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Reducing Inaccurate Stereotypes about Design Process

I recommend first reading the summary of this page.
The goal of this page is to reduce inaccurate stereotypes about Design Process, because these can hinder its productive uses in education.

Science and Design

For my PhD project, I developed a comprehensive model of Scientific Method (i.e., Science Process) and later generalized this into a model for Design Process.  The principles in this page apply for both models — for Science Process and Design Process — because science is a special type of design`.


Is there a method? — NO and YES

Why do we ask "is there a method?"  Because the common term “scientific method” seems to imply YES.  But...

Most scholars (scientists, philosophers, historians, educators) say NO.   Why do I think the best answer is NO-and-YES?

NO.  There is not a rigid long-term sequence of steps that is used in the same way by all scientists, in all areas of science, at all times.

YES.  We have observed that — when scientists are trying to find answers for their questions {and when designers are trying to find solutions for their problems} during a flexible process of goal-directed improvising — their efforts tend to be more effective when they use problem-solving strategies (to coordinate their thinking-and-actions in productive ways) like the coordination strategies described in my models of Science Process and Design Process.     { terms: Instead of method, why do I prefer process and strategies? }


Can a model-of-process be useful? — YES

Instead of being distracted by asking “Is there a method?” we should focus on a more important question — will teaching Design Process be useful for education?

My Overview of Design Process begins by stating two goals:  I want Design Process to be useful for describing the process of design, and for helping students learn this process.  Can these two goals for Design Process — to be useful for description and education — be achieved?   I think the answer is YES, as explained in other parts of this website, especially why we should teach Design Process.  In my opinion, the only way Design Process won't be educationally useful is IF we don't use it for education.  It would be unfortunate if inaccurate stereotypes about Design Process are hindering its productive uses in education.


YES-and-YES is more important than NO

This page begins with NO-and-YES, when we ask "Is there a method?"  The second section says YES when asking a better question ("Will teaching Design Process be useful?") but it ends with an IF that is related to the NO.  How?

Even if a model of Design Process could be educationally useful — because YES, effective designers (and scientists) do use problem-solving methods, and YES, Design Process could help students improve their skills in using these methods — Design Process can be useful only IF it's used, but the NO might be hindering this.  How?

The homepage begins by describing what Design Process is, but "it's also important to know what it isn't ... to avoid stereotypes" that seem to be common among educators.  These pre-conceptions about problem-solving methods do have a rational basis, because although in reality there is no "sequence of steps [with rigidity] that is used in the same way [with uniformity]... at all times," some oversimplistic models-for-a-method imply a rigidity and uniformity.  But these two distortions of "method" are explicitly denied by most models, including Design Process.


In an effort to avoid inaccurate stereotypes (i.e. misconceptions) so everyone can evaluate Design Process based only on what it is (not what it isn't), no more and no less, when describing the process of design (or science) I sometimes use contrasts such as "NO, but...YES" or "YES, but...NO."  For example,

This page begins by explaining that NO (designers don't use a rigid sequence, always in the same way) but YES (they do use methodical strategies).

Modes of Design begins by emphasizing that NO, "the 10 modes are not 10 steps... which is important because Design Process is not a rigid sequence of steps," but YES, "the modes are thinking-and-actions typically used by designers."

Sequences in Design explains that YES, designers (including scientists) often use sequences, but these are used flexibly by making choices (about branches, cycles, and responses) so NO, there is no rigid sequence that is always used the same way.


Although I sometimes emphasize NO in an effort to minimize stereotypes, the YES-and-YES are much more important.  YES, problem-solving strategies (that could be called methods) are used, and YES, these strategies can be learned more effectively by students if we teach Design Process.  Therefore, what should we do?

We should not look at the deficiencies in some models for problem solving (in science or design) and say “these aren't very good, so let's give up trying.”  We should view these faults as a problem-solving challenge, as an opportunity to "make things better" by designing better models for design and science.  That's what I have tried to do;  I think my models can be useful for education, and I hope they will be used.


The rest of this page clarifies what Design Process is and isn't, in three sections:  Two Skaters, Two Claims, and an overview of Non-Rigid Sequences in Design.



Two Skaters (plus Maps & Tools)

When we compare two kinds of skaters, we find that a process of design is similar to one, but not the other.

Design is analogous to an expert hockey player's goal-directed structured improvisation that is guided by principles but is continually open to real-time adjustments due to changes in the situation, because even though hockey skaters have a strategic plan, this plan is intentionally flexible, with each skater improvising in response to what happens during the game.  The rigid choreography of a figure skater,* by contrast, is not similar to a flexible process of design.   /   Although figure skating requires many real-time physical adjustments during a performance, the basic plan is to “do it exactly the way it's choreographed.”

Or, using another analogy, Design Process is not a rigid pathway to follow, it's a process-roadmap that shows broad possibilities for creatively rational wandering.   /   a related analogy:  Music Theory (e.g. using a scale & chord progression) sometimes provides a process-roadmap to guide creative wandering in improvised music Or musical improvising can be structured-and-guided by melody, imagery, or in other ways.

Or consider the tools used by mechanics (or carpenters, electricians,...) who have Conditional Knowledge about the conditions-of-application for each tool, whose knowledge (of how their tools can be used, in various conditions, for different functions to achieve different purposes) lets them choose an appropriate tool for the situations they encounter during a project.  Their tools are analogous to the practices of designers (scientists, engineers,...)*, the thinking-and-action skills that are coordinated by using strategies based on Conditional Knowledge.   Hockey players also develop-and-use their skill-tools and Conditional Knowledge, as explained below.    {* These practices are featured in the new K-12 Standards for Science Education. }


Principles for Players & Designers

A hockey player uses "goal-directed structured improvisation that is guided by principles" with a strategic plan that is intentionally flexible.  When we examine hockey and ask “are there principles for skillful playing?” and “should coaches help their players learn these principles?” we say YES and YES.  What are the principles for playing?  Hockey players will play better when they improve their individual skills (for skating, passing,...) and cooperative skills (by developing their abilities to skate & pass, to “see the big picture” and make good decisions, in the context of actions by teammates & opponents) and strategic process-plans (for “putting it all together” as individuals functioning as a team in the context of a competitive game, by developing expert Conditional Knowledge and using it skillfully).

When we ask analogous questions for design — “are there principles for skillful designing?” and “should teachers help their students learn these principles?” — it seems logical to again say YES and YES, by deciding that we should help students improve their problem-solving tools, which include learning how to "develop expert Conditional Knowledge and use it skillfully."  Although in hockey and design the details (for individual skills, cooperative skills, strategic process-plans) are different, the basic concept — that teaching principles is a useful way to improve learning-and-performance — is similar.  In my opinion, we should agree that teaching principles for designing is a worthy educational objective.  We should examine a variety of strategies for HOW teachers can help students learn skills-and-strategies for solving problems, and one option is to supplement Design Activities by teaching Design Process, with a combination of Experience plus Principles.


Two Claims I Refuse to Make

Earlier, I describe two reasons to say “no” when we ask "is there a method?", because "there is no rigid sequence of steps" that "is used the same way by all scientists, in all areas of science, at all times."  But neither of these claims (about a rigid sequence, or a uniform process) is made by any problem-solving model that deserves our serious consideration, including my own models.  Let’s look at each non-claim, about rigidity and uniformity:


• non-Rigidity:  My models for Science Process & Design Process do contain sequences, but they are not rigid.  The reasons for non-rigidity become obvious when we examine Sequences in a Process.


• non-Uniformity:  What about the fact that science process is not "used the same way" by all scientists in all situations?  This also is consistent with my model of science, which is a framework that can be used flexibly by customizing the elaborations of its framework, to accurately describe widely divergent types of science and views of science, when we want to help students understand the Nature of Science (and Design)`.  A page about The Goals (and non-goals) for my Models of Design & Science explains how we can do this:

    Different types of science, and differing views of science, can be accurately described (to a reasonable approximation) by differences in how the model's basic framework is elaborated, by filling the framework with customized descriptions for the characteristics of its components, the integrated relationships between components, and the balance (regarding relative importance) between various components.
    Because my model of Integrated Scientific Method has been constructed as a framework that provides structure yet is flexible — thus allowing variations in elaborations of its characteristics, relationships, and balances — this model can be used to describe a wide variety of actual scientific practices [which vary in different areas of science and sometimes among research groups in an area, and change during the history of science], and a wide range of views [by scholars who study science, or by teachers in their classrooms] about how to interpret the nature of science and the thinking of scientists.

Customized Describing:  An appendix explains, with principles plus examples, how a combination of “framework + elaborations” can be used to describe variations of Science Process.  This combination, suitably adapted, also works for Design Process (because science is a special type of design) so we can describe a typical process of design used in each of the many design-fields that span a wide range of human activity, including the 14 fields listed in Objectives of Design: "engineering, architecture, mathematics, music, art, literature, education, philosophy, history, business, athletics, medicine, law, and science."  All of these fields use a similar process of design, with field-specific variations (including specialized knowledge-and-skills) on the basic theme of Design Process.

For example, An Overview of Science Process explains how, "because science is a type of design, Science Process is a type of Design Process that emphasizes, and has developed to a high degree, some of the 10 modes of thinking-and-action in Design Process."  Compared with the scholarly study of general design, the study of science is much more highly developed, with a wide range of views being constructed "from the perspectives of different disciplines (science, philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, education), and from the differing perspectives of individual scholars (and the sub-communities they form) within each area."


Customized Teaching:  The flexibility of an approach using framework-with-elaborations is valuable for teachers, because it lets them decide how they want to use Science Process & Design Process to teach their own views of science & design, with content and methods personally customized for their own situation (re: subjects, level of students, depth & pacing of coverage, culture of school & community,...) and philosophy of teaching.  For example,...


Customized Views:  Teachers can use elaborations of Design Process, along with other strategies, to describe their own views about General Design (especially Engineering, but also other areas) and Science, including the inter-relationships of Science, Technology, and Society.

A Progression of Representations:  One educationally useful type of customized elaboration is a progression of visual-and-verbal representations (Stages 1-4 in An Overview of Design Process) that teachers can use: "Comparing several diagrams will help students understand how diagrams that look slightly different (due to their differing spatial arrangement, selections of what to include, and levels of detail) represent the same Design Process."   These visual/verbal representations, in Stages 1-4, are the same model of Design Process;  they just show its framework from different perspectives and with increasing levels of detail.

Components of Design Process:  For added flexibility in customizing instruction, teachers can decide how to elaborate the framework's components (its 10 Modes of Thinking-and-Action) by deciding what they want to teach about their characteristics, relationships, and balances.



Non-Rigid Sequences in a Process of Design

Here is a brief overview-summary of ideas from other places.

Sequences are featured throughout this page:  The introduction (asking "is there a method?" and initially responding NO, which becomes YES if instead of methods we ask about problem-solving strategies that coordinate thinking-and-actions in productive ways) leads to a better question ("can teaching Design Process be useful?") and an explanation of why I use contrasts like "NO, but... YES" and "YES, but... NO," and why we should view inadequate models of problem solving as "a problem-solving challenge, an opportunity to ‘make things better’ by designing better models for design and science."   This is followed by three analogies (comparing design with skaters, maps, and tools) and two claims (about non-rigidity & non-uniformity) and how instruction using framework-plus-elaborations lets teachers customize their use of Design Process.

The most thorough examination of short-term sequences describes their utility for Problem Solving and Education:  Building on ideas from the sub-sections preceding it, Integrated Action-Sequences in Design describes how developing a Conditional Knowledge of productive sequences — integrated combinations of actions (short-term or long-term, planned or improvised, specific or general, simple or complex) that perform useful functions — can help students learn how to be more effective in Making Action-Decisions by using Coordination Strategies.  It explains and shows (in a diagram) how sequences are used flexibly because "expert designers make real-time choices about ‘what to do next’ at each point in a process of design," and how "flexibility is possible due to branchings (that require choices) and cycles (because actions & sequences can be re-used), plus the many responses to Evaluation which include action in all modes of design-thinking."

In addition, Phases of Design occur "due to tendencies of timing, with some actions usually tending to happen early in a process of design, and others later.  This is long-term sequencing if we use a broad definition of sequence."




Terms — Design Process instead of Design Method

I use two terms, Scientific Method and Science Process, with the same meaning.  But instead of Design Method, I use Design Process.  Why?

When we ask “Is a process used in science?”, everyone agrees that the answer is YES.

But is there a method?  This is controversial because it depends on a definition of method, so we can say No and Yes.

Calling my model Design Process avoids this no-and-yes confusion, and I prefer it because it’s more accurate.  However, my model of science began as Scientific Method and I’ll keep using this term (to supplement Science Process), at least for awhile, because the term scientific method is commonly used by many people.  Hopefully everyone knows the intended meaning of method, and explaining “what it is and isn’t” provides an opportunity for clarification, to reduce any potential misconceptions about Science Process.  But I said "at least for awhile" because I may begin using only Science Process if the “baggage” attached to Scientific Method seems too heavy, if avoiding this term will help avoid stereotypes of The Scientific Method (in 5 rigidly fixed steps) that is very different than my flexible model of Scientific Method.

Terms — Design Process and also Design Strategies

To describe what happens during design, process and strategies are more accurate than method.  Both terms, Design Process and Design Strategies (which are part of Design Process) can be useful when teaching.

My Model of Science Process:
One Framework with Many Elaborations

Before my longer page-summary was revised in early 2014,* it included this paragraph:

    Framework and Elaborations:  How can we describe many types and views of design, using only one model of Design Process?  By combining its one framework with many differing elaborations of this framework, with differing descriptions for the framework's components, for their characteristics, relationships, and relative importance.  The framework of Design Process is its essential characteristics;  the non-essential elaborations can vary.   For example, in this website the main pages for describing the framework are overviews of Design Process and Science Process plus 10 Modes of Thinking-and-Action but elaborations are in all pages, including these three “framework” pages.


* This page still retains my original terms, framework-and-elaborations, but in other pages these terms are now framework-and-supplements.


Here is an example of the approach outlined above, proposing that we can describe science (or design) by using one framework with many elaborations.

In my original model of Science Process (which I called Integrated Scientific Method) the framework contains three types of theory-evaluation factors (empirical, conceptual, cultural-personal) and each factor includes sub-factors.  The three factors are described more thoroughly in Sections 1-3 of An Overview of Scientific Method and A Detailed Overview of Scientific Method which (in Section 4) explain how, during theory evaluation, "the relative weighting of factors [and sub-factors] varies from one science-situation to another."  In different areas of science there is a variation in the characteristics and inter-relationships of the evaluation factors & sub-factors that are used, and a differing balance in how much emphasis is placed on each type of factor & sub-factor when various theories are evaluated.  In each area of science we find patterns (for characteristics, relationships, and balances) that are distinctive.  When these area-patterns are described, using customized elaborations of the general framework, we can help students understand how the general principles of Integrated Scientific Method (and my new model of Science Process) are typically adapted by scientists working in each area.

a summary:  The framework of Science Process includes theory-evaluation factors & sub-factors whose characteristics & relationships & balances can be described in general, and for particular science-situations.  Each description of theory evaluation for one type of science-situation — for how one type of theory is evaluated in an area of science (or more specifically by a research group, or an individual scientist) — is a different elaboration of Science Process.  But different elaborations can use the same basic framework of Science Process, which contains the factors & sub-factors that are used as criteria during theory evaluation.  The differing elaborations are variations of the same general principles.  The elaborations are variations on a theme;  each elaboration is an application of the framework, with general principles customized so they more accurately fit a particular science-situation.


We also can use this approach to study other aspects of Science Process.  A framework-and-elaboration approach, used above for Evaluating Theories, also works for Generating Theories, and Designing Experiments by Generating-and-Evaluating Options for Experiments, so it can help us understand all aspects of Integrated Scientific Method.


Scientific Practices & Views of Science:  A divergence in elaborations can let the framework of Science Process "be used to describe a wide variety of actual scientific practices [as in the paragraphs above, about theory evaluation and other aspects of practice], and a wide range of views about how to interpret the nature of science and the thinking of scientists."  For example, scholars who embrace postmodern relativism can exaggerate the general influence of Cultural-Personal Factors and Thought Styles, while other scholars can explain why, unfortunately, it's necessary to ask Should Scientific Method be Eks-Rated? because postmodernists "have converted a good idea (examining the mutual interactions between culture and science) into a bad idea that has undesirable consequences, when they take the good idea to silly extremes."

The Goals for my Models explains how Integrated Scientific Method (and now Science Process) can be used to describe "orthodox views of science and also the radical ‘anything goes’ anarchy envisioned by Paul Feyerabend" who proposed that scientists — in an effort to stimulate their creativity (in a strategy similar to free brainstorming?) — should feel free to ignore some empirical Reality Checks, and to resist a desire for total external consistency with all currently accepted theories.