Causality and Interpretation: Integrating the Technical and Social Aspects of Design

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


Research units


A number of well-recognized problems, many arising from the inadequate organization of design processes, beset the building design and design management. Remedies have been attempted but no effective solutions have emerged. The root problem could be the prevailing view of incompatibility between the technical, subject to causality, and social, subject to interpretation, standpoints. A way to address this issue is to go back to first principles. Aristotle provided a first account of the productive act based on two strategies of inquiry: the method of analysis and rhetoric. The discovery of the dual nature of design theorizing by Aristotle gave rise to the hypothesis that a general solution might be provided by a new integrated design concept. The primary aim was thus defined as follows: to develop a comprehensive philosophical and conceptual framework as well as a design model integrating both technical and social phenomena and to use the resulting theory to develop better design and design management practices. To meet the research aim and select the research methodology, four main research questions were posed: (1) What are the key philosophical ideas relevant to the framing of design conceptualizations? (2) What are the fundamental concepts of ancient design theories (i.e., the method of analysis and rhetoric) in the ancient Greek context and in contemporary contexts? (3) What kind of new design model can be constructed based on these two strategies of inquiry? (4) How does the new model benefit design and design management practices? Design research methodology was adopted to answer the research questions. The answers to the questions were arrived at through arguments, findings, and constructions: (1) Concerning the philosophical framing, it is argued that pragmatism is more appropriate than positivism or constructivism, as it would permit the synthesis of the technical and social perspectives. (2) The two ancient strategies of inquiry, the method of analysis and rhetoric, help clarify fundamental design concepts. These strategies of inquiry need to be integrated for a more comprehensive conceptualization of designing. (3) For an understanding of the relationships between the fundamental concepts of designing, a new more comprehensive design model was constructed. The new model represents the structure of the design process. (4) With a view to the evaluation of the model and development of support for practice, three case study interventions were carried out. An initial implementation of the new model through instantiations in practice brought significant quantitative and qualitative improvements. Overall, three contributions to the body of design knowledge are made: the formalization of a new design process model; an elucidation of the intellectual history of the design discipline; and the clarification of core terms, concepts, and their relationships in the context of design.


Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8516-6
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8517-3
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

    Research areas

  • design, design activity, design process, method of analysis, rhetoric, strategies of inquiry, building design, building design management

ID: 34075648