Design is about divergent and convergent thinking. It requires ideas to be synthesized and unresolved ideas be let go of.  It’s as though the design process tacitly irons things out — fixing them so they appear consistent, correct and permanent, complete and finished. I face onto-epistemological challenge as I believe that we must fix and unfix things, control and let go, accept impermanence and permanence and learn that being and doing are entwined.

What happens to design if we accept the paradox of the temporary and the fixed? Are we more likely to see everything as a practice with no set beginning and end? Does our fixation with the artefact become less relevant? Could this better equip designers to accept uncertainty?And, how might this influence the way designers communicate their processes?

I shift towards design being a practice that is emergent, uncertain, situated continuous, relational, collaborative, agile, respectful, ethical, speculative, authentic, dialogical, negotiated and critical.


A. Do you break the rules to learn the rules?
B. Learn the rules to break the rules?
C. Learn the rules to follow the rules?
D .Which rules or who’s rules do you follow?
E. All of the above


Our world is changing rapidly and each of us has the capacity to influence these changes. How can adopting a learner mindset help us respond to constant change? Learning and design sit at the core of this study — therefore it’s relevant to simultaneously look at learning theory, established pedagogical practices and conjunction with my own design oriented methodology. Through a cross-pollination of methodologies the research seeks to generate its own nuanced method for facilitating reciprocal learning. The research topic stems from my current practice which has been shaped by my experience and ignorance. The research seeks to transform my tacit ways of practicing, to theories that can be shared or adapted to design pedagogy more broadly and to professional practice. To share this method with any confidence the research needs to uncover the blinds spots and biases of this practice, discover its strengths/weaknesses and establish what it affords. The research methodology that emerges seeks authenticity, so clarifying the onto-epistemo-methodological is vital. A crude way of saying this would be the approach is about embracing simplicity and complexity warts and all.

Contextualising the research

Contextualizing the research through multiple channels will be an ongoing process. This critical and analytical activity is aimed at defining the scope of the inquiry, as well as establishing the state of existing and relevant knowledge base to date. (Malins J, Gray C). It also serves to situate the design research in relation to other design researchers in the field. Given the research must be an original contribution to knowledge contextualizing and situating the research is of primary importance. A thorough and sustained contextual review is perhaps the only way to assess whether the research covers the unchartered territory.

The initial literature was more of an onboarding process to the Phd. The review was expansive, skimming the surface of many areas but it lacked focus. It broadly looked to better understand academic research as a field of study, the design discipline, collaboration, facilitation, and improvisation. However, the lack of focus meant the reading lacked purpose. To date I’ve mostly tracked this uncertain process using self-reflection, writing and visualization — these methods helped me to thread my autobiographical story to the field of design research and space to simply chase curiosity.


Search Before Research

The first stage of the research is framed around the idea of ‘search before research’. Josef Albers, a teacher, artist, designer and researcher also used these terms to describe his practice. For Albers, this was a way of saying he preferred carefully constructing direct experiences to gathering facts from others.’ (Zender 2016). So far the research has followed a similar path — this has meant I’ve engaged with activities that align with my plan to follow curiosity. An inquisitive disposition has led me down various paths, taken me on detours and without doubt influenced what comes next. However, believing that all things are relational means that through everyday activities and dedicated study I’m learning my way towards/with/through the PhD. This approach gives merit to the incidental learning that occurs through living. This has resulted in my ongoing participation in projects that are personal, professional and participatory.

Belonging, Being and Becoming

‘Belonging is central to being and becoming in that it shapes who we are and who we can become’.

Belonging, Being and Becoming are central to the Australian Governments framework established for the early years of learning. I’d go as far to say that these themes are central to all learning — they can help one to situate themselves within a context,  bring perspective and remind us that learning isn’t necessarily easy.

Theory and Practice

Much of the dialogue encountered to date sits within either practice or theory. Theorists talk about design, designing and the designed but don’t appear to use design. And, practitioners focus on the act of creating rather than documenting, understanding, or recording what they are doing. This research seeks to bridge the chasm between design theory and practice by adopting a bilingual (written and visual) approach to the research.


 A dialogical practice

The verbal and visual narrative act like a duet — at times one mode leads the communication and other times it is the union of the visual and verbal that produces clarity. There is never a perfect way — it is simply about creating space for different connections.

When I develop a visual and verbal narrative there is a constant dialogue between the two — sometimes the presentation inspires the narrative and other times it acts in reverse. The inner conversation supports the making — it’s discourse that adds a depth and richness to the making. This conversation is where practice shifts to praxis, and reflection to reflexivity.

Design Tensions

Actual Process----------------------Designed Process

Understanding Design

For many designers, the design process is loaded with tacit and implicit knowledge that serves their practice adequately. Explaining decisions to clients and teaching design at a University has pushed me to understand more explicitly the ambiguous nature of what we do.

As a design practitioner, I have an embodied sense of what it means to design. However, I wonder how the visual might help transform my tacit and implicit understanding of design into the explicit. I am not seeking to design a solution to this problem, but rather build an understanding of design through making. My research inquiry may be paradoxical given design is typically solution-seeking. I wonder if adding research after design shifts the solution-seeking orientation, to a study that’s inherently different?

Design processes from my experience are unique and dynamic so the act of determining what a design process looks like has its limitations. If this agility is a strength of design, how might visual explanations of what we do better reflect the emergent nature of design practice?  Reducing design processes to a static and easy to grasp diagram like the double diamond model from the Design Council is not my agenda. Nor is the development of a framework that walks individuals through a process. Following a predetermined process doesn’t automatically lead to well-designed outcomes, it simply embeds participants with an explicit understanding of a design thinking process. All that is determined has strengths and weaknesses and in the case of Designing Thinking we could say it helps us to better tackle wicked problems and communicate better with business, but it’s not all-encompassing of design, designing and the designed.