Philosophy of TechnologyOn Artifacts Artifact Design
Artifact Design first: 2011-10-12
last: 2011-11-10

The intriguing question here is: How could and can human beings create new things?

This section Artifact design will first focus on the basic cognitive processes of designing artifacts. This will result in a reference model with indications how these processes interact with the social and economical conditions.

 In the philosophical debate on artifacts less attention has been given to this design perspective, as Peter Kroes points out [Kroes 2009: 406-407]:

From a philosophical point of view little is known about what the distinctive synthetic features of engineering design are. That is because engineering design or design in general has not received much attention within the field of philosophy.... The notion of design is in urgent need of further philosophical explication.

Peter Kroes did not indicate why there is not only a need but even an urgent one.
I think of the following reasons to be are applicable:


The word `design' is both a noun and a verb, so it can be used to refer to the conceptual end product or to the process. Recently it is also used as an adjective for an artifact. In this section with the action theoretical orientation `design' is used as the verb to indicate the actions (unless explicitly said differently). The focus will be on the conceptual phase, but design will also include the considerations of all activities to come to a new functional artifact, from the identification of possible improvements of an existing one up to and including the actual realisation of a usable and tested new artifact. Notions like design for marketing, design for manufacturing, design for logistics, design for maintenance stress the aspects to be taken into account and to be verified during the realisation of a new artifact. This makes the use of design close to what is usually indicated as product development, but in its widest sense this also includes elements of product management, engineering, prototyping, testing and production related aspects.

In the section theory of action the final cause has be reintroduced as a justifiable explanation of actions. For a further analysis of design actions two more Aristotelian causal factors will be introduced more specific applicable to functional artifact design with examples from two distinct domains as indicated in the appendixes 3 and 4. In addition to those causal factors, value will be identified as an additional relevant factor.

How designers work

Delta Transformation & Transition Model(D2T)

action theory

causal factors

Reference model


(CS 4.3.1) As Design of artifacts is a high level activity, it is justifiable to use the concept of final causation.
The more detailed examples in the next section should confirm this.

The leading paradigm knowing is acting is also most relevant in the analysis of design activities. It has been worked out most explicit by Dewey. In the theory of inquiry he defines as the first step the institution of a problem:

A problem represents a partial transformation by inquiry of a problem situation into a determinate situation. It is a familiar and significant saying that a problem well put is half-solved. (Dewey 1938: 173) The transformation is a combination of conceptual thinking in the direction of solutions and the actual knowledge of the factual situation. This transformation is followed by testing the considerations and judgments made. [Dewey 1938a:173-179]

This essay makes use of some elements of the work of Houkes and Vermaas as published in\emph{ Technical functions, on the Use and Design of Artifacts}. [Houkes2010}) They define their position quite clearly:
\begin{quote} Unlike work done in the phenomenological tradition, we focus on the role of reasoning, deliberation and evaluation in human involvements with artifacts. This places us in the tradition of philosophy of action. This discipline centers on issues such as distinction between intentional action and mere behavior, the differentiation of actions, and the reasons instead of- but in relation to - causes for actions. Reasoning and deliberation apply to artifact use and design because our typical involvement with artifacts is goal-directed. (id:16)
The more analytical oriented position of Houkes and Vermaas is quite different from the PPA as defined above. This leads to a different focus as indicated in appendix 1. With the PPA approach a more in depth analyses is possible of the design processes.



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