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Methodological Diversity and Theoretical Integration (the example of Design Fixation)

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Design fixation occurs when a designer’s prior experiences limits their imagination, leading to a restricted interpretation of the design problem or the repetition of prior solutions. Over the last three decades, design fixation research has emerged as a distinct and productive area of design creativity research, and of design research more generally. As a research area focusing on human behaviour it is unusually restricted in its methodological choices, primarily adopting an experimental approach, much of which follows the example set by studies conducted in the 1990s. Despite the dominance of experimental research on fixation, there is some related qualitative research, including expert interviews and industry case studies. However, there is a clear separation between the experimental and qualitative work, with little integration of research findings across this methodological divide. Many experimental studies make some reference to the general contexts and practices that the experiments relate to, but it is extremely rare for these experimental studies to refer to research accounts where fixation-related phenomena are discussed. Looking at it the other way round, the qualitative literature related to fixation makes only a few references to the experimental literature, and that is often just to establish the basic concept and cite the origin of a term or definition. It would seem that despite similar interests and objectives, these two related literatures effectively belong to different communities. This low level of methodological diversity and lack of theoretical integration limits our ability to interpret the findings of fixation research (especially with respect to ecological validity), plan new studies (whether qualitative or quantitative) and impact practice (e.g. through tools or training).

This talk is part of the Engineering Design Centre Seminars series.

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