Field studies: a methodological exploration of design research

  • Joseph C. Wang

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The past two decades have witnessed the rise and the evolution of design method studies which are characterised by an emphasis on step-by-step prescriptions as to how one should behave in designing. Only a handful of published studies are found to have dealt with design descriptions which attempt to reveal and to explain what the designer actually does on the job and/or how he manages to work with new method and systems of design.

This study advocates descriptive studies in design research. Its overall objective is to explore and establish research methods relevant to and capable of describing design process and activities as performed in the context of professional practice. Two field studies have been conducted and reported. Firstly, the participant observation approach was adopted in the monitoring of the prototype design for a junior school undertaken within a local authority architect's department. In a second study, the design process involved in a Jewish primary school project was reconstructed through interviews with the architect concerned and the use of existing records and documents made available by a private architectural firm.

Comparisons of the design processes are made in terms of the designers, methods and strategies used, and the contexts within which design decisions were taken. Field research methods used in the two studies are discussed with reference to their relative merits and limitations in information gathering.

The study concludes with discussions of the nature of design in light of Karl Popper's philosophy of science, the implications for education and practice, and a proposal for a framework of future research in design studies. The Appendices contain summaries of several preliminary studies which exemplify some of the directions for future research.

Date of Award1982
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath

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