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2.2 Main methodology – Research-through-design[89]

[E]verything has become a matter of concern, and the entanglements between humans and non-humans are one of composition, an issue of design… an urgent call to include design in research processes, because if everything is a result of design, this mode of action should be embraced actively in producing knowledge.


Martin Prominski, Design Research for Urban Landscapes – Chapter 2: Design research as a non-linear interplay of five moments (Prominski, 2019, pp.43–44).

evolution of uss.jpg

Figure 33. A flow chart describing the various moments of design research from Prominski (2019). Urban Seascaping evolves throughout the different moments in this research. In reality, this process is much messier, with mini-loops of these processes starting over again, with various empty moments interweaving in between.

[89] Research-through-design can also be known as research-through-designing, research-by-design or research-as-design with design as the main method of knowledge creation. However, there is a tendency for research-through-design(ing) to be the preferred term for landscape architects (Lenzholzer et al., 2013).

[90] Prominski (2019) refers to an epistemological stance of design-based researchers who consider the world as a project of design. Therefore, projective research from the perspective of the creative disciplines would involve the role of design in helping to speculate on a future scenario based on findings from various explorations and studies.

[91] Initial hypothesis: Can “seascaping” with seaweed provide an answer to addressing sea level rise/storm surges in coastal cities as part of urban development and coastal adaptation in the Anthropocene?



One of the main ways the project’s analysis has been conducted is the “research-through-design” (RtD) methodology. This method refers to integrating the act of designing into the core part of the research and its efforts to answer the research questions (Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh, 2013; Prominski, 2019). It is a form of qualitative research methodology currently gaining traction in the spatial design disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design. It is a method and a “theory of spatial production, investigating the social role of space in the historical context within which we live” (Lucas, 2016, p.7). Prominski (2019) argues that RtD’s use of the transformative capacity of design and its forward-looking means of investigation or knowledge production is critical in responding to the climate crisis in this current time of urgency. No other methods offer this unique potential for exploring possible futures and designing non-existing systems through urban landscapes (ibid.).  According to Prominski (2019, p. 44), “the Anthropocene demands projective[90] research tools which are able to deal with complex processes,” and thus, “research-through-design has the potential to act as the epistemological paradigm for transdisciplinary studies and transformation design” (according to Wolfgang Jonas (2015, p. 35) in (Prominski, 2019, p.46)).

   Therefore, RtD presents itself as the most appropriate methodology for investigating the future potential of Urban Seascaping with seaweed from a spatial design approach. Moreover, Vejle as a case study method is complementary to RtD, as it provides the “real world” problem in an actual context in which possible design solutions can be investigated. Furthermore, RtD is apt in its capacity to enable the researcher to translate different scientific knowledge (i.e. hydrology, climatology, marine biology, environmental psychology) to substantiate design into general applicable design principles and parameters through a common visual language of drawings, models and maps. Moreover, the new design proposals or knowledge developed by the spatial design disciplines can be tested and/or validated in collaboration with other specialists, such as engineers and marine biologists (Lenzholzer, Duchhart and Koh, 2013).

      However, in the past, sceptics have voiced concerns about whether design can constitute a legitimate research method (i.e. is it just a design project or is it design research?). Therefore, Prominski (2019) argues that RtD must be coupled with other reflective research processes to validate design research. For instance, he outlines the five main design research processes or “moments.” They are Original, Reflective, Projective, Transfer and Empty moments. These moments represent parts of the research process that lead to new or refined findings, which can start a new loop of all five research moments. First, the Original moment of design research represents a careful formulation of a coherent research hypothesis/question that has not been answered satisfactorily (i.e. research gap) and which may contribute to a transferrable knowledge rather than a specific design solution. Second, Reflective moments represent a process of reviewing and evaluating one’s work in the broader scientific context. Thus, the Reflective moment is an extensive investigation into existing theories, projects, cases and methods that could contribute to answering the research questions (Original moments) and help reframe them through a retrospective process. Third, Projective moments represent designing as a mode of exploratory knowledge production that concretises unknown futures based on learnings and by setting premises. However, it is important to note that Projective moments through RtD are insufficient on their own. They need to be closely linked to Reflective moments (i.e. research about design), Original moments and Transfer moments (i.e. research for design) to ensure the knowledge from design work is converted into a reusable result from the interplay of these different research moments. Therefore, a Transfer moment represents the process of translating findings (i.e. specific design works from a case study site) to generalisable knowledge that can have a broader impact. Lastly, Empty moments of design research represent what appears to be the “unfocused” and “unproductive” part of the research, where the researcher can feel adrift from the research. Here, Prominski (2019) argues that these “voids” are an important part of the research process that could lead to a breakthrough in productive and unexpected findings. Therefore, Empty moments acknowledge the active and passive disengagement during the design research process (Prominski, 2019).

     The process of encountering these different research moments is unpredictable and is closely linked to each other in more small interplays of entangled mini loops occurring throughout the research. “Performed this way, research through design, with its unique, projective potential, can play a crucial role in knowledge production. The interaction of the five moments can fulfil all criteria for common research mentioned: the original moments ensure originality, the reflective moments address the scientific significance, transfer moments guarantee broader impact, and the interplay of all five moments determines the relevance of the design research” (Prominski, 2019, p.41).

    Urban Seascaping evolved throughout the research process into four main states/stages mirroring Prominski’s five moments, as shown in Figure 33 below. First, USS is an initial hypothesis[91] that addressed the PhD Call/initial research question (i.e. Original moments – see Part I, section 1.6). Second, USS develops into propositions that act as guard rails for the research based on literature review (i.e. Original and Reflective moments – see Part III, section 3.3). Third, USS evolves into a guide for a hybrid mapping tool that acts as a conceptual framework/tool driven by RtD (i.e. Reflective and Projective moments – see Part IV). Finally, USS is used to test whether the research findings are valid (also its shortfalls) in the form of a reflective conclusion (i.e. Transfer and Empty moments – see Part V).

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