It is required to address areas of personal and professional development during the MA Design Practice course. This will provide direction for their development and set out the goals they are aiming towards resulting in greater value to their professional practice and their company.
The key objectives are the following:
The hypothesis that is to be tested through the research is that the objectives above are achievable by applying theory to practical execution in design practice.
Conception, design synthesis, client liaison and the environmental (i.e. company culture) factors involved in delivering designs to their various audiences, will develop in parallel with their own professional standards. So the benefit to the researcher and the company is shared.
Over the period the researcher will be moving from one mode of operation to another, enabling a higher quality of output whilst enriching their professional and personal life.
The objectives can be achieved by applying theory to process, resulting in a more effective and ultimately more efficient practice. Better knowledge in practice leads to better knowledge in the researcher’s personal self. This results in improved personal performance, which will have a positive effect on colleagues. It is desirable that the standard of work produced will be positively influential to the company in a wider context by creating a benchmark by which all products can be measured.
Schon investigates the moment of reflection and distinguishes between.
1. Hindsight review (seen in the fig 1 below) or reflection on action, where the researcher may stop and evaluate whilst engaged in a task. Or
2. Simultaneous review or ‘reflection-in-action’, which is ‘a process we deliver without being able to say what we are doing’.
In other words, reflection is an exhibition of tacit knowledge that derives from time, experience and knowledge of how to do a task. The difference from reflecting-on-action (hindsight or linear process) is that reflection-in-action (simultaneous or cyclical process) ’can shape our future action’. This enables the researcher to become better at their skill set, resulting ‘in the acquisition of artistry’ in their practice. Artistry is a type of competence that professionals in their chosen field would aspire to be – the ideal professional self.
The following will describe the theories, which will be employed in attempting to attain a movement towards the ideal professional self, while stating the context in which the theories will be played out.
From the outset it is expected that the researcher employs a hindsight view on their reflection of their design practice. Their design process comprises a sequence of events as shown in Fig 1.
Fig 1. The linear model described by Schon
This linear model, Fig 1, only permits time for reflection at the very end of the process. As Hickling comments, this is a process that has ‘no means of correcting earlier ill-judged decisions later in the process’. However, usually due to time constraints, this is a process that many designers work to – only reflecting once the job is complete.
Swann’s account of a design process is shown in Fig 2.
Fig 2. Swann’s design process
‘The design process is iterative. It can only be effective if it is a constant process of revisiting the problem, reanalysing it and synthesizing revised solutions’. Indeed the model is perhaps more an idealistic view of the process but it still is intrinsically a linear – iterative process. The evaluation is dependent on factors such as completion of design work before conclusions can be made.
Ortrun Zuber–Skerrit introduces a cyclical approach to action research summarised as ‘…a spiral of cycles of action and research consisting of four major moments: plan, act, observe and reflect’. 
‘Plan’ is analysing and strategically planning a problem. ‘Act’ is implementing the strategic plan. ‘Observation’ is the evaluation of the act using appropriate measurements. Whilst ‘reflection’ is on the results of the evaluation and the whole cycle as a process. The initial ambiguity to a problem is refined producing more cycles usually by producing further questions that are looked at in another cycle. It is expected that this will become an integrated part of the design practice by the end of the course.
There are four themes that are all inter-linked and all have a high value in terms of influencing the researcher’s development and also influencing a positive change within the company. These are the four key objectives.
The researcher will actively seek to educate clients and defend the integrity of design in the products that they produce. By embracing knowledge through design work they will combat ignorance within the business by educating clients in the use of best practice. Having an open-minded approach to design solutions, it should eventually lead to recognition of the importance of design to the business arena. This in turn will have a positive influence on decision-making within the business.
The researcher must facilitate the growth of the network of external professionals to their practice, which will result in a considered, less biased, global approach to design. By having this resource, shared thinking and best practice will benefit the business and also increase their own professional worth to any other company with a design practice.
The researcher will gain professional insight by utilising the tools of action research and reflective practice. The research plan aims to demonstrate the empowerment of them and other team members through coaching and reflection to initiate new strategies and executions in design synthesis. They would also be understanding towards clients who lack design knowledge thus creating a positive approachable internal resource in the company.
The choice of design delivery will impact the business in several ways. The researcher’s remit is to engage relevant areas of the business and impart the knowledge that they possess for the benefit of the company and its culture as a whole. Improvement of B2B sites will improve the design quality and profitability throughout the business.
For the purpose of this research plan an example of a linear and a cyclical process will be illustrated based on the same project.
The website required is a careers section within the main corporate site of an international company. It is thought that an interactive quality to the site needs to be brought in using Flash components and video files of employees being interviewed. A photo shoot is also required for the website and a careers brochure.
The same brief produces the sequences of events overleaf. It is evident that the cyclical process produces a more efficient and economic way of working. By breaking down the brief into smaller problems, rather than tackling it all at once, the results are easier to manage in a step-by-step way. We can also see the decisions in the cycle make the next step easier to manage.
In the linear process problems create more impact down the chain, where a ripple effect of bad planning occurs. In this model it is harder to change the course of a project as one decision tends to affect the next. The cyclical model ensures that a monitoring process is constantly in place where critical reflection influences every decision at key stages of the design process.
6. Professional Development
It is important that the researcher learns that involvement in the process sets the conditions for their reflection. At times the researcher will be showing a constructionist viewpoint. They will be building from a tacit area of knowledge and defining what they see explicitly; Schon calls this ‘world-making’.
Therefore, they will define their reality by constructing situations of their practice, perceiving and interpreting information and making explicit choices. As the cycles continue the problem is refined or sometimes replaced by others.
McNiff says that mini cycles can develop during cycles and the ‘process can be shown as a spiral of cycles, where one issue forms the basis of another and, as one question is addressed, the answer to it generates new questions’. This can be seen as the ‘processes of developing practice’ and forms the basis of the notion of improvement of professional practice
Another view, which will provide the researcher with an invaluable standpoint, particularly in the domain of online design, is the objectivist view of the reflective practitioner. This is the knowledge of facts being an intrinsic part of what the practitioner believes. ‘All meaningful disagreements are resolvable (…) by reference to the facts (…) and professional knowledge rests on foundation of the facts’.
The facts would take the form of qualitative data; usability studies, case studies, client debriefs, white papers, and also quantative data; website traffic reports, search engine rankings and online multiple choice (closed) surveys. This evidence, which is the produce of rigorous research from research cycles, is knowledge that is based on fact. Subjective viewpoints are disqualified when fixed variables such as this type of data are used within an argument.
The professional and personal development is not limited to one year but more likely a lifetime.
Although the researcher will already use many components in their daily work a full understanding of the process of reflective practice and action research will take time
An important part to action research is its impact on the credibility of the design professional. As Cal Swann remarks ‘…it demands public accountability and visible self-evaluation, an issue that is assuming increasing importance for current professional design practice’. Making the process undergone by the design practitioner more ‘visible’, gives ‘more respect to designers and their role in society’.
This impacts the company culture in which the researcher will operate. By giving a transparent modus operandi the accountability and responsibility that self–reflection generates, initially through the researcher’s peers and eventually through different business units, will ensure a greater profile for the design practice. This in turn will affect key decision makers into making informed decisions with the researcher’s guidance.
The researcher will now be developing value, not only in a personal sense of relating to process in a self-reflective manner, but also by becoming a business asset in recording their actions and design research, thus producing valuable data that can be used by other areas of the business.
By adapting to this way of working with rigour (by planning, acting observing and reflecting) it is important that the researcher works with others within their business unit and shares the methodology of the new design process. This will ensure a proliferation of a core skill that will benefit both colleagues and the business.
The diagram below indicates the timeline and expected outcomes of the use of action research and self-reflective practice.
Fig 4. Researcher’s application of learning over time
The moment where a subconscious thought becomes explicit or tangible is a moment that must be recognised and recorded. These observations will form the basis of empirical enquiry that will underpin the theories of action research and reflective practice. They will give the researcher evidence that validates the theory and give credence to their personal progression towards becoming a reflective practitioner.
By taking these initial recorded thoughts, the learning curve becomes tuned to be a more acute outcome the next time around. The expected outcome of action research can not be categorically stated as the routes of cyclical process can take off to areas presently not thought of.
The researcher needs to be aware of factors that may be beyond their control but they can still influence the outcome due to their reflecting in action. To have this ability of recovering a potentially costly mistake is of great business value.
These action research cycles are designed to encourage reflective thought; the timing of reflection can be critical in a project’s life cycle. The more that is reflected, tacitly or explicitly, and recorded and shared amongst a team the better for the design practice and the business as a whole.
After one year of conducting action research in a professional sense the gains will be significant for the company and also for the researcher. Empowerment of the individual through new process will result in new ways of thinking with inevitable impact on the team and eventually on the business unit.
The influence the researcher has on their immediate environment will be positive, resulting in their personal key skills being recognised and utilised in a number of ways. An influence over design decisions can begin to take place when the benefits of the research are clear to colleagues.
The benefit of action research is enhanced by working alongside other practitioners. An improved process and good team communication provides a sound business case when improvement is linked to cost effective output. This will hopefully encourage a knowledge pool of practitioners, backed by the company, exchanging information and improving practice.
Reflection in action enables the practitioner to change a project’s direction at any given time, and is hence a tool for effective management of a design process.
Action research is the practical execution of reflective practice. It is a social, reciprocal way of working that enables a sharing of information to make group decisions in a transparent and informed way. It allows the practitioner to be rigorous with critical enquiry, pushing the problem so the solution becomes more refined. It allows the researcher to reflect with other practitioners on how reflection-in-action has worked. Knowledge is the by product of this research, as the research aim was to improve practice not to produce knowledge. Through a culture of sharing, value and ideas will be generated which in a creative and business context is invaluable.
 Donald Schon, ‘Educating the Reflective Practitioner’, pg 31 (Jossey –Bass, 1987)
 Hickling, Allen. (1982). Beyond a linear iterative design process?. In Evans, B.; Powell, J.A.; Talbot, R.J. (Eds.), Changing Design, John Wiley and Sons , Chichester UK
 Cal Swann, Action Research and the Practice of Design, pg 53 (Design Issues: Vol 18 Number 2 2002)
 Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt, Action Research in Higher Education (London Kogan Page,1992)
 Jean McNiff, Action Research for professional development, Concise advise for new action researchers, pg 2, 2002
 Donald Schon, ‘Educating the Reflective Practitioner’, pg 36 (Jossey –Bass, 1987)
 Cal Swann, Action Research and the Practice of Design, pg 49 (Design Issues: Vol 18 Number 2 2002)