Design-Type Research in Information Systems: Findings and Practices

Design-Type Research in Information Systems: Findings and Practices

Rustam Vahidov (Concordia University, Canada)
Indexed In: SCOPUS View 1 More Indices
Release Date: February, 2012|Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 309
ISBN13: 9781466601314|ISBN10: 1466601310|EISBN13: 9781466601321|DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0131-4


Design-type research deals with the multidisciplinary issues of methodology of design, design principles and guidelines, and philosophy of design with the aim of producing knowledge that aids designers in becoming more effective and efficient.

Design-Type Research in Information Systems: Findings and Practices aims to demonstrate that Design-Type Research is a legitimate scientific activity, particularly in the context of the field of Information Systems. Contending that the philosophy, methodology and principles of traditional science also apply to design-type of science, the research contained within this book is important to the widespread acceptance and promotion of design-type research.

Topics Covered

The many academic areas covered in this publication include, but are not limited to:

  • Artifacts
  • Design Problems
  • Design Research
  • Developments in Information Science Research
  • Differences between Traditional Science and Design-Type Research
  • Electronic Negotiation Systems
  • Information Science Classification Frameworks
  • Ockham’s Razor
  • Representing Meta-Artifacts
  • Zachman’s Model for Information Architecture

Reviews and Testimonials

Design-type research is about discovering the non-existent. Alternatively, some researchers propose that science itself is a type of design. Scientific theories may as well be regarded as inventions, or artifacts, certainly in light of teachings of some of the philosophers of science. So is science a kind of design, or design a kind of science? It does not really matter. The position of the book is that design of meta-artifacts is equivalent to scientific research. Moreover, the philosophy, methodology and principles of traditional science can be applied to design-type of science as well.

– Rustam Vahidov, Concordia University, Canada

Table of Contents and List of Contributors

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What is the purpose of this book? Perhaps the best way to convey its very essence is through a hypothetical dialogue between two researchers in the area of Information Systems. The two colleagues come from different research perspectives. Let’s call one of them T-Researcher, and the other one D-Researcher. They have both recently joined the same department in a North-American university. They decided to have a lunch together and talk about their research interests and discuss the possibilities of future collaboration.

T-Researcher (TR): I’ve heard your paper has been recently accepted in journal X. That’s great news! Congratulations!

D-Researcher (DR): Thank you, yes it always gives one a sense of accomplishment. By the way, I also saw your paper in the latest issue of journal Y. Congratulations to you!

TR: Thanks, it took a while to get it out. So what is your paper about?

DR: I proposed a method for supporting shopping process for online buyers.

TR: You mean you have compared different existing methods, perhaps in experimental settings and found that one of them is superior to others?

DR: No, I have actually invented this new method. I also described the structure for a system that could incorporate it.

TR: You mean, you have built a website that incorporates some features and functions which the existing sites lack? Is this what your paper is about?

DR: It’s not exactly true. The website itself was not my objective, but it helps objectifying the more abstract concept.

TR: OK, if I understand correctly you came up with the new method, which is an artifact, to test your theoretical model in order to advance knowledge?

DR: In a way, yes. But that’s not the major point. The artifact is the knowledge.

TR: I know that science uses artifacts of all kinds as instruments to advance scientific knowledge. For example, telescopes help astronomers to study vast outer spaces. But a telescope is just a tool. It is not knowledge.

DR: A concrete given embodied telescope is just an artefact, but what about the concept itself in abstract form. May it not be regarded as knowledge?

TR: Artifacts are invented or designed. And isn’t design in general just an application of science? Science discovers laws and advances theories, which are then used by practitioners to build useful objects, i.e. the artifacts.

DR: The wheel had been invented long before science existed. 

TR: Yet, it is somewhat unusual to regard these objects as knowledge. Perhaps study of the methods used to produce them to some extent could be called research. I don’t want to appear rude, but I am just trying to understand. In regards to our field, you are saying that anyone who writes a piece of software (an artifact), which is “novel” in some respect is a scientist? Programming then is the act of scientific research? The software itself is knowledge? 

DR: No the software is not knowledge in itself. In fact it is of secondary importance. 

TR: Now I am really confused. You are saying that designing artifacts is a kind of science. Science aims at producing knowledge. An artifact, according to you is a kind of knowledge. Therefore, the kind of scientific work you do should aim at producing artifacts. But then you are saying that the artefact itself is of secondary importance?

DR: Yes, but there is no contradiction here. I just need to clarify a bit what is meant by the artefact. Knowledge has to be general in some sense. Any given concrete artifact by itself can rarely be general. It could be built in one way or the other, while exhibiting the essential form within it. In the design of concrete artifacts many design decisions could be made to fit it to a specific context of operation. The prototype website that I used in my experiments could be designed and built differently, but yet it had to implement the concept. Therefore, in this designing-sort of research the primary outcome is an abstract artifact, or a type of artifacts. These cannot be built in their pure form. Prototypes are used mostly for demonstration and evaluation purposes.

TR: But still, science is all about discovering things. You are talking about inventions. Science studies the natural, while design is about artificial.

DR: Some artifact forms can be regarded as discoveries. Think about it. Suppose a designer-scientist invents a given artifact form, and provides its description in general abstract fashion. If some years later this abstract artifact “exists” in form of multiple concrete artifacts, then may it not be regarded as a discovery? I would say that a wheel form was truly a discovery, as it is so pervasive nowadays. We can argue about design vs. science forever. Tell me what your paper is about.

TR: Well, I had investigated the effects of culture on the adoption of technology. My model actually worked out beautifully: nice pattern of factor loadings, very good support of hypotheses...

DR: Adoption of what kind of technology?

TR: Information technology, of course.

DR: And how did you represent or incorporate this technology in your model?

TR: Well, it’s not explicitly in there. It is one of the external variables.

DR: How can it be an external variable if the theory sounds technology-centric? Indeed, how come Information Systems are often black boxed or omitted completely from theories in the very discipline of Information Systems?

TR: Well, this is the way most behavioral studies work in IS. This isn’t Computer Science after all... And yet, I cannot understand how inventing could be at par with rigorous scientific research.

After the lunch, somewhat upset D-researcher went to his office to start writing this book.


In the simulated dialogue the T-Researcher comes from the traditional, i.e. descriptive and explanatory type of science. The D-Researcher is a design-oriented scientist. The dialogue is really hypothetical, and somewhat polarized in terms of the opposing views. Yet design-oriented researchers in Information Systems would probably recognize some of its elements. Those coming through the schooling in traditional understanding in science, in particular, social disciplines often have difficulties accepting design as a legitimate type of science. Not all design is science of course. But a class of design projects, the author believes, are akin to scientific research.

This book is about design-type research, mostly focusing on the area of Information Systems (IS). What is meant by design-type research? In fact, different versions of the term have been used in the recent past, including: design research; design science; design science research; and design-oriented research. The term “design research” actually has been around for over four decades (Cross, 2007). It refers to the study of design in general, in other words it is an interdisciplinary (or, rather meta-disciplinary) field, which deals with the issues of methodology of design, design principles and guidelines, philosophy of design, and the like. It looks to produce knowledge for helping partitioning designers to be effective and efficient in their projects. The outcome of such projects, i.e. design (as a noun) of specific artifacts is not the primary focus. This book is not about design research in this sense.

Design as research, on the other hand looks to produce artifacts, which could be regarded as knowledge. For example, a researcher in operations management area could develop a new method for job scheduling. A computer scientist (in Artificial Intelligence subfield) may develop a novel type of neural networks. Likewise, someone in the IS field may propose a new system concept for business intelligence applications. All of the above activities develop innovative solutions. The artifact is the major outcome of their research. This is constructive type of research. The artifact is knowledge. As knowledge, it must display some level of generality. Thus, the artifacts produced by design-type research are actually classes or types of artifacts, i.e. meta-artifacts. The use of the term “design research” to refer to this type of work would be confusing. Lately, the term “design science research” appears to be used more frequently. In this book the term “design-type research” is primarily adopted as, in the author’s opinion, it better reflects the essence of such science, although alternative versions are also used, in particular when citing other researchers’ work.

In like-minded homogeneous scientific communities the question of legitimacy of the mode of conducting research is rarely raised. In computer science, let’s say, all of the research work is about developing (designing) solutions, i.e. artifacts. In IS area, however, there is a mix of people targeting the human/social side, and thus conducting descriptive and explanatory studies, vs. those occupied with generating innovative solution concepts. The former community has been predominant in the area (especially in North America) within the past few decades. However, design-type research have been rapidly gaining strong popularity lately, especially due to a number of influential publications which raised the awareness and outlined some guidelines and principles of this mode of science (Hevner, March, Park, & Ram, 2004; March & Smith, 1995; Walls, Widmeyer, & El Sawy, 1992).

Journals regarded as the “top” outlets in the field make significantly more emphasis on behavioural studies than on design-type ones. This situation naturally favours the behaviourist perspective on information systems research and hinders the developments on the design side. In this respect, the Editor of the ACM Transactions on MIS raises a question as per why some quality design-oriented outlets do not get the adequate level of recognition. As an example, he notes that predominantly design-oriented journal of Decision Support System is not in the top “basket”, while its ISI Impact Factor (IF) in 2009 has only been second to MIS Quarterly (Chen, 2011)?  He writes in this respect: “The significant rise in IF may be partly due to the high-quality design-oriented research that DSS has favored, encouraged, and published over the past few years.

In a recent “Memorandum on design-oriented information systems research”, a number of leading European (predominantly German) researchers have strongly voiced their concerns regarding the resistance of the internationally renowned journals in the information systems area towards accepting design-oriented research work (Österle, et al., 2011). While acknowledging the value of behaviourist approach, they nevertheless note that: “...leading exponents of the discipline have complained for years that research in the field has lacked relevance for the practitioners’ community, which could be surmised from the fact that very few Ph.D.s from the IS discipline have ended up working in business.” And further: In the effort to have their work published in these journals, researchers, and young researchers in particular, have no other choice but to comply with the journals’ evaluation criteria for paper submissions. Basically, these criteria say that publications providing statistical evidence of empirically identified characteristics of existing IS are favored over publications presenting innovative solutions that are considered highly beneficial for business” (italics added).

However, the questions posed by the representatives of the traditional (explanation-focused) school of science are legitimate. If science is about describing and explaining, i.e. understanding and knowledge, how can design fit within its framework? Science is about discovering, design is about inventing. How could an invention be regarded as a discovery? If some type of design could be considered a science, then how could scientific method and principles applied to it? There is a need for establishing legitimacy of design-type science.

This book sets out to address the above issues. In particular, invention is viewed as search for the world-forms that do not yet exist. Design-type research is about discovering the non-existent. Alternatively, some researchers propose that science itself is a type of design (Glanville, 1999). Scientific theories may as well be regarded as inventions, or artifacts, certainly in light of teachings of some of the philosophers of science (Feyerabend, 1975; Popper, 1969). So is science a kind of design, or design a kind of science? It does not really matter. The position of the book is that design of meta-artifacts is equivalent to scientific research. Moreover, the philosophy, methodology and principles of traditional science can be applied to design-type of science as well.


The book primarily targets design-oriented research in the context of Information Systems. The discussions in various chapters do occasionally deviate from the field of IS to the related design-oriented disciplines, such as Computer Science, Software Engineering and Artificial Intelligence as these latter often serve as the source of knowledge in the design of information systems. Also, some chapters venture into the issues related to design of artifacts in general, in order to reveal meta-design principles, methods, and practices.

Chapter 1 discusses the notion of design in general. It mostly relies on the findings of “design research” as study of designing. It briefly outlines the history of design and provides a number of definitions of the term. Artifact as the key product of design is also described in relation to its environment. General methodology of design is briefly presented in form of a multi-stage process. The role of representation in design is emphasized.

Chapter 2 discusses the nature of the traditional science. It points that early science had started out of the practical needs of human cultures. It further argues that design viewpoint can be applied to the major classes of sciences in form of reverse engineering. Scientific method has been crafted by the philosophers of science throughout millennia. The chapter discusses the analogies between the major aspects of the scientific method and design processes.

Chapter 3 presents the developments in IS research. Much of past and current research in IS has been of explanatory nature and has largely focused on the processes and functions of outer environment, including organizations and individuals. There is not sufficient theoretical elaboration on the organizational and technological aspects of the IS.

Chapter 4 sets out to explore the differences between traditional science and design-type research. While science studies natural phenomena, the focus of design is on artifacts. Could this be the definitive dividing line between design and science? Regarding the ontological status of the artifacts the opinions are split, some suggesting that they are distinct from natural objects, while others seeing continuity. Other possible differentiation criteria are also discussed and it is argued that none of these makes design essentially distinct from science.

Chapter 5 aims at advancing arguments in support of scientific nature of design-type research and clarifying the meaning of important scientific terminology in this respect. In particular, the term observation in design refers to an implemented system instantiated within given organizational context. Reflecting on the notion of truth the chapter shows that design projects could be viewed as attempts to uncover the true forms, just like traditional scientific research may be regarded from the utility point of view.

Chapter 6 introduces a framework for representing IS meta-artifacts based on Zachman’s model for information architecture. The two-dimensional model includes perspectives and categories dimensions. The former is defined in terms of four layers, including analytical, synthetic, technological, and implementation layers. The latter includes the categories of motivation, structure, behavior, and instantiation.

Chapter 7 illustrates the framework using the example of electronic negotiation systems.

Chapter 8 proposes how scientific terminology and principles could be applied to design-type research. In particular, it discusses deduction and induction, Ockham’s razor, Popper’s falsifiability, Lacatos’s protective belt, Kuhn’s paradigms and Feyerabend’s anarchy.

Chapter 9 illustrates application of these principles using an example design project for supporting online shopping.

Chapter 10 stresses the need for IS classification frameworks, which would accommodate for recent developments in IS from the design-type research perspective. The chapter outlines one possible approach. Classification could span through the layers of the representational framework presented in earlier chapters to produce the families of meta-requirements and synthetic and technological meta-systems. The notion of design research frontier that helps identifying possible developments from the existing meta-systems towards true future system forms is presented.

Chapter 11 shows how important developments in different traditional sciences could be viewed as design problems.

Finally, Chapter 12 shows example meta-artifacts which have been inspired by nature and science.

Chen, H. (2011). Editorial: Design science, grand challenges, and societal impacts. ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems, 2(1), 1-10.

Cross, N. (2007). Forty years of design research. Design Studies, 28, 1-4.

Feyerabend, P. K. (1975). Against method: Outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge. London, UK: NLB.

Glanville, R. (1999). Researching design and designing research. Design Issues, 15(2), 80-91.

Hevner, A. R., March, S. T., Park, J., & Ram, S. (2004). Design science in information systems research. MIS Quarterly, 28(1), 75-105.

March, S. T., & Smith, G. F. (1995). Design and natural science research on information technology. Decision Support Systems, 15, 251-266.

Österle, H., Becker, J., Frank, U., Hess, T., Karagiannis, D., Krcmar, H., et al. (2011). Memorandum on design-oriented information systems research. European Journal of Information Systems, 20, 7-10.

Popper, K. R. (1969). Conjectures and refutations: The growth of scientific knowledge. London: Routledge & K. Paul.

Walls, J. G., Widmeyer, G. R., & El Sawy, O. A. (1992). Building an information system design theory for vigilant EIS. Information Systems Research, 3(1), 36-59.

Author(s)/Editor(s) Biography

Rustam Vahidov is an Associate Professor of Management Information Systems at the Department of Decision Sciences and MIS, John Molson School of Business, Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada). He received his Ph.D. from Georgia State University in 2000. Dr. Vahidov has published papers in a number of academic journals, including Journal of MIS, Decision Support Systems, Information and Management, E-Commerce Research and Applications, IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, Fuzzy Sets and Systems, and several others. His primary research interests include: decision support systems, design science research, software agents, e-commerce systems, distributed artificial intelligence and multi-agent systems, negotiation systems, data mining, fuzzy logic, and genetic algorithms.