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Emerging design: Integrating learning, practice and research

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Emerging design is an approach to solving multidimensional and multidisciplinary problems. It describes design as an evolutionary activity with no projected steps, in which plans for taking steps and using tools gradually emerge from participants’ reflections. This study explores emerging design through a three-year activity that initially had a pedagogical nature but gradually turned into a practical and research-based activity in which design students along with small businesses and start-ups came up with a problem-based approach for defining and solving real-world problems. The three cycles of activity were studied with a reflective lens and various sources of data were used. The Engeström framework for activity theory was used to reduce and display data in qualitative data analysis. Through the three cycles of activity, few design proposals were implemented by the involved small businesses and start-ups. In addition, most businesses benefited from the research findings produced during the students’ projects. Some unexpected outcomes were also observed, including emergence of a collaborative network of experts and clients. The results suggest that first, the quality of collaboration among the participants was more important than instruments and rules for achieving the main objectives of the activity. Second, a reflective approach to design practice can continuously improve the design processes and tools used in each cycle of the activity, and third, design practice does not only produce design solutions, it also creates collaborations, reflections and networks.
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Keywords: action research; activity theory; design discipline; emerging design; multidimensional problem; problem-based learning

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000107756028Chalmers University of Technology

Publication date: March 1, 2020

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  • The Journal of Design, Business & Society is a peer-reviewed scholarly publication for business leaders, managers, policy-makers, service-providers and design experts. It examines the complex nature of design and design thinking in relation to its effective application to solving real-world problems across commercial and broader societal contexts. It aims to promote cross-disciplinary design research which engages specialist and generalist stakeholders via qualitative, quantitative, visual or applied research methodologies, ultimately leading to tangible implications for current practice or clear direction for future work.
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