theory can benefit in circumventing these risks. To exemplify such insights, a series of student projects are presented. These are unique in that each uses a theoretical interest as a departure point to engage thesis research. At the outset, students do not know what thing/object/product they will eventually design. Rather the design response emerges from a considered understanding of the theoretical topic pursued, contextualized within a specific application or use situation, and identified as part of the process. As such these exercises demonstrate aspects of a discursive or dialogic approach to design, which in turn seems to foster a coevolutionary understanding of the design problem and design solution as the design effort unfolds.

Keywords: Design theory, problem space, solution space, coevolutionary design, design innovation


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