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Design Research And Design Practice: A Framework For Future Investigations

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Potpourri

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.420.1 - 14.420.10



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Paper Authors

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Llewellyn Mann Central Queensland University

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Shanna Daly University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Design Research and Design Practice: A Framework for Future Investigations


Recent research has found that design could be thought of as a separate discipline with common elements identified regardless of the disciplinary context. However, the practice of design always occurs within a disciplinary context. While studies have been conducted that show the ways designers have experienced design across disciplines are common, it is often hard to see how these overarching results can be applied to the specific contexts that they came from. This paper presents a framework for moving between design practice in a disciplinary context on the one hand, and design research often across disciplines that treating design as an entity unto itself. This framework provides not only a way of understanding the framing of future research around design and design practice, but also suggests ways to move from one space to another.


Design has long been considered a core part of engineering practice and recently a growing field of engineering research. Further, design is often cited as a defining feature of engineering, distinguishing it not only from applied science but also other professions. Recent studies however have indicated a level of commonality across disciplines when it comes to design practice1.

Design is usually practiced in practice in a disciplinary context and cannot be meaningfully separated from this context. This context brings with it an embedded knowledge of past experiences, including what has & hasn’t worked, what norms exist (i.e. rules of thumb), what usual procedures for designing exist and what the usual outcomes and products are. The disciplinary context also influences what sorts of problems are identified and solved as well as the nature of the solutions. For instance do civil engineers always build bridges when another solution is better; echoing the old saying when you’re holding a hammer everything looks like a nail.

However when doing design research that has underlying it the quest for generalizability (a well recognized tension between academic rigor versus professional applicability), we often want to either go across contexts or generalize findings from one context to another. If beneficial results are been found that improve design practice in one context, how can these be meaningfully applied to other contexts and disciplines. How do design researchers go about applying general findings to a context that itself is rich and usually fixed in the way it operates.

How then can research be conducted across design contexts without loosing the sense of context underpinning the research results? Conversely how can generalized design research results be integrated back into an existing context? Without addressing these questions, engineering design research and practice will miss out on understandings that can come from looking across disciplines1.

Mann, L., & Daly, S. (2009, June), Design Research And Design Practice: A Framework For Future Investigations Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5800

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