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Doctoral Research

Ours is one of the few institutions in North America in which doctoral candidates can engage in practice-based Research, through our PhD program. Practice based research is an original investigation undertaken in order to gain new knowledge through the practice and outcomes of design. Outcomes can be demonstrated through artifacts, visualizations, models, prototypes, exhibitions and other outputs from design process.

The significance and context for this research is often text-based, but the full articulation can only be realized through the process of design and its outputs. This type of research attracts and is ideally suited to practicing designers because the outputs are more directly relevant to how design is practiced.

PhD candidates at the School of Design undertake research in collaboration with faculty and advisors. This means that faculty and peers assist candidates in the creation of new knowledge about the nature and practice of design and the way in which design can make a difference in society as a whole.

Doctoral research at the School of Design is situated in Transition Design, a new area of design practice, study and research that refers to the role of design in enabling systems-level societal shifts to more sustainable futures. Doctoral researchers have the option to conduct practice-based research in which they critically reflect on and through the process of designing.

Advancing the field through practice-based research.

Academic research concerns the creation of new knowledge and research methods are designed to ensure the validity of the knowledge that is created and the School’s doctoral programs are leading the introduction of practice-based design research to North America. This means that all candidates will be encouraged to include designed artifacts, design project documentation, or documentations of exhibitions and/or performances as part of their submissions for examination.

The programs aspire to be a source of leadership to the design profession, advancing the practice of design toward being an enabler of more sustainable futures. To do so we would like to see more design practitioners undertaking doctoral research degrees (especially if they are interested in maintaining their practice after completion); and more design practitioners learning from the research undertaken in design doctoral programs.

The second requires that doctoral work be available in forms that are more likely to be engaged with by practitioners. This means multi-modal documentation of projects and cases, rather than conventional dissertations. By encouraging more creative forms of research dissemination, we hope to also meet the first ambition, of encouraging more practicing designers to undertake doctoral work.

Radical change for a more sustainable future.

Transition Design is a new area of design research that refers to design-enabled, system level change. Transition Design involves working at multiple levels of scale, over time, so that social, economic and technological systems co-evolve toward more sustainable futures. Transition designers combine the tools and processes of design with new understandings of living systems, innovation diffusion, and community organizing. The result is a capacity to identify the leverage points for reconceiving lifestyles and the infrastructures that resource them.

Transition Design is a research focus available to PhD candidates with a previous design degree or experience in the practice. In both cases, the school encourages practice-based research approaches to test Transition Design strategies. Candidates who need to augment their design qualifications will be directed to our MA, MPS, or MDes degrees to prepare for one of the doctoral programs.

Example projects with a transition focus:

  • Designing barter systems that enable peer-to-peer service provision (Sharing Economies)
  • Creating platforms for localized social networking free of corporate data capture (Transition Towns)
  • Facilitating small group experiments with low-energy lifestyle experiments (LivingLabs)
  • Brokering between community-led innovations and anachronistic government policy (DESIS)
  • Entrepreneurial systems for large-scale retrofit of climate change effected cities (Urmadic University)
  • Job-sharing systems to enable time for local food production

Learn more.

For more information about Transition Design, check out these resources: