I liked a passage in a Kees Dorst paper on “academic design” so much, I turned it into a little diagram.
Note that these tensions are independent of each other. The diagram does not imply two “sides” of design. At any given moment, a design activity can be plotted on each axis independently. This is also not an exhaustive list of tensions. Finally, Dorst claims these tensions are irreconcilable.
The original passage:
Contemporary developments in design can be described and understood in much the same way. The professional field that we so easily label ‘design’ is complex, and full of inner contradictions. These inner tensions feed the discussions in the field. To name a few: (1) the objectives of design and the motivation of designers can range from commercial success to the common good. (2) The role and position of the designer can be as an autonomous creator, or as a problem solver in-service to the client. (3) The drive of the designer can be idealistic, or it can be more pragmatic (4) The resulting design can be a ‘thing’, but also immaterial (5) The basis for the process of designing can be intuitive, or based on knowledge and research… Etcetera… The development of the design disciplines can be traced along these lines of tension — with designers in different environments and times changing position relative to these fundamental paradoxes, but never resolving them. Ultimately, the real strength and coherence of design as a field of professions comes from recognizing these contradictions, and the dynamics of the field is a result of continuous experimentation along the rifts defined by them. Rather than a common set of practices and skills that designers might have [Cross, 1990] it is these inner contradictions in design that define its culture, its mentality. Design research should be an active force in these discussions, building bridges between them where possible. Not to resolve them into a monolithic Science of Design, but advancing the discussion in this dynamically shifting set of relations.Dorst, K. (2016, June 27). Design practice and design research: Finally together? Proceedings of DRS 2016. Design Research Society 50th Anniversary Conference, Brighton, UK. https://www.drs2016.org/212