Educating e-Business Designers

Dr. Terence Love


Designing has a key role in e-business. This paper describes how post-positivist models of design cognition can clarify issues that underpin the creation and management of e-business systems and products. The constructivist, physiological theories of Bastick are used to sketch out a picture of human design cognition useful in developing e-business solutions. The paper concludes by identifying some of the implications for educating e-business designers.

Keywords: e-business, designing, post-positivist, education


Managing the development of e-business solutions depends on assumptions about the underlying process of designing and how it affects the development of these solutions in the following three areas. First, how designers create e-business solutions: differentiating between designing as a human activity, and the deterministic relationships between the properties of the problem specification and solution. Second, how the creation of e-business solutions is managed: especially focusing on assumptions about the internal and external activities of the designers involved in the different aspects of the creation and development of e-business solutions. Third, and perhaps most important, how designing is a part of customers' interactions with e-business systems and products. In this latter case, the focus is on how customers' use e-business solutions to 'design' their lives and environments. It is based on a view of designing as the process by which an individual or organisation initiates change (see, Jones 1970) .

Most models of design cognition were developed when positivism was a dominant paradigm. It is now widely accepted that positivist approaches are insufficient to address issues that involve humans' internal and external activities (see, for example, Crane 1989; Guba 1990; Hamlyn 1990) , yet, positivist models of human design cognition still tacitly underpin the ways that many human activities are theorised about and managed. This paper briefly outlines characteristics and problems associated with positivist approaches to design cognition, describes some of the main aspects of human cognition and the advantages and disadvantages of the main post-positivist approaches to representing design cognition, it introduces Bastick's cognito-affective theories, and explores the implications of these theories for educating designers of e-business solutions.


Research and theory-making based on positivism (essentially, the research paradigm of Physics) excludes human subjective issues by definition. This is especially problematic in design research and theory-making about design cognition because designing is essentially a subjective human phenomena (see, for example, Jones 1970; Petroski 1992; Coyne and Snodgrass 1993; Franz 1994; Goldschmidt 1994; Reich 1995; Holt 1997; Valkenburg and Dorst 1998) .

Positivist models of designing are mainly characterised by:

·          Defining design as a deterministic, object-based and mechanistic process

·          Focusing only on the physical characteristics of the design problem and solution.

·          A dependence on logical decision-making theories that include human interests by crudely quantifying all qualitative issues and factors.

·          Addressing human issues through some form of 'black box' representation (see, for example, Jones 1970)

The above characteristics do not satisfactorily include the essentially human aspects of individuals' cognition whether as customer, manager or designer. An additional and associated problem identified by Dilnot (1982) is that when researchers analyse designing in terms of the design problem, its solutions and the relationships between them, then the subject of research, human design cognition, disappears from view (as a practical example, see, Altman (1999) ).


The main characteristics of human design cognition are:

·          It is a human value-laden activity

·          It occurs within individuals

·          It presumes a human value-laden context

·          It is intended to change humans' environments

·          It is intended to affect humans

·          It is different sort of cognition from routine, rational or logical cognition but works in association with these other cognitive modes.

There are many aspects of human design cognition of great subtlety, and which lay well beyond what is possible to address within positivist perspectives. Three thought experiments that open up some of the epistemological and ontological complexity relating to human design cognition are:

·          What are the epistemological and ontological issues that must be addressed in exploring the foundations of 'thinking a new thought'.

·          What are the underlying processes in deciding 'when to go on and when to stop' an activity or process.

·          How are internalised pseudo-representative 'worlds' utilised by designers.

The situation of 'thinking a new thought' captures the essence of designing as 'creating something new' and points to the emergence of several concomitant issues. How can creating a new thought be theorised about? How do we identify if a new thought is new whilst it is being created? If one creates the same new thought twice, is the second one still 'creative' - or is it best viewed in some other way, e.g. routine, logical or rational? Each of these questions and their answers raises further questions relating to the epistemologically best ways of representing the internal functioning of designers.

The issue of how it is decided whether to go on or stop is an exploration of the bounds of logical cognitive process and formal analysis. In essence, it is the philosophical problem of closure. The limits of analysis, that is the limits of the philosophical methodology on which the general process of analysis is based were explored in detail by Rosen (1980) in 1980. One of the questions he asked was 'In the case of adding numbers to a sum, how do we know when to go on and how do we know when to stop? He concluded that the underlying mechanism of this and similar processes process depends on a non-rational activity—which he denoted by the term 'intuition'—that lies beyond the logical activities that are involved (in this case, beyond the processes of addition and comparison). Rosen's analyses point to designing having a non-rational basis on which its rational elements depend. In practical design terms,, the characteristics of Rosen's 'adding' example are present in, for example, deciding just how much technical analysis is necessary to guarantee the successful and secure operation of an e-business product.

The final scenario concerns the role of internalised 'design worlds' as the contexts in which emergent design solutions are tested in designers' imaginations (Schon and Wiggins 1992) . The characteristics of these design worlds are different for different designers because each designer has a different character or personality, and consequently focuses, emphasises, ignores and values different issues. The details of the prior experiences and ideologies of individual designers are different, they construct their internal design worlds differently, and this contributes to which design solutions emerge. The implication of this for design research and the education of designers is that theory-making about design cognition must take this into account: that is it must appropriately include individual designer's personal development.

The above scenarios indicate that there is more to understanding design cognition, and educating e-business designers, than can be obtained from focusing on the hardware and software aspects of e-business problems and solutions. This is as it should be — the hardware and software issues are already addressed in the realm of Computer Science, and the informatic issues relating to those physical attributes are addressed in Information Science — education relating to designing is a different issue.


The main post-positivist approaches that align with research in design cognition are; social constructivism, the post-positivism of Karl Popper, phenomenology, hermeneutic analysis, and individual constructivism. Each of these perspectives focuses on human design cognition differently and through a different set of epistemological and methodological instruments. For example, the social constructivist perspective of Berger and Luckman (1987) focuses on the way that society and social groups influences the way that an individual constructs their knowledge, their world view and the ways of manipulating knowledge and information. In many ways this is useful to educating designers especially in areas such mentoring, organisational design, security cultures etc. Its weakness is its lack of focus on the internal processes of designing.

The 'post-positivism' of Karl Popper is perhaps the earliest of the post-positivist approaches (Popper lays claim to be the person who 'killed' positivism (Popper 1976) ). Much of Popper's post-positivism (presumably named before other post-positivist epistemologies appeared) lies at a different epistemological level from more recent post-positivist perspectives. This appears in the useful way that he separated theory, objective issues and subjective issues into three relatively incommensurate 'worlds'. This insight clarifies many aspects of design cognition. For example, Popper's three worlds analysis suggests that observations about a designer (objective external world) do not define the subjective experiences or values of that designer (subjective internal world), nor what theories may be constructed about them (theory world). Thus Popper separates:

·          Theories of design cognition

·          The subjective experiences of design cognition

·          The observable outcomes of design cognition

Much of the utility of Popper's post-positivism is its role in avoiding accidental conceptual and theoretical conflation in a multi-domain discipline such as design research whose terminology, theories and epistemologies are drawn from a variety of fields (O’Doherty 1964; Hubka and Eder 1988; Ullman 1992; Love 1998) .

The recent attention on phenomenology in design research has occurred mainly through the work of Coyne and associates (see, for example, Coyne and Snodgrass 1993; Coyne 1997) . The ontological argument for a phenomenological basis for design research is strong, particularly where it is allied to discourse analysis and hermeneutics. A phenomenological perspective focuses on the existence or 'being' of designers in their individual circumstances. In other words, it explores design cognition in an individual situation as a moment to moment flow of phenomena experienced by the designer and others. This approach, and its associated analytical methods, appears to offer the greatest insights into the phenomena being researched. The weakness, however, for research into design cognition is the relative neglect of theory-making because of the emphasis of phenomenology is on understanding through being.

Hermeneutic analysis is a methodology and epistemology that originated in the critical linguistic and cultural analyses necessary to make sense of ancient texts whose writing was situated in cultures about which little is recorded (Jary and Jary 1991) . In essence, hermeneutic analysis treats any situation or data as a 'text' that must be decoded according to its socio-cultural context, and the concepts and modes of discourse of the situation or that prevailed when the data was created. In this sense, hermeneutic analysis includes many features of other post-positivist approaches, but its 'textual' and language-based metaphor is limiting for research into design and can create unnecessary complexity — particularly when texts, language, culture and the individual construction of knowledge have other epistemological roles.

Individual constructivism is the post-positivist perspective that pragmatically aligns best with research into design cognition. It is perhaps best known through works of Guba and Lincoln and their associates (Guba 1990) . The main feature of individual constructivism is that it assumes that each person constructs his, or her, knowledge and actions on the basis of previous experiences, their values and their personal predispositions. Individual constructivism is the most useful epistemological basis for theorising about design cognition because:

·          The essential aspects of design cognition are human subjective functions

·          The act of design cognition occurs within and by individuals

·          Exploring the individual construction of knowledge, values, world view and design cognition allows the inclusion of insights from phenomenology, hermeneutics or social construction. In this sense and situation, it subsumes the other post-positivist epistemologies

·          It separates epistemological issues in a similar manner to Popper

·          It offers a means of going beyond Popper's worlds (an issue that is left for another time)

·          It allows the epistemologically justified integration of scientific information about physiological and neurological human functioning

This idea that each individual's realities are constructed underpins each of the other post-positivist perspectives and is implicit in much of the literature of design research. For example, the purpose of Liddament's (1996) use of hermeneutics is to explore individual designer's perspectives on knowledge and information. A weakness of individual constructivism is that it must depend on other approaches, post-positivist and scientific, for the detail of specific analyses.


Individual constructivism is the basis for Bastick's (1982) development of a set of axiomatic theories relating intuition, thought and action that relate directly to design cognition. Bastick's position is unusual because, long before it became fashionable, he argued for the epistemologically justified application of scientific information about physiological and neurological human functioning via an individual constructivist model of cognition based on intuition.

Before reviewing Bastick's theories it is perhaps useful to expand on the role of intuition in a constructivist model of cognition. The role of intuition has been implicated in many of the rational aspects of cognition. Rosen (1980) argued that intuition is epistemologically foundational in cognition and creativity because of its roles in:

·          Justifying the closure that is necessary for validating theory (see also Walton (1996) and Love (2000 (in press)) ).

·          Differentiating between creative activities and processes that can be routinised or formalised.

·          Explaining activity that is not routine.

Rosen's arguments, align with those presented by Stegmüller (1976) , Kant (Kenny 1994) , Indurkhya (1992) and Guba (1990) . Together they give considerable support to the notion that intuition is an epistemologically essential aspect of theories of human design cognition.

Bastick focused on the role of intuition in thinking and acting. Bastick's theories of intuition and cognition are complex and supported on evidence that Bastick drew from an wide-sweeping and extensive review of literature that is not replicated or summarised here due to lack of space. In essence, Bastick used physiological considerations to develop a theory that combines the subjective aspects of an individual's experiences and constructed realities with their logical rationality. Bastick argued that thoughts and cognition are mapped onto individual's bodies as feelings and, vice-versa: feelings result in associated thoughts. The term 'feeling' is used by Bastick to mean 'that which individuals physically feel'. That is, he ties feeling to physiological issues such as skin sensation, muscle tone and tension, endocrinological balances, blood pressure, heartrate and body kineasthetics. From Bastick's perspective, what are commonly called 'feelings' or emotions (for example, anger and hope) are labels given to particular subsets of the above.

The usefulness of Bastick's theory for research into the designing e-business systems lies in his explanation of the role of body-feeling in problem solving activities. Bastick argued that when an individual brings a problem to mind it results in a pattern of feelings in their bodies. Then, as the individual thinks of various solutions, their body simultaneously holds the feeling patterns of both problem and solution. When a satisfactory solution is found, the body-feeling mappings cancel leading to a collapse of muscle tension – the 'Aha!' response. Bastick argued that it is this collapse of muscle tension (and other physiological changes) by which the individual knows whether they have found a solution and how good it is. This human-centred approach contrasts with informatic attempts to explain solution identification in terms of the physical and functional properties of the problem and solution.

The usefulness of Bastick's theories extends to the role of empathic understanding in cognition — an important issue in situations (such as e-business transactions) in which not all aspects can be satisfactorily quantified. Bastick argued that, when an individual perceives a situation, thoughts and feelings occur together, and they conceive the object or situation in emotional terms (again it is necessary to take a bigger perspective on emotion as for feelings). For example, an engineer might see a shape as 'strong' independently of information about its physical properties, and use this understanding in designing — a phenomena common to several other domains in which designing occurs. This is also evident in the ways that stylists and architects use emotive language to describe shapes and curves (Tovey 1992; Tovey 1992; Goldschmidt 1994; Tovey 1997) , and in the language of industrial designers (Smets and Overbeeke 1995) .

Bastick's theories imply that knowledge is better viewed in terms of 'body-memory' rather than the 'storage of information in the brain' because thoughts are associated with corresponding physiological sets. In addition, his theory implies that relationships between body-memories are also stored, and that cognition consists of parallel streams of thought-body processes. (A fuller description of how Bastick's theories relate to design cognition can be found in Love (2000 (in press)) .)


Bastick's inclusion of intuition, feeling and body-memory in design cognition offers new perspectives on the education of e-business designers. It suggests a substantial change of focus away from hardware and software considerations, and towards an experiential education aimed at helping e-business designers embody experiences alongside information. It also implies educating designers in being sensitive to, and utilising, their experiences.

Popper's three worlds model assists with separating out the different epistemological aspects of this educational context, and identifying where Bastick's theories may be applicable. Popper' three worlds models separates e-business designing into:

Theory world

E-business theories, e-business design methods

Subjective internal world

Individuals' experiences of designing – reflective practice

Objective external world

The public observed consequences of implementing e-business solutions

A complete education of a designer of e-business solutions would be expected to address all of these worlds and the relationships between them. For example, it is difficult to see how a competent e-business solution designer could use e-business theories without reference to the body of knowledge gained about how e-business solutions change human environments – in fact, that is their purpose. Similarly, Rosen's and Bastick's analyses indicate that the quality of decisions and intuitions that guide the design of new e-business solutions depend on the designer's sensitivity to a rich stock of feelings, human values and stored body memories gained from experience both of e-business and as a participating human being.

In short, the implication for the education of e-business designers is a move towards praxis rather than theoria or techne (Reich 1992) . This allows an exploration of the ways that feeling and values and physiological issues, including all the recent neuro-physiological brain research, impinges on human designing of e-business solutions. This is no small issue because it has become clear that there are a considerable number of unforeseen adverse affects of technological designing that can be attributed to a lack of skill in areas other than the technical. To argue that the social, environmental and ethical factors are the business of others, or to argue that these factors can only be included if quantified, is to ignore the fact that these issues are all brought together and determined in individual designers' minds and bodies. To be a designer, or to train designers, is a non-trivial pursuit because of the influential ways that designed objects affect us as individuals, our societies and our descendants. Issues of feeling, human values and experiencing are especially important in educating designers of e-business solutions to support the proper intuition, analysis and design of socially, environmentally and ethically beneficial devices and systems.


Currently, e-business education focuses on the technical means of implementing e-business solutions. That is, curricula are mainly concerned with technical software and hardware needed to implement e-business solutions, the technical skills necessary to develop or use this software and hardware, and the information flows and organisational considerations that relate to e-business. The positivist model of designing that underpins these curricula is technical and focused on the objects and technical skills that define the e-business problem and its solution.

This paper draws attention to the education of e-business solution designers as designers rather than information engineers or technical specialists. The model of design cognition presented in the paper points to the ways that individual physiology is deeply influential in the quality of designing e-business solutions because it determines the skills at designing that an individual brings to the task. For this reason, it is important that designers are educated in ways that help them develop effective affective internal physiological systems that are well disposed to their cognitive processes. In addition, the paper points to the need for the education of e-business solution designers to help them acquire well developed ontological facilities – a rich basis in human values that enable them to include social, ethical and environmental issues without recourse to pseudo-quantitative methodologies.

In short, The paper argues that education for e-business solution designers should help students develop their personal attributes including their abilities to function in a designerly as well as technical manner.

To conclude, I would like to acknowledge that in many ways the argument that e-business designers should be educated to be less technical, and have more of the sorts of experiences that give a rich background to their designing is not new. In 1970, Jones (1970) argued that designers are similar to artists, using

the capacity of a skilled nervous system to respond quickly to an intuitively held picture of the real world . . . when they have to find their way through a number of alternatives while searching for a new and consistent pattern upon which to base their decisions.

Similarly, Motard (1974) pointed to the importance of feelings, experience and the biologically sensual aspects of memory in designing in the field of Chemical Engineering. He argued that a designer can not function adequately unless they have,

Experienced the material world first hand and distilled this experience through a kind of contemplation until it penetrated his [sic] entire being. The more perceptive the individual and the more sensitive, the more effective potentially, in the multidimensional pattern of design under constraints. Discovery and intuition might then have a physiological enhancement elicited from the fabric of the visual, aural and tactile experience and the 'feel' of physical situations.


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© T. Love 2000