The design process is a learning process. Learning is the result of inquiry and experience. There are many designs of inquiry created for different purposes with different expected outcomes. Among them, design inquiry is a composite form of inquiry that includes scientific inquiry which, is necessary but not sufficient for adequate design inquiry. Scientific inquiry—research—is designed to determine what can be accepted as true and real. However, even the determination of what is true and real is more involved than objective forms of inquiry, such as the scientific method, would imply. Describing and explaining things as true and real is much more complex and challenging than many design academics and professionals appreciate. That is a problem in todays complex world.
Designers need to know what is real and what is true about the real-world design situations they are thrown into. Inquiry into the nature of things and events has been approached in two different ways traditionally—the Western tradition and the Eastern tradition. In the normative domains of design education and design practice, the Western tradition has dominated so far. However the Eastern tradition is becoming more influential—for example disguised as systems thinking. Systems science—a form of systems thinking—is an example of the Eastern tradition influencing the dominant Western tradition of disciplined inquiry—i.e. objective, rational and reductive. However even systems science does not sweep in the rich complexity of approaches to inquiry that make up a more prudent form of design inquiry—i.e. inquiry for wise action.
To explain these approaches to inquiry—learning about what is true and real in the world—I will use the example of explaining and describing a horse. I was raised in the American West around horses. I know a little, but not everything by any stretch of the imagination, about horses. I have had the opportunity to ask often "what is a horse?" without ever coming up with a final, comprehensive answer. If I had to describe and explain to someone who had never been around or even seen horses what a horse was, I would use traditional approaches to inquiry—Western and Eastern—augmented with some nontraditional approaches. I will demonstrate what these are in greater detail in future posts.