Management as Design, but What Kind of Design? An Appraisal of the Design Science Analogy for Management

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Abstract

The identity of management as a field of study is frequently challenged on the basis of its relevance to practice. This paper engages with the concept of a design science as it is considered to offer some answers to this enduring debate. The paper goes on to conclude, rather sceptically, that design science may not offer such a distinct perspective on management as a field of study. Our scepticism is based on the design science scholars' rather arbitrary use of Simon's intellectual legacy, particularly the superficial differentiation between explanatory-based and prescriptive-based social sciences, and the promises such a comparison holds for prescriptive outcomes in management. The paper contributes to the design science debate in management by identifying three different types of design, each based on different ways artefacts emerge. These identified differences have profound consequences for understanding design science as an explicitly organized and systematic approach to design. We conclude that later conceptualizations of design science do have a place, but offer only a particular perspective – one that is relevant for a narrow set of organizational phenomena. Finally, we argue that the design analogy is an important one in the current debate about the nature of management studies if it highlights the creation of novelty and disruption of stability. It also offers a way of thinking about the exposition of uncertainty, in contrast to highlighting rules and principles that offer a prescriptive promise to guide the design of social artefacts.

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