Validation of engineering research is typically anchored in the scientific inquiry tradition that is based primarily on logical induction and / or deduction. Since much engineering research is based on mathematical modeling, this kind of validation has worked — and still works — very well. There are, however, other areas of engineering research that rely on subjective statements as well as mathematical modeling, which makes this type of validation problematic. One such area is that of design methods within the field of engineering design. In this paper, we explore the question of how one validates design research in general, and design methods in particular.

Being anchored in the scientific inquiry tradition, research validation is strongly tied to a fundamental problem addressed in epistemology, namely, what is scientific knowledge and how is new knowledge confirmed? Thus, we first look to epistemology for answers to why an approach solely based on ‘formal, rigorous and quantifiable’ validation constitutes a problem, and for an augmented approach to research validation. We then propose the ‘Validation Square’ which we validate by testing its internal consistency based on logic in addition to testing its external relevance based on its usefulness with respect to a purpose.

We recognize that no one has the complete answer to the question we pose. To help us converge on an answer to these questions we “think aloud” and invite you to join us in doing the same. It is our hope that in so doing we, the members of this design research community, will all be the richer for it.

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