Twee dominante visies op ontwerponderzoek

It is virtually impossible for any designer to hold a mental representation of the whole design

In de geschiedenis van het ontwerponderzoek zijn er twee dominante visies geweest op hoe ontwerpen nu eigenlijk moet worden opgevat. Hieronder een weergave daarvan door Kuittinen en Holopainen.

“During the relatively short history of design research, there have been two influential theoretical approaches to explaining design as an activity. The view put forth by Herbert A. Simon describes design as being essentially a problem solving process where a rational problem-solver, the designer, searches the space of possible solutions for a satisfactory solution to the given design problem. Simon’s theory emphasises the rationality of the design process and aims to reduce the complex nature of designing to a goal-oriented activity where the designer deals with the ill-structured design problems by decomposing them into smaller, better defined subproblems.

The second influential view is by Donald Schön who describes design as a reflective practice where the designer is constantly in conversation with the design situation. Schön characterises design as an act of “seeing- moving-seeing” where the designer uses representations of the design problem to identify elements in the design situation (seeing), experiment with possible solutions (moving) and evaluate the consequences of these moves (seeing). The central idea is the reflective and conversational nature of the process. Instead of starting out with a clear problem definition or goal for the design, the designer constructs the design gradually by experimenting with design moves and thereby gaining “a new understanding of the phenomenon and a change in the situation”.

Both views have explicit and implicit takes on what are the design situations and problems the designer encounters during designing. For the sake of this discussion we use the concept design situation to refer to the overall field of tasks, goals, ideas, representations, and what not the designer has at a specific point of doing design. The design situation thus describes the holistic state of a particular design at a particular time. For alternate views on design situation see, for example, Löwgren and Stolterman and Visser. The design situation can, of course, never be comprehensively stated. A design problem, on the other hand, is a designer’s internal or external representation of a specific task within the design situation (here we are following Visser). A design solution is, then, a designer’s internal or external representation that meets at least partly the requirements of a design problem. Often, if not always, a design solution will become a design problem until the design task is considered finished by the designer. This kind of co-evolution of problems and solutions at least partly explains why design cannot be considered as rigid problem solving. In one sense, the design situation can be also described as the state of the current design problems and solutions and the resources the designer has at his or her disposal to change the situation.

Describing design activity through the concept of design situation acknowledges the complex network of issues that affect design at any given moment. The design situation is in constant state of change due to a number of factors such as the acts of the designers, changes in the perspectives of the actors involved in the project, changes in the design context such as market state and so on. However, the overall design situation is a theoretical entity. It is virtually impossible for any designer to hold a mental representation of the whole design but instead he or she focuses only on the local design situation, the situation at hand as presented to the designer at a given moment. As the designer always works with the local design situation, we will use the term design situation to denote the local design situation and when applicable, use the term overall design situation to refer to the holistic view of the design situation.

A design problem is something that the designer is confronted with in a specific design situation. A design problem forces the designer to pay attention to certain issues while leaving the other issues in the periphery. This is mainly due the fact that our cognitive capabilities are limited. We humans just cannot properly comprehend complex networks of often even contradictory possibilities. Framing something as a problem limits the possibilities that have to be taken into account, at least for a certain time. After making a decision it is then again possible to consider what the more holistic implications are for the decision.

The design situation changes all the time during the design. The same thing happens even more drastically for the design problems and solutions. The problems are decomposed into subproblems, problems become solutions and vice versa, and they can be altogether abandoned, as is the case, for example, when the designer decides to scrap the current solution and start from scratch. The models for design as activity have to take this constant flux into account, otherwise they cannot capture the (sometimes) chaotic and (always) creative nature of design.

In most areas of design – also in game design – the designers often work in multi-disciplinary teams, where there are different kinds of stakeholders involved. In such cases, the subjective nature of design activity transforms the design process into a social process where individual interpretations of the design situation play an important role. Similarly, a common understanding of the situation is important as well.”


  • Herbert A. Simon (1996) The Sciences of the Artificial – 3rd Edition. The MIT Press.
  • Donald A. Schön (1983) The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think In Action. Basic Books.
  • Donald A. Schön (1992 Designing as reflective conversation with the materials of a design situation. Research In Engineering Design, 3(3): 131-147, 1992.
  • Jonas Löwgren & Erik Stolterman (2007). Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology. The MIT Press.
  • Kuittinen & Holopainen (2009) Some Notes on the Nature of Game Design, DiGRA conference 2009.
  • Willemien Visser. The Cognitive Artifacts of Designing. CRC Press.
  • Bryan Lawson (2005) How Designers Think, Fourth Edition: The Design Process Demystified. Architectural Press.

verder lezen: ga naar een beschouwing over maken als probleem oplossen. Of lees een uiteenzetting van de ‘reflective practitioner’ en de reflectieve kennisleer van Schön.