Designing as Interpretation

GLOCK, Friedrich (2009). Designing as Interpretation. In: Undisciplined! Design Research Society Conference 2008, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK, 16-19 July 2008.


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The paper suggests an interpretative approach to the empirical study of design processes. Design processes are conceived as social processes of interpretation and construction of meaning, and potentially of context generation. In contrast to models which conceive designing as a goal-directed process, an interpretative approach suggests a methodological reorientation. It assumes that design goals are more or less incomplete and vague at the beginning of a design process and are interpreted in contexts and in part are created by designers in the design process on the basis of their experience, embodied skills, and practices. The interpretative paradigm in design research seeks to observe, investigate, and describe practices that designers use in the process. Rather than attempting to determine and prescribe how practitioners ought to do their work, the research question is on how work is actually done - how interpretation is achieved by designers in particular design processes.

An extract is analysed in some detail in the paper. These data are taken from the transcript of a case study of a design process in practice. Sociological and socio-linguistic (‘sensitizing’) concepts such as frames and contexts are adopted to describe and analyze some practices observed in the episodes. The paper focuses on an aspect of designing – various forms of involvement and stances designers’ take on in the meaning making process of interpretative design work. Interpretative analysis takes into account designers’ alignments which constitute “participation frameworks” and ground designers’ multimodal practices in different media (language, drawing, gesture). Goffman’s (1981) concept of “footing” is used to reveal more subtle shifts in stances that designers take in designing. Investigation of referential practices designers use in some utterances in the observed design conversation suggests that designers step into, displace, and position themselves in transformed, “keyed” situations to experience the solicitations of design situations more directly and to take the role of others as well as the role of objects. These practices appear to be part of designers’ ability to construct meaning by establishing perspectives and getting “maximal grip” on design situations so as to exert their skills. Analysis of types of stances designers take in an observed design process, some of which addressed in the paper, may provide a way to describe an aspect of designers’ artistry and to characterize the particularities of unique design processes. The suggested approach is intended to contribute to a better theoretical understanding of designing and to the methodology of design research as an ‘epistemology of practice’. Interpretative analysis also aims to provide description of designers’ practices which may, as its practical benefits, contribute to ‘the reflective turn’ in design research.

Design Research Methodology; Design Practices; Framing; Case Study

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (-)
Depositing User: Ann Betterton
Date Deposited: 10 Aug 2009
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 14:04

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