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Innovative Design Research PhDs

Yesterday Dr Joyce Yee of Northumbria University did a workshop/discussion for first year Design PhD students on innovative design research PhDs, following up on a presentation she did earlier this year for the faculty. This is an area that she's been looking into, and has published a number of papers on the topic.

She has identified a number of innovative research PhDs that span the different areas of design (through, in, and from). The PhD are those by:

Triangle of PhD examples placed in Fallman' (2008, p5) Interaction Design Research Model
PhD examples summary - examples, influences, methodology, methods, how researched, focus

Some of the greater questions that came up around this were:

How do these relate to a practical (3 year, full time) PhD?

Of all of these, Joyce suggested that Rajmaker's thesis may be of the most relevance to PhD students as it followed a solid (though creative) path, and was carried out within the time (as opposed to some of the others that took several years).

Did these students set out to do innovative design research? What was their intent? And did they achieve it?

A bigger question here is the type of PhD research that students want to do. It's one thing to want to go into academia after research (in this case having a solid piece of research and perhaps having secured at least one lot of funding would be valuable) and another to want to go back to industry (here becoming an expert and being able to tie this back to practice would be the priority, or at least on the horizon once the doctoral study had finished).


Looking at innovative design research PhDs, it's hard not to notice a few names coming up over and over again: RCA, UTS, Malmo, some Australian universities. Does this work in the opposite? What if your university would rather have numbers finishing on time rather than quality? This is a difficult question, and it was suggested that this type of presentation should be done with supervisors and academic leadership as well as with students.

For myself and some of my colleagues, the notion of a 'design PhD' is something we've just started to get our heads around. As the field matures and more design practictioners both complete and supervise PhDs, we should see more research through design happening, as opposed to older precedents of people from other disciplines coming in and doing research about design. Above all, it looks like this is an interesting time to be doing design PhDs.