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What is design? : an empirical investigation into conceptions of design in the community of design stakeholders

By Paul Hilton Micklethwaite


This thesis describes a project investigating conceptions of design in the community\ud of design stakeholders. A 'democratization of design' is identified, in terms of a\ud widened mode of design engagement. The origins of the project are located in the\ud accompanying observation that 'design means different things to different people'.\ud \ud \ud The project has three aims: (i) to establish the contemporary UK context for the\ud social study of design; (ii) to expand upon the identified theme of the democratization\ud of design; and (iii) to empirically investigate conceptions of design in the community\ud of design stakeholders. The first two aims are fulfilled through a review and\ud discussion of existing secondary sources. The third aim is fulfilled by primary\ud research, in the form of an empirical interview study conducted with design\ud stakeholder informants.\ud \ud \ud The interview study embodies an interpretative phenomenological theoretical\ud perspective, and employs qualitative research method. A theoretical sample of 31\ud interview informants was drawn from five design stakeholder groups: Business;\ud Designers; Education; Promotion; Users. Conceptions of design within the collected\ud interview data are investigated through a template analysis.\ud \ud \ud An analysis of collected interview data is presented in the form of an holistic map or\ud 'template' of the data organized by thematic discussion of 'design'. These empirical\ud findings are presented and discussed narratively and graphically. A total of 41\ud interrelating 'conceptions of design' are identified.\ud \ud \ud Empirical findings are synthesized with the response to aims (i) and (ii). This\ud generates two main final research outcomes: firstly, a degree of informant scepticism\ud and ambivalence is apparent towards the heightened political, cultural and economic\ud profile for design; secondly, the democratization of design is seen as a worthy ideal,\ud but one which is difficult to realize. In conclusion, a number of further implications of\ud the project are also discussed

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