This is all about Design Research. This is all about the wonderful world of Design Research. The wonderful world of Design Research is actually made up of many different things. Let's unpack it. One strategy to help us is to think about the definitions. One strategy to help us is to think about the definitions of the individual words. One strategy to help us is to think about the definitions of the individual words. Both design and research are suitcase words.
Design is... Design is a field. Design is a field. Not a home for sheep... but a discipline, hence.
Design can refer to the whole field or discipline. But...
Design is also a verb. Design can refer to the processing of Designing. But...
Design can also be used to refer to a specific design. For example, you could say "Here is my design". "You have a design". "We have both got some lovely designs here". Hence...
Design can also refer to a specific instance of a thing that has been designed by a designer who works in the field of design.
Research is a systematic attempt to increase knowledge. Or, in other words, to find stuff out. Sometimes this means assembling existing information sometimes this means generating entirely new knowledge.
Assembling existing information, for example, could mean finding out what time the bus will arrive by looking at timetables. In which case you would be researching the bus times. By assembling existing information.
Understanding what it means to generate new knowledge is rather complicated. In fact, there is a whole branch of philosophy dedicated to studying the theories of how we generate new knowledge called epistemology. There are many different theories or knowledge or epistemologies. For example, empiricism says that knowledge is based on our senses. Rationalism says that knowledge is comes from reasoning. Constructivism says that knowledge comes from experiences. Pragmatism says that knowledge is context-dependent, so we should choose whatever theory works.
Research methods are the systematically-applied strategies and processes researchers use to do their research. Some methods involve collecting and analysing data. Some methods try to prove a hypothesis. All research methods try to increase knowledge. Design Research has some of it's own research methods.
Suitcase words are words that contain many different meanings. We use suitcase words everyday. They help us communicate efficiently. But they also jumble up lots of different ideas. If we want to be sure what we are saying is clear, we have to be extra careful when using suitcase words.
The term Design Research is a compound noun (a noun made of two words) which is made up of two suitcase words joined together. Because Design Research joins two suitcase words together, we need to be extra careful about clearly explaining what we mean when we use the term Design Research. You can read a research paper that discusses suitcase words and Design Research over here.
It can be useful to think about three specific types of research, all which are aspects of Design Research. You can read a research article that explains these types of research over here. They are Research into Design, Research through Design, and Research for Design.
Research into Design is research conducted about the practices, theories, and history world of design. It does not involve doing any design practice. It does not involve doing any design practice, however if you practicing design it can be useful to know about the history and theory of the field. This kind of research could use any research method. When any research method is applied to the subject of design we would call it Research into Design.
Research into Design is when any research method is applied to understanding practices, theories, and history of design.
Research through Design (which is often shortened to RtD) is a research method. RtD generates new knowledge about the world. RtD generates new knowledge about the world through the process of designing something. The RtD method is built on a design epistemology, and it has some special strengths. As a research method RtD is particularly good at generating knowledge about totally new ideas. It is also good at exploring the social impact of new ideas and technologies. RtD is particularly good in the context of socio-technical research. RtD is also really good at research that is too complicated to sum up in a normal hypothesis. RtD is useful for exploring wicked problems.
Research through Design (RtD) is a research method that is built on a design epistemology, it generates knowledge through the process of design and it is useful in the context of socio-technical and wicked problems.
Research for Design is any background research conducted to help a design process. This could mean the gathering of reference materials or user research to help a designer. Almost every design process will involve some invovles some Research for Design.
Research for Design is any background research conducted to support a design process.
Design Research is a field. No, not a home for sheep. Design Research is a field, as in a discipline. But Design Research is also a set of specifc types of research practice. Including some research methods and epistemologies (e.g., Research through Design) that have grown out of the field.
Design Research approaches like Research through Deisgn tend to be practical, flexible, and unifying. Making things, and making meaning from those things is often important in Design Research. Design Research is pragmatic, it can pick and choose which philosophy or epistemologies make the most sense for particular research challenges - this makes it extremely flexible. Because it can draw upon any theoy, philosophy or area of interest, Design Research is an excellent interdisciplinary glue. These features mean that researchers from outside of Design Research are adopting it. These features mean that researchers from outside of Design Research are choosing to do something called 'Design Mode' research. This means adopting the principles and ideals of Design Research and applying them to a different area.
Design Research approaches tend to be practical, flexible, and unifying. These features mean reserachers from outside of Design Research are adopting the principles and ideals and applying them to different areas. You can read a book chapter about how to do this over here.
It's interesting to compare Design Research methods with more established research traditions. It can also be useful to compare Research through Design with Science. We often perceieve scientific knowledge in terms of facts. Science often aspires to produce facts and grand theories. The kind of knowledge produced by Research through Design is different though. Research through Design produces what we call intermediate knowledge. Research through Design produces intermediate knowledge. You can read a research paper explaining how intermediate knowledge is useful over here.
Science is amazing. Science is wonderful and amazing. The technologies that science has helped us develop have helped construct the modern world. But the modern world is filled with huge challenges too. Things like, how do we live sustainably? How can we live more equitably? And, how will AI change the world? It is challenges like this that Design Research can help toward understanding. It is wicked challenges like this that need the type of intermediate knowledge that Design Research generates. The type of intermediate knowledge that Design Research generates as well as the traditions of Science are both needed to help us figure out how to address these wicked challenges. You can read a paper talking about the relationship between Design Research and Science over here. And, you can watch an attempt at making all of this 'funny' over here.
Thanks for reading! For now, that's the end of this intro to Design Research. See more on our website.