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Design Science

Design Science is the scientific study of design as any other phenomenon.

This is based entirely on my interest in design research as research on design.

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Design Science by Hubka & Eder

I maintain a “freely readable” version of the classic text of European engineering design, Design Science by V. Hubka and E. Eder, with the permission of Prof. Ernst Eder.

You can read this significant text here as a PDF file or via the Internet Archive.


  • Design is a human activity.
  • So the study of designers is design research.
    • This gets us into cognitive science, psychology, sociology, etc.
  • Designers use a variety of methods and processes to design.
    • Therefore, the study of those methods and processes is also a part of design research.
      • Eekels [Eek00] seems to give primary focus of design science on designing but I think design science should be broader, covering all aspects of design practise.
  • Finally, since those methods & processes create artifacts, the study of those artifacts in relation to the methods and processes, as well as the cognition that underlies them, is also design research.

Things that are not subjects of design research:

  • The impact of designed products on the environment/context, for 2 reasons:
    1. the products that impact the enviornment are not the design; and
    2. the analysis is of the impact on the environment – the subject here is the impact on the environment and the design and the product are fixed and constant.
  • Research that is conducted as part of the design process, because this is not research on design.

It is noted, however, that the results of research on product impact and of research conducted as part of the design process are valuable inputs to design research, and so are worth knowing about and incorporating into design research programs.

What kinds of research on design are there?

  • scientific research (experimental, observational, and even participatory)
  • reflective/philosophic (including logic)
  • research through practice (doing to gain experience upon which research is performed).

What seems to be missing is articulation – the reporting of the research. That is, there is little methodology (AFAIK) that informs how research is to be articulated and communicated.

Eekels [Eek00] writes: “It is the task of engineering design science to explore the reasoning patterns needed by the designer, how to use them and how to safeguard them from going astray. This safeguarding function will be performed by engineering design methodology, and by the specific engineering design methodics.”

This at least is entirely consistent with my goals too. I think the justification for methodology - to safeguard reasoning patterns from going astray - is a very important thing to remember.


My approach is that “design” be treated as a phenomenon that can be studied like any other phenomenon. It's a social, cognitive process that leads to an artifact that's supposed to serve a purpose.

  • The artifacts themselves are distinctive and unique, and can do more harm than good, so the study of the artifacts should be part of design science. This brings in all the physical sciences, logic, computer science, biology, and related disciplines.
  • Designing involves social interactions between human agents directing their cognition but also submitting to their general mental state, so psychology, sociology, cognitive science, neurology, and related sciences all bear on design science.
  • Since one would often (prefer to) study designers in vivo, anthropology and related disciplines are also relevant in design science.

Considering how many sciences are involved in design science, it is perhaps for the best that design science is coming into its own only now. It had to wait till all the fundamental science on which it rests, reached a certain level of maturity.

Eekels [Eek00] writes: “…the demarcation between science and non-science is of an ethical nature, as it is based on value judgements. The values that play a role in this respect are the instrumental value and the set of values that form what I call the scientific value complex.”

I disagree: there are no ethics involved. Humans evolved to seek more than what we have for the sake of survival1). Controlling our environment helped us survive - this too evolved. Designing is how we bring about preferred situations - preferred because they satisfy our evolved instincts. There are no ethics here.

The demarcation between science and non-science is really more of a boundary layer. There is the clearly scientific, and there is the clearly non-scientific. Between them is a region where matters are gray. For instance, qualitative research methods are not as rigorous as quantitative ones, but this doesn't make them non-science. One can use notions of validity, completeness, rigour, reliability/repeatability, and so on to rank any undertaking on a scale from fully non-science to fully science and a whole range of possibilities in between.

Eekels also writes “Values are the alpha and omega of any action, more particularly change-directed action.” Here, we can see more clearly what he intended. If an action is intended to bring about change (per Simon's definition [Sim81], then the intention must be based on preference, which requires putting a value on the sought state that is higher than the value put on the current state.

Still, what is value if not preference or something like it? This is all highly circular. Better to think in terms of instinct wired into us, and modified by socialization, culture, and experience in both conscious and unconscious ways.

From [AEO11]: “…effective symbolism depends on a cognitive process in which the individual recognizes a denotative meaning (the content of the formal structure) and infers connotative meaning about it…. the symbolic properties of products are determined in the cultural and institutional environments in which consumers and producers are embedded.”

  • This means that designers must be able to recognize the non-technical environments and design taking into account these features.

Eekels also proposes utility as the key value that is pertinent in engineering design. Fine2).

Design in Reality

TBD Expand this whole section.

I do not think design exists in the “real world.” I think, instead, that design is a partition of real world activities that include some activities that have certain common goals.

In the real world, I think there is only product development. (And similar generalizations for other, non-technical types of design.)

It is not clear to me that emphasizing the existence of design qua design is doing anyone any good. I think product development should hold the privileged place - not design - because PD certainly exists.

Research as Learning

Considering the Observe reflect articulate triplet, and assuming that articulation should be an aspect of the research enterprise, it seems that there is an aspect of learning in research. (This is because ORA is a model of learning.)

Indeed, one could argue that learning occurs throughout designing, in one learns about both the design problem and its solution over the course of the designing activity itself.

Indeed, since design involves so much learning, I suggest that the research that occurs during design is really learning.

So, what is the difference between learning and research? Basic definitions from Google:

  • Learning: Acquiring knowledge depending on experience and leading to long-term changes in behaviour potential.
  • Research: systematic investigation to establish facts; searching for knowledge. Research is an active, diligent and systematic process of inquiry in order to discover, interpret or revise facts, events, behaviours, or theories, or to make practical applications with the help of such facts, laws or theories. (from Wikipedia)

Based on this, the difference between learning and research is that in learning one expects behaviour to change, whereas in research one does not.

But is that really true? TBD

Ontology and Epistemology

Eekels [Eek00] suggests the usual hierarchy of philosophies: epistemology, design science (phenomenology, methodology, ontology), methodics (defined as systems of methods), and practise.

TBD Methodics is different from methodology. Find out why? Methodics seems not a real word.

I disagree with this, for two reasons: (a) it is not clear to me that this much philosophy is needed and (b) it is not clear to me that philosophy is right to require such a byzantine taxonomy of knowledge. Fortunately, Eekels does seem to get the taxonomy right (i.e. consistent with the rest of science and philosophy). However, I'm unconvinced that phenomenology, methodology, and ontology must all be addressed. They are branches of philosophy.

I think discussions about phenomenology, methodology, and ontology in design science exist at the same level as discussions of the philosophy of science - in this case, the philosophy of the science of design. Philosophy of science usually does not concern scientists. So there is no reason for those simply interested in studying design scientifically to have to care about the philosophical elements.

Let's just think of it as science, and move on.

Eekels [Eek00] seems also to be a dualist, which just isn't a sensible position to take. It would be a major undertaking to untangle the dualistic (and therefore unfounded) bits from Eekels work.

The organization of Eekels thinking is given in Figure 7 of [Eek00]. My re-envisioning of it is here:

  • Notice the loops? These aren't evident in the original.
  • Why isn't the existent situation model an input to difference?

Psychology and Cognitive Science

Eekels [Eek00] writes “Discursiveness is opposed to intuition. By intuition, a conclusion is not reached through a step-by-step reasoning process, but emerges suddenly like a flash of lightning.” He goes on to say that intuition is nonetheless an essential element of reasoning in science and technology.

He seems unaware of the neuroscience of creativity, such as Keith Sawyer's work.

See Also


Eek00. a, b, c, d, e, f, g J. Eekels. 2000. On the fundamentals of engineering design science: The geography of engineering design science. Part 1. J. Eng. Design, 11(4):377-397, 2000.
Sim81. a Herbert A. Simon (eds). 1981. The Sciences of the Artificial. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
AEO11. a M. Aurisicchio, N.L. Eng, J.C. Ortiz, P.N.R. Childs, and R.H. Bracewell. 2011. On the function of products. Intl Conf on Engineering Design. The Design Society. (link)
This, plus the positive feedback loops from socialization and culture, plus advertising brain-washing, has led to our conumption-based society.
Although he doesn't mount a convincing argument for it. TODO I really should read his other papers.
research/design_science.txt · Last modified: 2020.06.24 20:17 by Fil Salustri