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  • Richard Herriott

Design research leads, hopefully, to design knowledge.


Müller, R. M., & Thoring, K. (2010). A typology of design knowledge: A theoretical framework. Proceedings of the Sixteenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, Lima, Peru, August 12-15, 2010 (tag: design epistemology) deals with “a theoretical approach to structure design knowledge into a framework”. Using literature reviews of existing design knowledge the authors developed a four-way typology and what they term “three interjacent transitions”. The authors divide design knowledge into four classes: physical artifacts, gut feeling, as codified knowledge and scientific theories. It helps to understand this in terms of a rising hierarchy, as represented by a diagram, Fig. 2 (on page 3). At its base is Design Artefacts. Next up is design intuition (e.g. design skills and exemplified by trial-and-error, master-apprentice relation). Then is symbolic level which is explicit knowledge represented by design terminology, drawings, modelmaking, design rules and exemplified by technical drawings, instruction manuals , material and production knowledge. At the top is the model level known as design theories. This part is where we might want to link to the paper by Wacker. Muller et al. note that at the model level we have theories; they are testable and exemplified by things such as the golden ratio, design patterns, ergonomic norms. I was interested in this because it addressed, somewhat, the manifestation of theory. If you want to recognize a theory, this is what Muller et al (2010) offer: “Design theory focuses on ‘how to do something’ and gives ‘explicit prescriptions on how to design and develop and artefact’”. Here they are citing Gregor and Jones (2007), see below. So, theory is the highest level of knowledge; to know theory is to know something.


Muller et al. (2010) write (p.6) that ”until recently level D knowledge was rarely defined. Dorst and Reyman (2004) mention the necessity of testable knowledge but do not specify what it might be. Narvaez (2000) refers to empirical-analytical knowledge. Gregor and Jones (2007) describe the components of a design theory.” That final sentence downplays Gregor and Jones´s contribution to being able to identify what design theory looks like and as such is a very useful article for the purposes of identifying just how much theory is embedded or indeed, scattered across design research text – or, more, commonly not there at all.

There is some debate to be had on whether objects constitute knowledge or whether tacit knowledge is knowledge. We can then link this matter back to RtD where there is a reported problem in making knowledge explicit; and we can link this back to Nigel Cross (1982) who argues for making things explicit.

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