There has been rapid growth in interest in the notion of design—and hence in the building of a design science—in information systems (IS) in the past decade.
Many seminal papers have been published that have proved very influential in the field, and thus have inevitably begun to shape the discourses that take place (essentially through publications) and the practices around design science that emerge over time. Notable among these seminal papers is that of Hevner et al. (2004) entitled ‘Design science in information systems research’, published in MIS Quarterly. It needs to be acknowledged, however, that this work was itself informed by some work of earlier writers, particularly Walls et al. (1992), March and Smith (1995) and Markus et al. (2002).
While the position of these authors and others has formed, to an extent at least, somewhat of an orthodoxy or mainstream on design science in IS at the current time, there are other views emerging (see, for example, Carlsson 2006, 2007; McKay and Marshall 2005, 2007; Niehaves 2007a, 2007b; Niehaves and Becker 2006). These papers question some of the perspectives adopted and promoted by the mainstream and put forward alternative perspectives on design and design science. Given this, the argument that will be articulated and explored in this chapter is that some of these differences could stem from differences in how information systems themselves are conceptualised and in how the construct ‘design’ is conceptualised.
Indeed it will be argued—based on arguments articulated by Campbell (1979) in writing about the concept of organisational effectiveness—that no single, all-encompassing definition of either IS or design in IS can be established. Rather it will be asserted that a particular conceptualisation of design in IS could be useful only in certain circumstances, and thus to be made sense of it must be located within a theoretical framework or context of what IS is perceived to be. This builds on the notions articulated by El Sawy (2003), who noted, in comparing different positions put forward in the ‘What is the core of IS?’ debate, that any single perspective is just that: a single view among many possible views of ‘reality’. El Sawy (2003) notes that each perspective both highlights and backgrounds different elements: different perspectives are not right or wrong, but offer differing views and insights.
In applying this thinking to design in IS, we can conclude that the differing
positions emerging are helpful to build knowledge about the perspective of
design adopted and that multiple perspectives could be useful in building a broader-based design science in IS. Thus, depending on the circumstances,
different conceptualisations of design, of IS and of design in IS could be necessary and helpful in building an overarching IS design science. From this perspective, it would be limiting to take too parochial a view in defining such terms, as in doing so we could limit the applicability of our research findings in these important areas.