Design as the resolution of paradoxes: An exploratory study

Thea Morgan*, Chris McMahon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)

1 Citation (Scopus)


This paper presents an ethnomethodological case study of a student engineering design team during their final year design project. The results were analysed with reference to a theoretical framework, based on Dorst's (2006) model, in which "a 'design problem' is taken as a paradox, made up out of the clash of conflicting discourses" and "the nature of creative design is the forging of connections between these discourses". Three key discourses emerged from the data, that of the 'commercial sponsor', the 'university', and the 'student group'. It is suggested that the 'commercial sponsor' and 'university' discourses were in conflict, forming the 'central paradox' at the heart of the design problem. The student group failed to resolve this paradox, and went on to significantly underachieve in their design project. The aim of this research was to explore and describe the complex ways in which design emerges in practice, using Dorst's model of design problems as a theoretical framework. The framework has proved a useful and insightful way of considering how design occurs naturally in interactions between people.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIn DS 80-11 Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 15) Vol 11: Human Behaviour in Design, Design Education; Milan, Italy, 27-30.07. 15 (pp. 215-226).
PublisherThe Design Society
Number of pages12
EditionDS 80-11
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Event20th International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED 2015 - Milan, Italy
Duration: 27 Jul 201530 Jul 2015


Conference20th International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED 2015

Structured keywords

  • Engineering Education Research Group


  • Design problems
  • Ethnomethodology
  • Human behaviour in design


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