In Designerly Ways of Knowing: Design Discipline versus Design Science, Nigel Cross interestingly discusses the epistemological concerns of design research. Using his own typology he tries to differentiate the design-science relationships: (a) scientific design, (b) design science, and (c) a science of design. Some excerpts I found relevant:
"Scientific design refers to modern, industrialized design—as distinct from pre-industrial, craft-oriented design-based on scientific knowledge but utilizing a mix of both intuitive and nonintuitive design methods. (...) a desire to produce works of art and design based on objectivity and rationality, that is, on the values of science. (...) Design science addresses the problem of determining and categorizing all regular phenomena of the systems to be designed, and of the design process. Design science also is concerned with deriving from the applied knowledge of the natural sciences appropriate information in a form suitable for the designer’s use.” This definition extends beyond “scientific design,” in including systematic knowledge of design process and methodology, as well as the scientific/technological underpinnings of the design of artifacts. (...) the science of design refers to that body of work which attempts to improve our understanding of design through “scientific” (i.e., systematic, reliable) methods of investigation. And let us be clear that a “science of design” is not the same as a “design science.” "
Another interesting topic addressed in this paper is the critique of the positivist doctrine implied by the scientific design vector, referring to the following claim by Donald Schön:
" He criticized Simon’s view of a “science of design” for being based on approaches to solving well-formed problems, whereas professional practice throughout design and technology and elsewhere has to face and deal with “messy, problematic situations.” Schön proposed, instead, to search for “an epistemology of practice implicit in the artistic, intuitive processes which some practitioners do bring to situations of uncertainty, instability, uniqueness, and value conflict,” and which he characterized as “reflective practice."
Why do I blog this? exploring the design field, I find it relevant to look at this sort of discussion as it clarifies lots of ambiguities. Working with people having both a "scientific approach" an designers, it's easy to see the gaps and the underlying elements described above. Beyond the "design thinking" meme, it's also good to see some academic references tackling the problem of design epistemology.