Traditional Science vs. Design-Type Research

Traditional Science vs. Design-Type Research

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0131-4.ch004
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Is science fundamentally different from the design of novel artifact concepts? This chapter aims to examine if there are essential differences between traditional science and design-type research. Human capacities allow us to perceive and understand the world as well as act on it to make changes in a purposeful fashion. As the subjects of knowledge and creation grow increasingly abstract, the differences between creating and understanding tend to fade away. 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, the position which is defended in this chapter. Other possible differentiation criteria (e.g. design is application of science) are also discussed and it is argued that none of these makes design essentially distinct from science.
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Research And Design: Fusion

Chapter 2 mentioned the “Tower of Generate-and-Test” introduced by Dennet, in which he placed different types of living organisms on different levels with respect to their “perceive-and-act” cycles. According to this model, The Popperian creatures have a capability to model relevant aspects of reality with the purpose of making their choices before committing to an action. Simple creatures come with the pre-wired perception-action circuitry. Humans are Popperian creatures. We have the capacity to perceive the environment, and also, as a result of such perception to build knowledge about its workings. This knowledge then helps us to plan actions and modify the environment that we live in according to our needs and desires.

Let’s take a closer look at different levels of the perception and action sides. On the perception side, as humans come equipped with the capacities for pattern-recognition, analysis and synthesis, they are able to notice similarities among the various phenomena they encounter while ignoring irrelevant details. We have this categorization capacity, which, in conjunction with the synthetic abilities helps us to model the outer world in a meaningful way. Thus we develop knowledge that simplifies our lives by relating new phenomena with the mental models we have about similar cases. The previously mentioned personal construct theory posits that individuals develop their private theories about the world around them throughout their lives.

On the action side we can design plans in order to achieve the desired objectives. We can also modify the environment so that it fits better with our survival and quality of life objectives. Having recognized a particular situation we could refer to previous cases and produce a plan to change the present state of affairs into a desired condition. A good portion of these actions involve creating new objects that we think are going to bring us to the desired states. These are called artifacts (henceforth we will imply technical artifacts, rather than, say works of art), as the nature does not provide us with them readily made. The artifacts made for any given purpose also share profound similarities both in structure and workings. This presence of common forms in artifacts could be also regarded as a sort of knowledge. The “artifact-making” knowledge.

Humans historically lived in various forms of society, and some of the interactions among the individuals related to explicating and sharing their private theories. This process led to collective knowledge and the birth of proto-sciences (see Chapter 2). Later developments led to the realization of the need for systematicity in conducting inquiries for knowledge. The advance of the scientific method has led to the higher level organization of knowledge, which we presently refer to as Science.

So, a traditional notion of science involves a higher-level perception organized as knowledge artifacts of different fields obtained in a systematic fashion. The action side led to the development of design and technology. But here one could sense some sort of a misbalance. Apparently, there is little appreciation by us, that the design side could also have a counter-part to the Science of the perception side. It is not a commonly accepted view (apart from those researchers who are in the design-related disciplines) that design could be regarded as a Science as well. Researchers in traditional scientific disciplines are considered to be somewhat more “scholarly” than their colleagues in the various fields related to design. There is hardly something like a scientific method for design oriented sciences. There is not nearly such a sizable body of literature on the philosophy of design-kind of sciences as there is on the traditional philosophy of science.

The fact that philosophy of science has a millennia-long tradition, while the philosophy of design science may be just making its appearance is not surprising per se. When humans started studying the world around them, its objects and processes were present as they are nowadays, and their workings were far from transparent and trivial. In contrast, the human-made objects and the corresponding needs of the ancients were much simpler. There was no need for elevating design to the level of science. Nowadays, however, the technology has grown tremendously in complexity, and our needs are progressing in a somewhat dynamic and non-obvious fashion. This might be the right time for the promotion of design knowledge to the status of a science. After all, action comes after perception. The perception-based science made its appearance before the action-based science.

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