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  • 2016herfurthphd

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Organisations as artefacts: an inquiry into hidden design activities within situated organisational contexts

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2016
Number of pages248
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The overall aim of this PhD is to provide insights into the hidden and socially-distributed design activities and behaviours through which members of an organisation contribute to its shape. How do those who are part of the organisational artefact contribute to the design of the artefact?
Looking at an organisation as an artefact on the one hand acknowledges the human-made process that brings organisations into existence and the possibility that an organisation is a product of human action. On the other hand it raises questions with regard to the properties of this artefact and the design activities that lead to its existence or in␣uence its development. A paradox is represented by the circumstance that an organisation is both made by and, at the same time, “consists” of humans.

A small sample qualitative multi-case study was selected as the research strategy. One case is a retrospective study of an architectural construction project for a higher education institution in the UK, the other is a live study of a mass participation music performance that took place in a major UK city. Together they combine the wealth of material from a longitudinal and retrospective study with the detailed insights obtained from live observation.
Analysis is partially grounded, prioritising an understanding emerging from the data itself rather than applying a speci␣c concept to identify themes accordingly. However, fundamental understandings of design are applied to understand whether the design activities identi␣ed cohere with existing approaches or provide novel insights into hidden
design actions.

In both cases the ␣ndings con␣rm the existence of hidden and socially-distributed design actions in processes of organisational design. While fundamental indicators of design change are identi␣able in selected events, novel characteristics add to existing understandings of design. Contributions this PhD makes concern the identi␣cation and description of hidden design activities within communities of non-expert, silent designers and the empirically supported speci␣cation of organisations as socially-designed artefacts. Speci␣cally, the ␣ndings lead to the articulation of three contributions: design-before- design, an approach that promotes the acknowledgement of unique organisational settings before design interventions, socially-distributed design as an empirically supported extension of silent design and the resulting description of case studies as self-referential artefacts.