Pedagogy & Praxis:
Emerging Issues from Doctoral Programs in Design Research
As professional practices adapt and specialize to address the thorny complexities of real-world problems, it becomes increasingly important that practical applications of design research should be more quickly digestible, assimilated, and incorporated. This has motivated some practitioners to direct—or produce—the research studies they need. It is not always clear, however, that practice-based research ‘measures up’ to academic standards. The situation opens up discussions of alternative “practicum” research training—both for advanced (doctoral-level) research studies but also for applied research methods taught in professional design programs (Masters level). In particular, this study presents preliminary findings on a range of programmatic comparisons between Doctor of Design [DDes] and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Design degree programs, exploring both their alignments and autonomy, in order to discuss the goals and methods of teaching practice-based design research. The study uses research training structures in Education as a model for comparison with Design. A typology is proposed to distinguish: (1) professional (entry-level) doctoral degree, (2) academic doctoral degree with a research focus, and (3) professional (advanced) doctoral degree with a research focus. Using ordinary text analysis tools, key passages describing goals and purpose; mission/learning outcome; structure; and delivery mechanisms from selected doctoral programs are analyzed. Then, keywords from professional doctoral programs (such as DDes, DArch, and DSc), are discussed. Emerging strategies, structures, and delivery mechanisms suggest that professional doctoral degrees may be able to engage more easily with professional practice and to offer clinical approaches for rigorous research as well as innovative design practices. This offers welcome opportunities to bridge academia and design industries. However, because not every concept-making practice constitutes “research,” a significant need remains for the development of workable definitions of research standards and systems. Student- practitioners in advanced doctoral-level design research programs thus require a command of professional ethics and research integrity, as well as setting clear boundaries between professional services and research investigations.