Design issues typically emerge from multifaceted social situations, making design research investigations ones of adequately contextualized application. Where this is the case the review of literature must navigate multiple research fields while also resolving relations between orthodox disciplinary and non-disciplinary sources of knowledge, including those emanating from design’s strong vocational foundations. Managing multiple contextual frameworks to arrive at a creative fusion of methods and principles represents a significant practical and intellectual challenge for research students and supervisors. The literature on ‘Mode 2’ knowledge production in
higher education can provide guidance here, describing research that is fundamentally applied, industry-oriented and interdisciplinary. The paper draws on theoretical discussion of the reflexive and situated nature of Mode 2 knowledge production to establish some parameters for the literature review in applied design research, complementing this with three narrative case studies of professional doctorate projects from an Australian university.