Explorative Materiality and Knowledge. The Role of Creative Exploration and Artefacts in Design Research

  • Niedderer K
Citations of this article
Mendeley users who have this article in their library.


Juxtaposing the nature of design and the foundations of research in the traditional science and humanities disciplines puts their differences into sharp relief. The comparison highlights the key characteristics of design – its creative and experiential nature – which any design research must take into account, as well as the theoretical foundations of research. The aim of this article is to develop an understanding of the ontological, epistemological and methodological issues of design research, and to offer a framework that can embrace equally the notions of creativity and experiential knowledge, and of academic rigour. Furthermore, the potential roles of the design process and artefact within research are examined within this theoretical framework, which suggests that design processes and artefacts can – if appropriately framed – play an important part in the research process, facilitating an approach commensurate with the aims of design enquiry. A case study of the Niedderer's own work serves to illustrate the balance and integration of theory and (creative) practice within the research process, and how this integration can enable a multi-layered contribution to the theoretical and practical advancement of the field. Introduction: the emergence of research in art and design Since its emergence, research in art and design has grappled with the problem of how the practices of art, design and research, and their respective processes and products, could or should be seen to relate (Biggs 2002, 2004; Niedderer 2009). This problem is three-fold: it is ontological in that one needs to consider which questions could or should be asked in art and design research that are appropriate and worthwhile; it is epistemological in that one needs to consider which perspectives or approaches could or should be incorporated into the enquiry; and it is methodological in that one needs to consider how any enquiry could or should be undertaken from the point of pragmatic conduct. This problem has arisen from the historic situation in the United Kingdom: In the 1990s, two major developments within the higher education sector introduced the idea of research into art and design. Firstly, the integration of art and design education within the university sector has enabled doctoral studies in art and design (Durling, Friedman, and Gutherson 2002). Secondly, the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 1992 recognised for the first time the 'invention of ideas, images, performances, and artefacts including design where these lead to new or substantially improved insights' (HEFCE 1992, Annex A) as research. Prior to this, 'research' and 'practice' in art and design were conducted separately. Practice was undertaken by academics who sought to maintain their professional standing and skills within a vocational education system (Durling 2000), while research relating to art and design was conducted according to established research traditions such as history, philosophy, psychology or education. This meant that academics in art and design had to conduct research within the aims and approaches intrinsic to these disciplines and with their contribution bound to them, rather than making a genuine contribution to design. The 1992 RAE thus legitimised activities as research that were previously considered to be professional practice. This challenged the previously held status quo of the scholarly conventions of research and instilled a need to understand the role of creative practice within research, especially with regard to its contribution to knowledge and the related requirements,




Niedderer, K. (2013). Explorative Materiality and Knowledge. The Role of Creative Exploration and Artefacts in Design Research. FORMakademisk, 6(2). https://doi.org/10.7577/formakademisk.651

Register to see more suggestions

Mendeley helps you to discover research relevant for your work.

Already have an account?

Save time finding and organizing research with Mendeley

Sign up for free