The Anatomy of a Design Principle


This essay derives a schema for specifying design principles for information technology-based artifacts in sociotechnical systems. Design principles are used to specify design knowledge in an accessible form, but there is wide variation and lack of precision across views on their formulation. This variation is a sign of important issues that should be addressed, including a lack of attention to human actors and levels of complexity as well as differing views on causality, on the nature of the mechanisms used to achieve goals, and on the need for justificatory knowledge. The new schema includes the well-recognized elements of design principles, including goals in a specific context and the mechanisms to achieve the goal. In addition, the schema allows: (i) consideration of the varying roles of the human actors involved and the utility of design principles; (ii) attending to the complexity of IT-based artifacts through decomposition;(iii) distinction of the types of causation (i.e., deterministic versus probabilistic); (iv) a variety of mechanisms in achieving aims; and (v) the optional definition of justificatory knowledge underlying the design principles. We illustrate the utility of the proposed schema by applying it to examples of published research.

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