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Title: A hybrid research methodology for studying design cognition
Authors: Chen, Jiun-De
Heylighen, Ann
Neuckermans, Herman #
Issue Date: 11-Jul-2010
Conference: DCC'10 Workshop: Research Methods for Design Cognition location:Stuttgart (Germany) date:11 July 2010
Abstract: In attempting to improve our understanding of the “designerly ways of knowing” (Cross 1982, 2006), we investigate the viewpoints of design teachers who are teaching the entry-level architectural studio. Since they are devoted to introducing novices into the realm of designing, which is the core of architectural education, they have to be able to articulate its essence for teaching the entry-level students effectively. Unlike the commonly used methods for studying human designing activities (i.e. think-aloud protocol analysis, participatory observation, etc.), our approach takes a traditional research tool—in-depth interview—as the starting point, yet develops a three-phase coding method to analyze further the data collected.
In fact, identifying the target group—the entry-level design studio teachers—is itself one of the main parts of our research method. Instead of studying how designers think and work directly, we turn to study how design teachers teach the novice. The reason is multiple. It is well known that design cognition is tacit (Polanyi 1967) to designers. Therefore, collecting information about design cognition from them is comparatively difficult. Design teachers, however, need to be aware of this aspect in order to teach their students how to design, particularly when they are teaching novices. It is because they are not only teaching the fundamentals of designing, but also constructing the suitable pedagogy for this purpose. Since teaching design can be considered as designing teaching (Dinham 1991), this dual requirement motivates the entry-level design studio teachers to reflect (Schön 1987) upon the essence of designing. In addition, they have to express their reflection either to the novices with relatively plain language, or to their colleagues for discussion. Thus, it is easier for them to articulate what they think about design cognition.
In spite of the advantage, collecting data on design cognition from this group of teachers shall be deliberated further. Neither can we directly access their thinking while they are teaching, nor reconstruct their teaching situations in the laboratory for our study. It seems that the most suitable method is interviewing. Yet, their concern with design teaching remains mostly on the pragmatic level, rather than with the designerly ways of knowing. Thus, we formulate several semi-structured questions as interview guidelines in order to help them respond to this topic. The questions begin with general information, such as their teaching conditions, and shift to more specific issues, like how they integrate their teaching intention into the studio settings.
After transcribing the interviews, we develop a three-phase coding method to analyze the data, with the most basic technique: handwriting on paper. The first phase is data reduction. We extract useful information from the transcripts into words, phases, or simple sentences, and sort them into groups according to the relevant topics. Secondly, thematic categorization organizes these themes within a graphic profile. Three factors— teacher, teaching, and design—act as magnetic fields that attract related themes, and the overlapping areas can be deemed the interactive zones for placing those responses that relate to both or all three factors. The third phase—indicator allocation—conceptualizes the themes further into indicators, and allocates these according to another set of factors (framework, process, and skills/knowledge) with a different graphic representation. By comparing the results of this coding operation with each other, we can grasp some patterns of design teaching that relate to different aspects of designerly ways of knowing.
Through the patterns of design teaching, we realize that there are three major components—assignment, representation, and process—that not only assist design teachers in organizing their teaching, but also reflect what they think about designerly ways of knowing, and how to teach their students about it. Moreover, these three components mutually define each other to describe designing as solving wicked problems with special codes in strategic processes, which is quite similar to Cross’ interpretation (Cross 2006, p.12). Although the essence of designing in design teachers’ views is not new to us, the ways that it is represented in design teaching is quite inspiring. More studies shall follow in the similar direction.
In this research, we focus on an alternative type of source (entry-level design teachers), use a traditional approach (interviewing), and develop a new coding method (three-phase analyses with graphic representation). Instead of adopting one well-established method (such as protocol analysis with 'think-aloud' technique on designers), we 'hybridize' several parts of approaches into the one that suits our purpose. By targeting the entry-level design studio teachers rather than experienced designers, we explore design cognition from the perspective of teaching and learning in designing. By in-depth interviewing, we collect the most relevant information for our study. By developing the three-phase coding method, we extract, analyze, and rearrange the data into informative patterns in order to give us an insight into the essence of designing. This combination of research methods incorporates strategy identification, technique selection, and process development. Just like designing, no single method can be applied to every research of design cognition. A hybrid research methodology can be considered appropriate.
Publication status: accepted
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Department of Architecture - miscellaneous
Research Group CAAD, Design- and Building Methodology (-)
# (joint) last author

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