This doctoral program researched the issues of knowledge production and sharing within design communities.
Starting from the exploration of the local and contextual environment of tools and resources that are usually considered as design knowledge, it suggests a possible cross-field between the field of design knowledge management and the knowledge production practices that typify the cooperation within networks.

Research context

This cross-field bases on the increasing presence and significance of the digital knowledge within the wide context of knowledge systems. Internet is considered as a world of fresh inspiration for cooperation and sharing, that offers to contemporary practitioners technology patterns useful to the (digital) knowledge management, and also suggests the existence of a culture that has cognitive and social relevance in the topic of knowledge as public and commons undertaking.

In fact the idea of network unveils new and effective organizational, social and productive models, and reveals latent and primary questions for our society:

the extension, the meaning, the rules and the features of our own digital nature, which existence is widely recognized (chapter 1).

Indeed, we can consider that the idea of networks is concretely shaped in our knowledge environment, through social networks, community references, shared databases, user generated content activities, researches by serendipity, and in this sense Internet definitely functions as powerful material resource. The access to these contents is strictly connected with the diffusion and rooting up of the <em>digital systems that mediate the access to knowledge space</ em> and that are present in daily life, in working time and place, as the same as within private context, etc; and the use of these interfaces impact organizations and society by the emergence of direct practice and behaviors of sharing and cooperative production of knowledge.

This broad and rank cultural perspective that is suggested by digital worlds also supplies some practical and concrete questions, that emerge from local places, related to the knowledge management issue, and asks the way and the how in which we, as humans, can richly express our digital nature built around the notions of networked, shared and public.

These are trans-disciplinary questions that mostly require local, specific, disciplinary answers; this is why this research has firstly considered to encompass intimate and reflective thoughts about design knowledge that clearly refers to a meta-design perspective.

Besides the reflective spirit, these questions also arouse a specific interest for the practitioners’ discipline and in particular for communication and ICT design.

Research question

The relevant questions for communication designers are the quality of the interaction with digital knowledge, and the way in which the quality takes shape in interfaces and artifacts.

  • Which is the meaning of design knowledge sharing?
  • Which is the impact of tacit knowledge in design practice?
  • How the design toolkit is changing while designers face digital knowledge?
  • Which is the way for designing knowledge tools for practitioners?

We suggest that these kind of questions disclose a wider discourse about the impact on creativity and creative practice by the

new processes of knowledge production; and that this is a more and more social relevant discourse as far as new forms of primary and grassroots creative practice emerge along with the professional and traditional ones. (chapter 2)

Therefore the research aimed to develop an understanding of the changing knowledge environment of design organizations and team-works; in order to do this it faced the effort to find a clear balance between the need and the interest towards the applied research able to achieve prototypes, and the need and the relevance of establishing, in a systematic way, the practice of observation of knowledge contexts.

This challenge has been achieved by the construction of a rigorous methodological approach, that suggests the specificity of communication design as strategic skills for understanding and acting within knowledge contexts.


Developing the research, at the first step we offer a systemic and coherent overview about knowledge and its relations to creative spaces, within the framework of design knowledge space (chapter 3); then we suggest a practice approach for observation and thick description of knowledge context, based on the power of ethnography to understand local context, and enriched by the suggestion of communication epistemology that provides dialogical, reflective and cooperative methods (chapter 4).
The ethnography has been performed in a wide range of design organizations, and it has been outlined in a general model of design ethnography praxis for communication epistemology. The need to explore the ethnographic question is driven by a clear and well established cue in design culture: if there is the chance of design interventions within a users context, it should be focused on the user centered design approach and it shall to start where users actually are and act.
Ethnography has been approached as a method that requires a critic exploration and that challenges to personally go to look and get what happens: any exploration demand specific tools and techniques.
The methodology comes from the adoption of ethnography interpreted by designerly mindset, and it has been discussed and presented by his rigor value (method, tools and process description) as its relevance value (why it is useful for designers to understand context that they pretend to intervene into through communication design). (chapter 5)


The model progressively developed on three different levels:

  • the first to describe in details contents, procedures and options of the full process of communication ethnography;
  • the second to abstract from details and show key-points and milestones activities of the process;
  • the third, which is an outlined and conceptual synthesis of the observation in ethnography practiced and entwined by dialogue and reflective practice.

The ethnography that we describe tried to answer the question about qualitative and cognitive issues within the observed organizations, and the process of ethnography (observation, interaction and narration) allow us to practically come to the understanding of the space by reaching and going over the physical dimension; the theories about dialogue and communication ethnography inspired the research process and clarify its role within a wider interest for communication and knowledge systems.

Ethnography practically has get to be a framework of techniques and tools for observation and interpretation of knowledge context by the practitioners mindset, and it is presented to designers as a practical approach for the design of knowledge tools. (chapter 6)

Together with the model which is a “final artifacts” of the research, we claim to share also the ongoing contents of research, in some way the source code of the ethnography: we suggest that insights, processes, rough thoughts are effective methodological inspirations, and in the same way than procedures and solutions, are worth openly discussing and sharing. The wider premise of this approach is the repositioning of the idea of use value, by the inspiration of open culture and peer production, according to the Internet education that knowledge grows and enhance by use, manipulation and sharing.


The research interprets the ethnographic plan as a design research tool for the understanding and interaction with high complexity knowledge contexts. For communication design practice, the ethnography is not considered merely as a techniques toolbox that have been borrowed from social sciences; design rhetoric refers to the ability and the purpose of design thinking and culture to act transformations; therefore ethnography is a way to face problem setting through research tools that consider observation and dialogue as the necessary design premise. (chapter 7) The model of communication ethnography based on dialogue and supported by communication artifacts allow designers to practice qualitative observatories of collaborative knowledge contexts and to exercise a rigorous and specific approach to observation and discovery (method, tools and process) as premise for design interventions within the technological and instrumental environment.

The communication design artifacts and strategies have been called into question about the ability to provide thick and aware perspective in the space and places where creative and knowledge activities occur and the relevance of particular methods by design discipline relies on the agreement between the process of building methodology and the reflective practice.

What we call design knowledge is definitely far from being a predictable output of closed process of creation.

Through this, without the interest towards a thick understanding of the context, the ground and the complexity of its creation, we might run the danger of wasting all the meaning that entwines knowledge to creativity.