How should designers approach the task of designing for complex high-risk contexts, like the bridge of an offshore service vessel?

What do we need to make sense of to make good design judgements?

In what ways can systems thinking be of help when designing for such environments?

This PhD blog addresses these and other questions and is about my search for and research on design for sensemaking.

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    Doctoral thesis defense coming up

    Illustration by Jesper Egemar.I will defend my Ph.D. thesis “Systemic design in complex contexts. An enquiry through designing a ship’s bridge” at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) on Friday 22nd of January. The trial lecture starts at 10:00 and the disputation starts at 12:00. For more information, see AHO’s calendar.

    In the Norwegian Ph.D. system the Ph.D. is reviewed by an adjudication committee consisting of two opponents and a committee leader. After the candidate has submitted their thesis the committe is given three months to review it and decide if it is good enough for a public defense. If it is accepted, the defense takes place 4-6 weeks later. I was informed 15 December that my thesis was accepted. The public defense follows an old tradition where the candidate first must give a trial lecture to prove their ability to teach, before the disputation starts.

    The trial lecture

    The trial lecture is a 45 minute lecture on a topic given to the candidate two weeks before the defense. You only get the title of the lecture and have to interpret it yourself. In some disciplines this is supposed to be a topic different from the one you covered in your thesis, so that you must prove that you are able to acquire and pass on new knowledge in a short time. In design research it is more common that you are given a topic that expands the topic of your thesis.

    I have been given the title “The Design of Research and the Research of Design: Research by Design in the Ulstein Bridge Concept Project”. This gives me a good opportunity to go deeper into the topics of design research and research in design practice than I did in the thesis. It also allows me show more of the work we did in the Ulstein Bridge Concept Project.

    The disputation

    After the trial lecture the disputation starts. First the candidate spends exactly 20 minutes giving an overview of their research. Following this each opponent criticises the work of the candidate and the candidate defends their work.

    This criticism may sound harsh to those outside of academia, however, scholarly criticism is important in research. Tough critique does not necessarily mean that the opponents disapprove of the work carried out. It is rather a way of ensuring and making visible the quality and robustness of the work.

    Ideally the disputation should take the form of a discourse–a formal conversation. The disputation is the main part of the defense and each opponent is given between 45 minutes and 1 ½ hours.

    The judgement

    Following the trial lecture and the disputation, the adjudication committee leaves the room to assess whether what they have seen, along with the written thesis, allow them to recommend the candidate to be granted the Ph.D. degree. After a short while they come back and presents their decision before (hopefully) the party can begin!

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