The Two Paradigms of Software Design

38 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2013

See all articles by Paul Ralph

Paul Ralph

Lancaster University - Management School

Date Written: March 24, 2013


The dominant view of design in information systems and software engineering, the Rational Design Paradigm, views software development as a methodical, plan-centered, approximately rational process of optimizing a design candidate for known constraints and objectives. This paper synthesizes an Alternative Design Paradigm, which views software development as an amethodical, improvisational, emotional process of simultaneously framing the problem and building artifacts to address it. These conflicting paradigms are manifestations of a deeper philosophical conflict between rationalism and empiricism. The paper clarifies the nature, components and assumptions of each paradigm and explores the implications of the paradigmatic conflict for research, practice and education.

Keywords: Information Systems Development, Software Engineering, Rationalism, Empiricism

Suggested Citation

Ralph, Paul, The Two Paradigms of Software Design (March 24, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Paul Ralph (Contact Author)

Lancaster University - Management School ( email )

Lancaster, LA1 4YX
United Kingdom

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