Current research by Pieter Vermaas focusses on design. It is aimed at analysing design methods for understanding what design is and for determining how to validate design methods. Design methods give traditionally procedures to address problems and challenges in engineering, product development and architecture. For these original applications design methods are typically held to be effective and efficient on the basis of precedence, consisting of past successful designs obtained with the methods. Design methods are nowadays seen also as promising procedures to address a much broadened set of problems and challenges. In its original domains of engineering, product development and architecture they are for instances used to realise moral and societal values in products and technologies. And design methods are increasingly used in new domains such as business, policy and the social realm. This broadened use of design methods raises research questions about how to validate design methods more generally and critically without appeals to (not yet existing) precedence.
This current research builds on earlier analytic projects on engineering design methods and on the concepts of technical artefact and technical function. These projects originated in the Dual Nature of Technical Artefacts research programme at Delft University of Technology. Starting point of that programme was that technical artefacts have both a structural and an intentional nature, because a complete description of a technical artefact refers to the physical make-up of the artefact and to the goals the artefact is to realise. Engineering design was taken as an activity that relates these natures, since it has goals of artefacts as input and the physical description of the artefacts as output. And technical function was taken as a bridging concept, since a function of an artefact highlights a physical capacity of the artefact by which users can realise the goals associated to the artefact. This Dual Nature research, regularly done together with Wybo Houkes (Eindhoven University of Technology), resulted in an action-theoretical analysis of the design and use of artefacts, and in a philosophical account of technical functions, called the ICE-theory.
Vermaas obtained his PhD at Utrecht University, after studying theoretical physics at the University of Amsterdam. Research for his PhD concerned modal interpretations of quantum mechanics. The topic of quantum mechanics and its interpretations is resurfacing in current research on the emergence of quantum technologies.
Pieter Vermaas is Associate Professor at the Philosophy Department of Delft University of Technology, and Collaborator of the Centre for Philosophy of Sciences of the University of Lisbon.
Vermaas is vice president of the Society for Philosophy and Technology in 2017, and will become its president for two years starting in the summer of 2019. He is Editor-in-chief of two book series at Springer: Philosophy of Engineering and Technology and Design Research Foundations (with Ilpo Koskinen, Twente University) And Vermaas is vice scientific director of the Design for Values institute of Delft University of Technology.