Donald Norman has observed that the conditions of industrial society that formed designers and their work have altered beyond recognition, yet we still think of designers as someone who makes rather than thinks (2010). Decisions about designing are no longer questions of doing and acting but of thinking about action and its outcomes. The premise of this paper is that design research can move from the realm of professional practice into the wider social realm if researchers adopt social research methods, and that such a move would be beneficial. Whilst notions of what constitutes design practice have expanded, less attention has been paid to what design is for.
Forty years ago Christopher Jones argued that design could be understood not just by its processes but also by its results, and suggested a definition of design as something that initiates change in man made things (Jones, 1991). That concept could also be extended to include the impact of design upon the natural world. If we accept Jones’ premise, then the questions of why change is needed and how it is best facilitated are central to designing and researching (Berman, 2008, Brown, 2009). This paper argues for an adoption of social research methods in design research as a way of understanding design’s broader social purposes and consequences.