Design science (DS) approaches have been emerging in engineering, management and other disciplines operating at the interface between design research and the natural or social sciences. Research informed by DS is challenging because it involves “mixing oil with water”, using a famous phrase of Herbert Simon. A key challenge here is the dual role of theory: one can develop a “theory of” any empirical phenomenon to explain its characteristics and outcomes, or alternatively, develop a “theory for” generating this phenomenon, focused on solving problems and enlarging possibilities. To clearly distinguish these two perspectives, we talk about theorizing
in relation to theory-of and framing
related to theory-for. A state-of-the-art review of how DS is applied by management researchers results in two main findings. First, explicit (re)framing efforts appear to be highly instrumental in challenging a given theoretical paradigm and thereby reduce the risk of being constrained to it; these findings confirm the generative nature of design activity. Moreover, many studies reviewed draw on knowledge formats that synthesize descriptive-explanatory and prescriptive-normative knowledge. Our main findings are subsequently integrated into a DS methodology, which may especially be of interest to design-oriented disciplines that tend to adopt a rather intuitive (undefined) notion of theory.
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