Characterising the relationship between practice and laboratory-based studies of designers for critical design situations

  • Philip Cash

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Experimental study of the designer plays a critical role in design research. However laboratory based study is often poorly compared and contrasted to practice, leading to a lack of uptake and subsequent research impact. The importance of addressing this issue is highlighted by its significant influence on design research and many related fields. As such the main aim of this work is to improve empirical design research by characterising the relationship between practice and laboratory-based studies for critical design situations. A review of the state of the art methods in design research and key related fields is reported. This highlights the importance and commonality of a set or core issues connected to the failure to effectively link study of practice and study in the laboratory. Further to this a technical review and scoping was carried out to establish the most efective capture strategy to be used when studying the designer empirically. Subsequently three studies are reported, forming a three point comparison between practice the laboratory (with student practitioners) and an intermediary case (a laboratory with practitioners) . Results from these studies contextualise the critical situations in practice and develop a detailed multi-level comparison between practice and the laboratory which was then validated with respect to a number of existing studies.The primary contribution of this thesis is the development of a detailed multi-level relationship between practice and the laboratory for critical design situations: information seeking, ideation and design review. The second key contribution is the development of a generic method for the empirical study of designers in varying contexts - allowing researchers to build on this work and more effectively link diverse studies together. The final key contribution of this work is the identification of a number of core methodological issues and mitigating techniques affecting both design research and its related fields.
Date of Award31 May 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorBen Hicks (Supervisor) & Stephen Culley (Supervisor)


  • design process
  • observation
  • experiment
  • research methods
  • comparison
  • human behaviour
  • human activity

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