Problem Formulation as a Discursive Design Activity

Year: 2009
Editor: Norell Bergendahl, M.; Grimheden, M.; Leifer, L.; Skogstad, P.; Lindemann, U.
Author: Hansen, Claus Thorp; Dorst, Kees; Andreasen, Mogens Myrup
Section: Design Processes
Page(s): 145-156


In the design methodology literature, design is often described as a rational problem solving process. This approach has been very successful; it has lead to the creation of design process models, tools, methods and techniques. Design methods teaching along these lines has become an indispensable part of any engineering design education. Yet the assumptions behind the rational problem solving approach to design do not sit well with some of the experiences we have in design teaching and design practice. Problem formulation is one such area where we might have to look for a different way to describe what is happening in design, beyond the problem solving approach. In this paper an extensive educational case study will be used to see whether a framework for describing design as a discursive activity (based on the notions of "discourse" and "paradox") could be more appropriate to describe the intricacies of problem formulation in design. Key notions in design methodology, like "design problem", "design solution" and "ill-structuredness" are reconsidered in this light. This directly leads to identifying further lines for investigation, and an agenda for design research.

Keywords: Design paradox, problem formulation, discursive activity


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