Theory of Man-Environment Relations, by Irwin Altman


Four philosophical models of the human:

  1. mechanistic model: the human as a task-oriented organism, understood and described only in relation to the task at hand/ human as a passive agent merely enacting the designer’s plan of use and having no agency
  2. perceptual-cognitive-motivational model: the human as an ‘internal processing organism’ with subjective traits
  3. behaviorist model: this focused on external human actions in the environment instead of internal thoughts and feelings and intentions. (it does not identify however with Skinner’s operant psychology)/ Altman classifies here all action-centric and interactionalist descriptions of human engagements with the environment without excluding intentions and motivational states
  4. ecological model: declared human behavior and environment a mutually constituting, dynamic ensemble/ Behavior itself, in other words, resided in the relation between the human and social and material contexts/ this model promoted an agentive understanding of the human/ Altman also emphasized its model’s utility for establishing a common ground among social scientists and designers thus cultivating the conditions of interdisciplinary collaboration/ it offered a reconciliatory mechanism between the unit and the whole, the small and the large scale, analysis and synthesis, thus urging scientists and practitioners to “surpass the provincialism of their parent professions”



Vardouli, Th., 2016. User Design: Constructions of the “user” in the history of design research. In 2016 Design Research Society 50th Anniversary Conference, 27-30 June 2016, Brighton, UK

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Bricolage as a design methodology


Bricolage implies that :

  • design is in crisis: the standard social science methods are not well adapted to the new realities of global complexity which contains new concepts that they define, such as the “multiple“, the “distributed” and the “emotional“/ design research has relied on established methods from other disciplines however, it is not  about the variety of methods available as it is about the hegemonic and dominatory pretensions of certain versions or accounts of method/ some methods, although extremely good, fail to appropriate the ephemeral, the indefinite and the irregular/ educationally that has resulted in a refocusing on understanding how design can address social, economic and political issues; what kind of future world we want to live in/ understand-improve-apply the practice of design has become what is the nature of design? (Law + Urry)
  • designs is undisciplined: it has always had to draw knowledge from other disciplines, initially through a lack of existing subject knowledge and lately due to a refocusing on larger, more difficult social issues/ Buchanan: design is the last liberal art, meaning a discipline of thinking that may be shared to some degree by all men and women in their daily lives and is in turn mastered by a few people who practice the discipline with distinctive insight and sometimes advance it to new areas of innovative applications/ design acts as an agent of change due to design’s ability to synthesize understanding from the natural world with understanding of the human condition/ the SEVEN ROLES of the designer: facilitator-researcher-co-creator-communicator-strategist-capability builder-enterpreneur (Buchana, Banerjee, Fry)
  • design is maturing: the study of the discipline is scientifically based and the accumulated knowledge is subject to criticism/ the practice of the discipline is unrestricted as to the area of application/ both study and practice give active consideration to the social problems and ramifications/ there is a growing number of phds and a growing number of related journals and conferences/ design can only exist outside its disciplinary boundaries to be effective (Kernan)



Yee, J.S.R., Bremner, C., 2011. Methodological Bricolage – What does it tell us about Design? In Doctoral Design Education Conference, 23-25 May 2011, Hong Kong Polytechnic, Hong Kong, available here

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The design process is best described metaphorically as a system of spaces rather than a predefined series or orderly steps. The spaces demarcate different sorts of related activities that together form the continuum of innovation (…) Design projects must ultimately pass through three spaces: inspiration, ideation and implementation. Projects will loop back through these spaces -particularly the first two-more than once as ideas are refined and new directions taken.



Brown, T., 2008. Design Thinking. In Harvard Business Review, June 2008, pp. 84-95

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Double Diamond

The DD diagram was developed in 2005 at the UK Design Council (ref)


The process of divergence and convergence are associated with key moments in the design process. Discover and develop phases correspond to divergent processes while define and distribute phases are convergent (…) The path is no longer linear, simply because successive iterations are needed to frame the problem and the solution. (Van der Linden, et al., 2016)


The diagram indicates that the process between divergent and convergent thinking happens twice -once to confirm the problem definition and once to create the solution.

  • In the Discover quarter designers try to look at the world in a fresh way, notice new things and gather insights
  • In the Define quarter designers try to make sense of all the possibilities identified in the previous phase (prioritize)
  • In the Develop quarter solutions and concepts are created, prototyped, tested and iterated (trial and error phase)
  • In the Deliver quarter signals the phase where the resulting product is finalized, produced and launched.



Van der Linden, J.C.D.S., Lacerda, A.P., Aguiar, J.P.O., 2011. The evolution of design methods. Paper presented at the 9th International Conference of the European Academy of Design, Porto

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Clinical-Applied-Basic Research


Clinical_FOR DESIGN RESEARCH: focuses on design problems that are specific and individual cases requiring information for that unique situation/ primarily prescriptive research methods for specific and feasible design solutions (Downton)/ Notably, research for design is the category of research that most practitioners and many academics associate with the term “Design Research”/ Many of the methods briefly mentioned in this section could generate findings that are relevant beyond the scope of one clinical situation, but often they are inadequately developed in practice.

Applied_THROUGH DESIGN RESEARCH: focuses on investigating general classes of design problems or products. The common trait of applied research is the [systematic] attempt to gather from many individual cases a hypothesis or several hypotheses that may explain how a class of products takes place/ The most important aspect of research through design is that it seeks to provide an explanation or theory within a broader context/ Buchanan calls it Dialectic Science or Productive Science and includes the study of form and function in relation to human activity, as well as the study of materials/ it is derived from and valuable for practice; it is growing rapidly; both practitioners and researchers are contributing significantly to the literature and on-line discussions; the discussion is extensive, addressing hundreds of approaches; and much of the subject matter has been derived from the social sciences, business, and marketing/ In her evolving map of design research methods, Sanders represents the range of attitudes towards human-oriented design, from the expert mindset and the participatory mindset, in both research-led and design-led inquiries/

Basic_ABOUT DESIGN RESEARCH: research about or into design as the work that is “carried out under the heading of other disciplines/ searching for “an explanation in the experience of designers and those who use products”/ designers may also raise questions that are not characteristic of other disciplines because often the answers are translated into form, colour, and the objects that surround us. This affords practitioners, students, and educators with the challenge to produce discipline specific knowledge that may be communicated by drawings, sketches, models, and other visual representations embodying non-verbal codes or messages as well



Frankel, L., Racine, M., 2010. The Complex Field of Research: for Design, through Design, and about Design.  Paper presented at the International Conference of the Design Research Society, Montréal, July 2010.

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Knowledge and Design, 1972


Design proceeds by conjecture-analysis than by analysis-synthesis (…) if research is to make an impact on design it must influence designers at the pre-structuring and conjectural stages (…) regardless the quality of research work itself, the history of attempts to link research to improvements in environmental action is largely one of confusion and failure (…) there is a widespread feeling that an ‘applicability gap’ has developed between research and design (…) far from being removed from the field of science, the cognitive schemes by which we interpret the world and pre-structure our observations are increasingly seen to be the essential subject matter of science (…) we cannot escape from the fact that designers must, and do, pre-structure their problems in order to solve them (…) Popper: science could be contained within a hypothetico-deductive scheme/ Kuhn: science as a puzzle solving activity until the next paradigm switch/ Lakatos: science as conflicting sets of inter-related theories (…) the object of science is cognition (…) remaking cognition (…) SO FARthe role of scientific work is to provide factual information that can be assimilated into design; second that a rationalised design process, able to assimilate such information, would characteristically and necessarily proceed by decomposing a problem into its elements, adding an information content to each element drawn as far as possible from scientific work, and “synthesizing” a solution by means of a set of logical or procedural rules (…) design as we know it can be seen as the socially differentiated transformation of the reflexive cognition of the maker in terms of the latent possibilities of his tools, materials and object types. Its object is not the building, but at one remove, sets of instructions for the building (…) NOW: we can imagine a man and an object he will create as though separated by a space which is filled, on the one hand, with tools and raw materials which we can call his ‘instrumental set’, (or perhaps technological means) and on the other, a productive sequence or process by which an object may be realized (…) we would argue that design is essentially a matter of pre-structuring problems either by a knowledge of solution types or by a knowledge of the latencies of the instrumental set in relation to solution types, and that is why the process of design is resistant to the inductive-empiricist rationality so common in the field. A complete account of the designer’s operations during design, would still not tell us where the solution came from (…)  the polarization between rational and intuitive design should be reformulated as a polarity between reflexive design and non-reflexive design (…) four main types of elements: instrumental sets, solution types, codes and information (…) at this point of time a building is a climate modifier, a behavior modifier, a cultural modifier ad a resource modifier



Hillier, B., Musgrove, J., O’ Sullivan, P., 1972. Knowledge and Design. In William Mitchell (ed.), Environmental design: Research and Practice, edra3/ar8 conference, UCLA, January 1972

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Design with a capital D


RCA Report on the nature of design with a capital D

  • central concern is “the conception and realization of new things”
  • it encompasses the appreciation of “material culture” and the application of “the arts of planning, inventing, making and doing.”
  • at its core is the ‘language’ of ‘modelling’; it is possible to develop students’ aptitudes in this ‘language’, equivalent to aptitudes in the ‘language’ of the sciences – numeracy – and the ‘language’ of humanities – literacy
  • design has its own distinct ‘things to know, ways of knowing them, and ways of finding out about them’

Education in any of these ‘cultures’ entails the following three aspects:

  • the transmission of knowledge about a phenomenon of study
  • a training in the appropriate methods of enquiry
  • an initiation into the belief systems and values of the ‘culture’

If we contrast the sciences, the humanities, and design under each aspect, we may become clearer of what we mean by design, and what is particular to it.
the phenomenon of study in each culture is:

  • in the sciences: the natural world
  • in the humanities: human experience
  • in design: the man-made world

the appropriate methods in each culture are:

  • in the sciences: controlled experiment, classification, analysis
  • in the humanities: analogy, metaphor, criticism, evaluation
  • in design: modelling, pattern-formation, synthesis

the values of each culture are:

  • in the sciences: objectivity, rationality, neutrality, and a concern for ‘truth’
  • in the humanities: subjectivity, imagination, commitment, and a concern for ‘justice’
  • in design: practicality, ingenuity, empathy, and a concern for ‘appropriateness’

Perhaps it would be better to regard the ‘third culture’ as technology, rather than design (…) Technology involves a synthesis of knowledge and skills from both the sciences and the humanities, in the pursuit of practical tasks.



Cross, N., 1982. Designerly ways of knowling. In Design Studies, Vol. 3, no. 4 pp. 221-227

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