by Peter Troxler
(c) 2001 Peter Troxler,

Reflective Practice is a promising and wide-used paradigm in design research -- to draw from a panel session held at ICED'01 in Glasgow (Chair: Kristina LAUCHE).

Kees DORST (Eindhoven) has a closer look at design problems being so-called ill structured. "Design is the creation of solutions to underdetermined problems" he defines his subject. He proposes to look at it as a problem-space and a solution-space both evolving over time and related to each other.

Rianne VALKENBURG (Delft) describes the design process using SCHÖN's model of four activities &endash; naming, framing, moving, and reflecting. She finds these activities in an empirical study with one team solving a design problem (whereas she does not find any of SCHÖN's activities at all in another team). "Reflective practition is designing", she concludes.

Owen FAUVEL (Calgary) reports interviews he held together with Paul WINKELMAN (Calgary) to find out, why engineers do what they do. They used metaphors &endash; "the engineer as gardener", "the engineer as map-drawer", and "the engineer as bridge-builder" &endash; to understand the values of engineering design and to rise the question: "Where does the influence and the responsibility of the engineer(s) end?"

Kristina LAUCHE (Aberdeen) bridges the gap between prescriptive and descriptive design research proposing a model for qualitative research that comprises design heuristics (analysis, synthesis, evaluation), reflection, transfer (i. e. sharing knowledge) and systematisation. Although she did not find any evidence of engineers reflecting they assured her that reflection would be necessary and fruitful. She proposes guiding questions to do so.

The discussion starts on how reflective practice is defined. According to SCHÖN it means design as a learning and exploration process where iteration is the interesting part. Reflective practice is not a technical term but rather a paradigm taken from the title of SCHÖN's book. Reflective practice is both, a framework &endash; a specific way to look at designing &endash; and goal directed. There is no consent whether it is general or specific as a framework.

Reflective practice takes place in conceptual phases of designing rather than in routine phases. It can be reflection in action where it is an integral part of the design process and probably not explicitly uttered, or reflection on action. Reflection on action is most often triggered by problems coming up in the design process. If there are no major problems there is no reflection. Formal design reviews in general do not include reflection on action because they are focused on the output of the design process, not on the process itself.

How to teach reflection in action the panel found no solution. It remained citing examples from design education where students were obliged ore guided to do reflection on action through reflection diaries, design reports with comment columns, or mentoring, or to reflect on a role play by their teachers. Everyone agreed that this might be a way to make students familiar with reflection and to motivate them to do reflection in action as well.

The issue was risen that SCHÖN's paradigm that was not intended as an analytical framework happens to be over-stretched when it comes to ambiguities in sketches. They can be very useful to boost creativity in the design process and doing so fostering reflection in action, but ambiguities are harmful when they lead to misunderstandings in communication.

Design research on reflective practice is based heavily on narratives. The panel suggests integrating sketches as they evolve in the design process into research to gain a more comprehensive picture of reflection in action. Sketches are believed to record traces of in-process reflection in a subtler and less inductive way than narratives.