Kuutti, K. (2011) Out of the Shadow of Simon: Artifacts, Practices, and History in Design Research, in Proc. Doctoral Education in Design Conference 2011

The paper discusses and critiques the usage of natural science model of theory in design research. Kuutti argues that the subject matter of design and thus also design research is such that any timeless theory is incapable of handling it. As a solution Kuutti suggests cultural-historical activity theory as a basis for building new dynamic theoretical background for design research.

The paper names Herbert Simon’s book “The Sciences of the Artificial” as if not the starting point of design research then at least one of the main drivers of design research becoming a legitimate academic discipline. According to the paper Simon makes five claims related to the nature of the science of the artificial:

  • There is a need for such a field
  • Design is the central factor
  • Core of design is a rational search process
  • Object area of design science is the design process
  • Knowledge aimed at in design science conforms the criteria of natural science (general, global, timeless)

In the paper Kuutti claims that although the first two claims have lasted well agains time, the last three are problematic. The paper focuses on the last two claims and what would it mean to break out of their “shadow”. As a result of this break-out Kuutti suggests that:

“The new historically oriented DR research would consist on one hand of detailed historical analysis of the development of certain practices through a number of step and phases and the evolvement of successive generations, versions and trajectories of corresponding artifacts, and on the other hand of hypothesis formulation, design interventions in practices, observations of influences, and returning back to hypothesis correction and design broad – bold and exiting work.”