Design Methods in Practice: Beyond the 'systematic' approach of Pahl & Beitz

Publication: Research - peer-reviewArticle in proceedings – Annual report year: 2010


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The paper challenges the dominant and widespread view that a good design method will guarantee a systematic approach as well as certain results. First, it explores the substantial differences between on the one hand the conception of methods implied in Pahl & Beitz’s widely recognized text book on engineering design, and on the other hand the understanding of method use, which has emerged from micro-sociological studies of practice (ethnomethodology). Second, it reviews a number of case studies conducted by engineering students, who were instructed to investigate the actual use of design methods in Danish companies. The paper concludes that design methods in practice deviate substantially from Pahl & Beitz’s description of method use: The object and problems, which are the starting points for method use, are more contested and less given than generally assumed; The steps of methods are often subject to change; The goals of methods are less stable than assumed. The paper finally suggests that ethnomethodology and similar approaches direct our attention to the fact that method use is always a situated and socially interactive affair. It is crucial to attend to these dimensions of method use if we are to describe it realistically, and if we are to appreciate method use as a social accomplishment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 11th International Design Conference DESIGN 2010
Publication date2010
ISBN (print)978-953-7738-07-5
StatePublished - 2010


Conference11th International Design Conference
Internet address


  • Ethnomethodology, Beitz, Design Method, Pahl
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ID: 4371180