What does theory mean for design practitioners?

In January 2007, The Danish School of Design got the headlines in the Danish newsarticle Weekendavisen. The news reported concerns a conflict of power: who is to define what kind of theory that is needed in the design fields? This question has been heavily discussed for two decades. Still, no consensus is reached. In order to please political authorities who demand research outcomes in higher educational institutions, The Danish School of Design have employed researchers from academic fields, while teachers of practical subjects are pushed aside. However, research results with little relevance for the professional practices that they ought to serve, have nurtured the criticism of theory skeptics: research and theory building make students able to cite famous theoreticians but uselessas professional designers.

This article aims at contributing to solve this unhappy antagonism between theory and practice. According to the Norwegian philosopher Olav Eikeland, who works on Aristotle (384-322 BC), a closer reading of his texts may contribute to heal the split between academic and practical working traditions. By taking point of departure in the Greek origins of the terms theory and knowledge, the article outlines a simple model that allows for a development of two basically different types of knowledge and thereby theory within design: 1) personal theory and 2) theory in the academic sense of the term. Personal theory is the theory that practitioners acquire through their work experience and which is proven in
practice. It may be regarded a sub theory. Theory in its established form aspires at generalized explanations and understanding that goes beyond personal practice. The article outlines various aspects of the concepts theory and knowledge related to practice. In conclusion a simple model offers avisual representation of the general theory components within design.



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