Autoethnography as a research method in design research at Universities



Media & Communications Design


  • thinking skills, problem-solving, individualism

It is generally accepted that the process of design is "messy" in that the final design "emerges" from an engagement of the designer with a plethora of sources, stimuli, interactions, commission demands, client needs (and wants) and other practices that engage with the problem at hand. By contrast, most definitions of research and research report writing emphasise the notion of a "systematic investigation" leading to a solution of the problem. Furthermore, most research requires the demonstration of so-called "new knowledge." Thus a research report has to (a) demonstrate evidence of some form of systematic thinking, has to (b) present the findings of that systematic thinking, and has to (c) argue the case from this for "new knowledge".

This article argues that the method of autoethnography provides a system that is an effective research strategy for fulfilling these obligations, as it provides a strategy for evidence gathering and evidence interpretation that is embedded in the temporality of emergence as a critical design process. The paper will argue firstly that the "auto" – that is to say the "I" of the designer, with his or her subjectivity and experience -- locates the designer centrally in the creative project. Secondly, the ethno (culture) locates the design in the culture of design practice. In this sense the interrogation of and the use of design practice are used as part of the critical reflective moment, in the process of triangulating raw data for interpretation purposes. Finally, the "graphy" (that is to say, writing, used in this sense as both the visual language of designing and written language of reporting) suggests systems of capturing and documenting raw data as it comes to the fore in a temporal manner to provide evidence for the emerging new knowledge.

On the one hand such new knowledge is inevitably embedded in the design itself (it is written into the design), but on the other hand the new knowledge is also embedded in the practice of reflection/reflexion. Arguably the autoethnographic method fosters this reflective/reflexive practice, and, tentatively, might bridge the possible gap between the designer‘s handbook and the demands of research output and new knowledge.

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