Making Design Theory, MIT Press


192 pp., 6 x 9 in, 28 b&w illus.

  • Hardcover
  • 9780262036658
  • Published: September 1, 2017
  • Publisher: The MIT Press


A new approach to theory development for practice-driven research, proposing that theory is something made in and through design.

Tendencies toward “academization” of traditionally practice-based fields have forced design to articulate itself as an academic discipline, in theoretical terms. In this book, Johan Redström offers a new approach to theory development in design research–one that is driven by practice, experimentation, and making. Redström does not theorize from the outside, but explores the idea that, just as design research engages in the making of many different kinds of things, theory might well be one of those things it is making.

Redström proposes that we consider theory not as stable and constant but as something unfolding—something acted as much as articulated, inherently fluid and transitional. Redström describes three ways in which theory, in particular formulating basic definitions, is made through design: the use of combinations of fluid terms to articulate issues; the definition of more complex concepts through practice; and combining sets of definitions made through design into “programs.” These are the building blocks for creating conceptual structures to support design.

Design seems to thrive on the complexities arising from dichotomies: form and function, freedom and method, art and science. With his idea of transitional theory, Redström departs from the traditional academic imperative to pick a side—theory or practice, art or science. Doing so, he opens up something like a design space for theory development within design research.

Johan Redström is Professor and Rector at Umeå Institute of Design, Sweden.


Redström's book elegantly cuts to the core of concepts such as design, theory, and design knowledge. It is a must-read for anyone in design research as it will shape our field for years to come.

Kristina Höök, Professor in Interaction Design, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH)

This book explores the still astonishing and radical proposition that when design research engages in making things one of the things that it is—or could be—making is theory itself. This idea, so central and so necessary to our times—for how else can we understand the artificial world?—is examined here with practical intelligence and cunning. Itself a concrete instance of what it proposes, read rightly this important book can help drag design thinking out of its too easy reliance on false metaphors and ill-suited models. It points us toward genuinely designerly ways of thinking and knowing what design and the artificial might be.

Clive Dilnot, Professor of Design Studies, Parsons School of Design, The New School

This is a timely book that offers food for thought about the topic of theory in design. Redström expertly defines and exemplifies theory in design, yet at the same time convinces the reader that the field needs to move beyond limiting definitions and constructs.

Jodi Forlizzi, Professor, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University