Design and Science
in Education and Life
Problem Solving in Life
The Joy of Thinking
The Logic of Science
The Methods of Science
The Process of Design
Comparing Design and Science
Design and Science in Education
This overview-page is a sampler. You can explore
the ideas in
more depth in the full pages that you'll find on the right sidebar.
Solving in Life
We're designed for thinking,
and it's exciting to use our minds skillfully. Thinking is a grand
adventure, and we'll explore two ways to think: in design and science.
Design is a way to solve problems. In
common language, a "problem" is usually bad. But in design, a problem is
an opportunity to make a difference, to make things better. Whenever
you are thinking about ways to increase the quality of life (or avoid
a decrease in quality), you are actively involved in problem solving.
In every area of life, generative
thinking (to generate ideas) and evaluative
thinking (to evaluate ideas) are essential. These
mutually supportive skills are integrated in the problem-solving methods used
in a wide range of design fields — such as engineering, architecture, medicine,
music, art, literature, philosophy, history, law, business, athletics, and
science — where the goal is to design a product, strategy, or theory. In
fact, design includes almost everything in life.
A product can be an object (like
a refrigerator, bicycle, or car) but it also could be a repaired object
(a car that works better than before), a work of art (a painting, song,
or story), a letter to a colleague, an inspirational talk for a community
group, or a casserole for a potluck picnic.
Similarly, a strategy is
needed in a wide variety of situations — educational (as a learner or
teacher), social, athletic, political, military, legal, financial, or agricultural — involving
competition and/or cooperation. You can plan a strategy for winning
a soccer game, making a friend or being a friend, planning a party, running
a charity, starting a business, or growing crops to feed a nation. When
you make a decision in any area of life, you are designing a strategy
for living, for helping you achieve goals.
Design and Science: If
we define design as the process of designing products
or strategies, and science as
the designing of theories about nature, the main objective of design
is to improve what is humanly constructed, while the main objective of
science is to understand what is divinely constructed.
Joy of Thinking
Design includes almost everything
in life, so you can find many ways to enjoy the excitement of design thinking,
to experience the satisfaction of solving a problem and achieving a practical
goal. Since the beginning of human history, people have been designing strategies
for better living, and designing products to carry out these strategies more
effectively. For example, strategies for getting food (by hunting and farming)
were more effective when using products (spears and plows). Design continues
to be useful in the modern world.
Science is also useful, in two ways.
First, the understanding gained by
science is often used by designers when they develop new products or
strategies. The technological results of "applied science" are familiar.
Second, science can help us fulfill
a deep human need, because it is one way to search for answers when,
inspired by our curiosity, we ask questions about what, how, and why. Most
of us want to know the truth, so an intrinsically appealing goal is the
design of scientific theories that are true, that correctly describe
what is happening now and what has happened in the past.
search for truth in nature, we are motivated by curiosity about how
things work, a desire to solve
One fascinating mystery story is the discovery
of quantum mechanics, an elegantly simple theory that is very strange and very
brief summary will help you understand why, after decades of uncertainty
and mental struggle, a pioneer who began the adventure "rejoices
over the beauties that his eye discovers."
The history of quantum ideas
began in 1900 when...
In 1905, Albert Einstein,
in an effort to explain the puzzling observations in...
If electrons are waves, and
an electron-wave in an atom is analogous to a sound-wave in a bugle,
You can see the joy of scientific
discovery in letters between two scientists who played key roles at the beginning
end of this grand adventure. Max Planck, who found the first piece
of the puzzle, describes his pleasure in seeing the elegantly simple wave
am reading your paper in the way a curious child eagerly listens to the solution
of a riddle with which he has struggled for a long time, and I rejoice over
the beauties that my eye discovers." Erwin Schrodinger replies by agreeing
that "everything resolves itself with unbelievable simplicity
and unbelievable beauty, everything turns out exactly as one would wish, in
a perfectly straightforward
manner, all by itself and without forcing." They struggled with a problem,
solved it, and were thrilled. It's fun to think and learn!
But this is not the end of the
were more puzzles to solve, and... Today, scientists are still
exploring the mysteries and applications of quantum mechanics.
• For the rest of the story (with the "..."s
you can read The
Joy of Science. (or The Mysteries
of Quantum Mechanics)
Logic of Scientific Method
Are the joys of science only for the special
few, for geniuses like Planck and Einstein, de Broglie and Schrodinger? No,
you can also share in the adventure of science, because the thinking used in
science is not strange and mysterious, it's the same thinking you use in daily
life. In scientific logic, as in daily life, you use reality
checks to decide
whether "the way you think the world is" matches "the way the way the world
really is." We'll begin by looking at the two things being compared in a reality
check: observations and predictions.
In science, information about nature
comes from experiments that allow observations. Consider
two types of experimental situations:...
Theories and Predictions
A theory is a human attempt to describe
and/or explain our observations of what happens, or (in historical science)
what has happened. A descriptive theory claims only to describe what happens. An
explanatory theory claims to describe what happens and also why it happens.
With a descriptive theory, predictions
are made by...
An explanatory theory claims
to explain "how
and why things are happening"...
With either type of theory, the if-then
inference is similar. You think, "In this situation, IF the system behaves
as expected (according to the theory), THEN we will observe ___" and what you
put in the blank is your theory-based prediction.
When scientists make an if-then
inference, they can move from IF to THEN in a variety of ways. They might...
Scientists can make theory-based
inferences about "what will happen and what will be observed" either
before or after observations are known. ... But inferences with
either timing are logically
equivalent if each is obtained using valid logic, and in science both are called
The foundation of scientific logic is the
reality check. By observing reality and using logic, scientists can decide
whether a theory about "the way it is" corresponds to "the way it really is."
experiment allows observations of what
nature actually does, and a mental
experiment lets us make predictions about
what nature will do. ...
a theory makes correct predictions in a wide variety of independent areas,
and alternative theories make incorrect predictions, this provides strong evidence
that the repeatedly confirmed theory is true.
factors (based on reality
checks) are the main factors in theory evaluation. But scientists also consider
conceptual factors such as a theory's logical characteristics (like internal
consistency and structural simplicity) and its relationships with other currently
accepted scientific theories. Scientists are also influenced by cultural-personal
factors (such as personal desires, group pressures, philosophical or religious
views, and cultural thinking habits) but most scientists think the quality
of science decreases when these factors affect the results of theory evaluation.
The overall result of theory
evaluation is an estimate of theory status. This status, which can range from very low
to very high, indicates the scientists' confidence in a theory. Most philosophers
think that, according to formal logic, it is impossible to prove a theory is
either true or false, but scientists can develop a rationally
justified confidence in their conclusions.
The focus now shifts from evaluation to generation, when we ask "Where do scientific theories come from?"
Usually, scientists work with theories
that already exist. But earlier in the history of science these
theories had to be generated. And sometimes...
A descriptive theory is generated
when scientists recognize a pattern, when they notice that... But
how do we react, thinking as scientists, when we see that some objects — such
as a helium balloon, bottle rocket, or bird — do not fall? We
An explanatory theory is
usually generated by a process of creative thinking in which imagination
is guided by the logic
of reality checks. In prediction we ask
a cause-to-effect question: "In this
situation, if these causes are operating, what will be the observed effects?" The
if-then reasoning is reversed in retroduction when
we ask an effect-to-cause question: "In this situation, if these effects were
observed, what causes could have been operating?" This reversed question
inspires a search in which we... The
goal is to find a theory that will pass the reality check, to find a theory
that, if true, would explain what has been observed.
You can be a scientist, generating
your own theory to explain...
• For the rest of the story (with the "..."s
filled in) and more, you can read An
Introduction to Scientific
The Methods of Science
Is there a scientific method? If "method" means "a
single method, used in the same way by all scientists at all times," the
answer is NO. Some details change with time and culture, and vary from
one area of science to another, so there is nothing that could be called The Scientific Method. But
methods are commonly used
The methods used in science are functional;
scientists use methods to achieve goals. For most scientists, the main
goal is to find truth. They want to construct theories that are true,
that correspond with reality by correctly describing what really happens
in nature. In a search for true theories, the main thinking tools — the
generation and evaluation of theories, using observation, imagination,
and logic — are described above in "The Logic of Science."
But scientists do more than just
generate and evaluate theories. They also design and do experiments,
plan big research projects and small daily activities, describe (by writing
and talking) their own research, learn (by reading and listening) about
the research of others, discuss ideas with other scientists, and more. Basically,
scientists do whatever they think will help them achieve their goals.
The methods of science are flexible,
not rigid. Consider two types of ice skaters. The sequential actions
of a figure skater are precisely planned and, if there are no mistakes,
predictable. By contrast, even though hockey skaters have a strategic
plan, the plan is intentionally flexible, with each skater improvising
in response to what happens during a game. The methods used in science
are analogous to the flexible "structured improvisation" of a hockey
skater, not the rigid choreography of a figure skater.
Debates about Science
The main methods of scientific thinking,
such as reality checks based on observations and logic, are used by all
scientists. But details can vary from one area of science to another,
and from one scientist to another.
Scholars, including scientists
and those who study science (in philosophy, history, sociology, psychology,
and education), have vigorous discussions about the methods used in science. There
are debates, for example, about cultural-personal influences in evaluations
of scientific theories, about whether the effects are significant and
are desirable. Most scientists think these effects should be minimized,
but some scholars (especially those who have adopted a postmodern perspective)
think cultural-personal factors should be a part of scientific theory
evaluation. There is an abundance of hot debates: Should
scientific method be eks-rated?
Philosophers of science also
is required for an adequate explanation?" They would say that... For
these questions, scientists still don't have satisfactory answers.
Historical Sciences are Scientific
Were you there? Did you see
it? If you say "no" does this mean that you can't know anything about
what happened? Or do you think that detectives can sometimes solve mysteries? Can
historical science be authentically scientific?
Some variations in scientific methods
are due to differences between operations science (to study the current
operation of nature, what is happening now) and historical
study the previous history of nature, what happened in the past). Both
types of science are similar in most important ways, especially in their
use of scientific logic, but there are minor differences.
Although repeatable controlled
experiments can be done in operations science, this is not possible for historical events. But
limitations on historical data have inspired scientists to develop methods
that reduce the practical impact of these limitations, and historical sciences — in
fields such as astronomy, radiometric physics, and geology, which can be used
to calculate the age of the earth and the universe — are authentically scientific.
In historical science, one way to "reduce
the practical impact" is to use repeatable uncontrolled
example, observations of many Cepheid stars from many parts of the universe
have shown that all Cepheids have similar properties, allowing them (and
supernovas, which have their own consistencies) to be useful for measuring
astronomical distances. These consistencies let scientists develop reliable
descriptive theories, which can become explanatory theories that usually
are related to (and are consistent with) explanatory theories in operations
usually called predictions, the non-scientific meaning of "prediction" can
lead to the mistaken impression that a scientific prediction must be
made before an event occurs. But in historical science the timing of
prediction is not a cause for concern, since predictive theory-based
inferences can be logically valid even if they are made after an event
has occurred, or after observations are known. In historical science,
the goal is to describe and explain what did happen, not predict what
will happen. In operations science a descriptive theory states that "what
happened before will happen again." In historical science a descriptive
theory might predict that "what happened in this situation also happened
in other similar situations," or it might propose only that "this is
In some historical situations, only
undirected natural process is involved, and a mechanistic
explanatory theory can provide an adequate description and explanation. In other
situations, "what happens" depends on the decisions and actions of an
agent. This introduces an element of unpredictability, but a historical
detective using scientific reasoning (in psychology, sociology, anthropology,
archaeology, history, or forensics) only has to determine what did occur,
not predict what will occur, in a descriptive theory. And in an agency
explanatory theory, proposing that "agent action was involved" is the
scientific conclusion of a historical detective.
Can scientists logically infer the
existence of things they cannot observe? Yes, if an unobservable
cause produces observable effects. This principle of cause-and-effect logic
is used in operations science. Even though electrons and ideas cannot
be observed, modern theories propose electrons (in chemistry) and ideas
(in psychology) . Why? Because our observations are explained in the
most satisfactory way by theories proposing the existence of unobservable
causes (electrons and ideas) that produce the effects we observe.
Similarly, in historical science
we can logically infer the existence of causes we did not observe if
these unobserved causes produced effects we can observe. Therefore,
when skeptics ask "Were you there? Did you see it?", they are ignoring
the principle that scientific logic depends only on having observable
effects, not observable causes. Because of this principle, even if an
event or process was not directly observed, it does not necessarily weaken
the credibility of a scientific theory proposing that the event or process
• This section is in Part 1 of a three-part series,
set in the context of questions about creation, asking "Is
historical science really science?"
Process of Design
The first step in solving a problem
is recognizing that it exists. You recognize a problem when you understand
the way a situation is now, and you can imagine a future in which things
have changed and improved. Or maybe you can imagine a future in which
things have changed but have not improved, and you want to avoid these
changes. Either way, if you want to take advantage of your opportunity
to make a difference, you will generate and evaluate ideas-and-actions
that help you make progress toward solving the problem.
Imagine that you are trying to design
a product, and your overall objective is "an improved refrigerator."
You define your quality-GOALS by
defining the desirable properties of a satisfactory product. In this
case, what kind of "improvements in the refrigerator" do you want? Your
goals are based on your knowledge of what is, and your imagination about
what could be.
Usually, the search for a solution
begins by remembering old products,
by searching your own memory and our collective memory (in books, websites,...
and in other people) for existing products. For
each old product, you collect OBSERVATIONS of
the product's properties, and ask "How closely do these known properties match my goals for the properties
of a satisfactory product?" In this question, you are comparing
observations with goals in a quality-check that lets you determine how well a product meets
your quality-goals, which are your criteria for defining quality.
You can widen your range of options
by imagining new products. Usually, a new product is invented when,
guided by goals, you begin with an old product and make changes. Based
on what you know about the old product and new changes, you can do mental
experiments to predict the properties of a new product. Or you can predict
the properties of an old product in a new situation. In either case,
you use your PREDICTIONS by asking "How closely do the predicted properties
match my quality-goals?" In this quality-check, you are comparing
predictions with goals.
You can also gain knowledge by testing
a product (old or new) in a physical experiment that lets you make OBSERVATIONS about
properties. Then you can ask, "How closely do the known properties
match my quality-goals?" In this quality-check, you are comparing
observations with goals.
Design Decisions: You use quality
checks (by comparing quality-goals with observed properties or predicted
properties) to evaluate each potential product, old or new. Eventually,
you may find a product that satisfactorily achieves your goals, and you
consider the problem solved. Or you continue searching, or abandon the
The same process of action-and-logic
is used for designing a product or strategy. But the process is different
for designing a theory, as discussed in the following section.
• For more about the process of design, read An
Introduction to Design Method.
If we define design as the designing
of products or strategies, and science as the designing
how are design and science related? What are the similarities and differences,
in process and purpose? The actions-and-logic used in design and
are summarized in this diagram:
DESIGN Method: During the
process of design, you set quality-GOALS for desired
properties, use physical experiments to make OBSERVATIONS, and use mental experiments
to make PREDICTIONS, so you can do QUALITY CHECKS either by comparing observations
(of known properties) with goals (for desired properties) or by comparing predictions
(of expected properties) with goals (for desired properties). If you
want to understand design method better, study the diagram and this brief summary
to get an overview of "the big picture" and then re-read the previous section
about The Logic of Design.
SCIENTIFIC Method: During
the process of science, as explained earlier and
shown in the diagram, OBSERVATIONS (from physical experiments) are used to
imaginatively generate a THEORY, which can be used with if-then logic (in a
mental experiment) to make PREDICTIONS, so you can do a REALITY CHECK by comparing
observations with predictions, to test whether "the way you think it is" (assuming
the theory is true) corresponds to "the way it really is."
Comparing Process: The
methods used in science and design are related, yet different. The
three elements of thinking — goals, observations, and predictions — can
be compared in three ways. Two comparisons (of observations with
goals, and predictions with goals) are used in design for quality checks. One
comparison (of observations with predictions) is used in science for
a reality check.
Comparing Purpose: In
design, the main objective is to develop a product or strategy, to
invent or improve something that is humanly constructed. In science,
the main objective is to develop theories, to understand nature that
(I think) is divinely constructed.
Comparing Process-and-Purpose: In design,
we use quality checks to decide
whether a particular product (or strategy) satisfactorily achieves
our quality-goals for the product (or strategy). In science,
we use reality checks to test whether
a theory corresponds with reality, whether it is true. The process
is different because the purpose is different.
Comparing Overlaps: Often,
the results of science can be applied in the designing of products
or strategies, but this is not the main objective of science. During
design it may be useful to improve a theory that is being used while
developing a product or strategy, but theory development (which is
the main objective in science) is not the main objective in design.
Comparing Cousins: Although
it can be interesting to compare science with a wide range of design fields,
it seems most immediately useful to compare science with its closest cousin
in design, which is engineering. Comparing objectives, we see that science tries
to understand nature, while engineering tries
to improve technology. Notice the two
differences: understanding versus improvement,
and nature versus technology. But
there are also similarities, interactions, and overlaps. The understanding
gained by science is often applied in technology, and science often uses
technology, especially for making observations but also in other ways. Sometimes
in science or engineering — for example, when we try to understand
the chemistry and physics of combustion in automobile engines — we
study the behavior of nature in the context
of technology. And because the definitions
we're using distinguish between science and design on the basis of purpose-and-process
(objectives-and-methods), not careers, a scientist sometimes
does engineering, and an engineer sometimes
• If you're curious, you can read more about Design
Design and Science in Education
An Educational Bridge: Reality
checks, which are used in both design and science, serve as a bridge from design
to science, and this will make it easier to learn scientific method.
If you are serving as a teacher (if you
are helping someone else learn) you can watch for an appropriate time, during
a design project, to ask a science question: When predictions and observations
are compared, do they match? Since this question is a reality check, which
is the logical foundation of science, you have an opportunity to explain the
logic of science: experiments and observations, theories and predictions, and
(for the evaluation and generation of theories) reality checks. Of course,
you won't do all of this at once. Pacing is important. But most components
of scientific method are already being used in design method, and this will
make it much easier to learn scientific method.
Design before Science: Because design "includes
almost everything in life," it's easy to find design projects that are fun-and-useful
for a student, who is thus motivated to think and learn. The process of scientific
thinking also becomes fun-and-useful when design and science are connected
by using reality checks as a bridge. This bridge allows a smooth transition
from design method to scientific method, which is introduced in a way that
is easy, fun, and comfortable, not difficult, boring, and scary. As a concept,
Scientific Method is more familiar than Design Method. But as an activity,
design is more familiar, for most students, in what they have experienced in
the past and what they can imagine for the future. Because the everyday lives
of students have been filled with design thinking, design makes a concrete
connection with their past (so they can build on the foundation of what they
already know) and with their future (so they will be motivated to learn skills
that will help them achieve their own goals for life). Therefore, it seems
logical to teach design method before scientific method.
Learning from Reality: In a reality
check, sometimes there is a close match between predictions and observations,
and this gives us confidence in the theory being tested. When there
is not a close match, this can help us change our thinking so it more
closely corresponds with reality, which is very useful in science and
design, and in life.
• Another page explains, more thoroughly, why we
should teach design before science.