Design Research Report

Posted on May 1, 2011 by Holly Willis

Report to the Design Educators Community Steering Committee
Design Research Journal Assessment
Holly Willis
May 12, 2011

This report synthesizes findings gathered during an informal study conducted to determine if there is a need and/or desire for AIGA to launch a new journal devoted to design research. Based on numerous queries made to AIGA leadership in 2010, as well as specific requests for the founding of such a journal expressed during the New Contexts/New Practices conference (October 8-10, 2010), the DEC Steering Committee initiated the report, with the following two goals: 1) to gather input from the AIGA community through interviews with active contributors to design research, and 2) to survey the field, looking at existing journals dedicated to design research. Input from the Steering Committee helped determine general questions and participants for the study, which began in January and concluded in April 2011.

Synthesizing the input and recommendations from participants suggests that a design research journal with carefully determined and explicit goals; with attention both to the needs of scholars in traditional settings and those outside the scholarly community; and with a form that at once continues longstanding scholarly practices yet models new modes of scholarly expression would be welcome. Determining the specific parameters of the journal could be a collaborative process facilitated by the AIGA; this could occur via a shared document collaboratively authored and critiqued (with a wiki, CommentPress or PiratePad document), followed by a public discussion, perhaps at Pivot.

• Given the range of journals that already exist devoted to design research, is there a need that AIGA could meet with a new journal dedicated to design research that is not currently met?
• Given AIGA’s membership, with a mix of educators, researchers and practitioners, how might this journal be situated?
• Who would be the primary audience for this new journal?
• What existing journals do you find most useful?
• Is there a niche that exists that is not yet covered by established journals?
• Is design research a growing field – in other words, will the need for such a journal continue to expand?
• What form might a new journal take?

Design Research: Brief History
Design research emerged as a concept in the 1960s, based on work conducted primarily in Great Britain at the Royal College of Art in London. Research activities of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm also contributed to early explorations of design research in the ’60s, as did efforts at MIT. The Conference on Design Methods in 1962 in London is often designated as a starting point for considering design methodology itself as a field of inquiry (Cross, 2007), and Bruce Archer’s 1981 definition of design research “as a form of systematic inquiry performed with the goal of generating knowledge of the form/embodiment of – or in – design, composition, structure, purpose, value and meaning of human-made things and systems” (Bonsiepe, 27) remains a frequent reference. Indeed, this definition took hold, and has remained central, even as various scholars use it as a starting point from which to develop alternative or more nuanced definitions.

By the mid-1990s, design research had developed in numerous directions internationally with the result that the term itself had become somewhat amorphous. “Design research is an activity in search of a definition,” wrote Susan Roth (Roth, 18) in 1996, the same year in which Richard Buchanan claimed, “No one seems to be sure what design research means” (Buchanan) while Sharon Poggenpohl asserted the need for design research in her essay, “Why We Need Design Research,” published in Graphic Design Journal 4, also in 1996 (20-21). Gui Bonsiepe notes that design research in its earliest manifestation centered on engineering science and architecture, with no mention of graphic design, and no connection to design practice. This initiated a rift between research and practice that remains today.

New journals advanced design research by modeling it. Design Studies: The International Journal for Design Research in Engineering, Architecture, Products and Systems appeared in 1979, and was published by the Design Research Society, while Design Issues was founded in 1982, offering a perspective on design research from the U.S. These journals contributed to the formal instantiation of design research, while also creating a community through shared ideas.

The emergence of doctoral degrees in design also played a role in the emergence and growth of design research (Schneider, 210). The Royal College of Art granted academic degrees in 1967, while in the US, the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago offered the only opportunity in the US for students to earn a PhD related to design for many years; the PhD program began in 1989. Helsinki’s University of Art and Design (UIAH) created a doctoral program, from which students first graduated in 1983, with Delft University offering a PhD in the early 1990s, and Eindhoven following suit in 2005.

In the last decade, questions concerning the definition of design research continue, alongside tremendous growth in the field. Notes Michel Ralf in Design Research Now, “The number of researchers and research groups has grown rapidly, the number of papers published over the last 10 years has outnumbered that of all decades before, and an increasing variety of disciplines is involved” (Ralf, 6). What has contributed to its growing significance? According to Bonsiepe, there are two main reasons. “First, complex design problems can no longer be solved without prior or parallel research,” (27) he explains. “Second, the consolidation of design education at universities and colleges creates pressure to adapt to academic structures and traditions” (28). He goes on to note that there is a tension between the goals of professional practice and academic activity that can “lead to controversies and divergences” (28), and reminds readers that design education has not always encouraged reflective behavior (29).

Currently, participants within the design research field continue to attempt to define design research, its parameters, methods and role within – and beyond – the academy. In 1996, Buchanan asked, “Should design research follow the model of traditional academic disciplines, or should it seek a new model based on the intimate connection among theory, practice and production that is the hallmark of design?” in a book review in a 1996 issue of Design Issues (quoted in Roth,19). Nigel Cross echoes this question in a more recent essay, and argues that the challenge for “a broad and catholic approach to design research” is “to construct a way of conversing about design that is at the same time interdisciplinary and disciplined” (2007, 46). Cross goes on to note that design research needs to develop its own protocols, and he outlines the approaches he sees within the field of design research. These are: “Design Epistemology: the study of designerly ways of knowing; Design Praxiology: the study of the practices and processes of design; and Design Phenomenology: the study of the form and configuration of artefacts” (Cross 48). Wolfgang Jones asserts that design research still lacks currency, noting, “If design wants to strengthen its social and academic status, it must broaden its self-conception and claim an appropriate share of the definition power regarding future conditions of living” (2007, 188).

Many other scholars have outlined approaches to design research. Christopher Frayling places design research into three categories: 1) theoretical-conceptual research into (or about) design, 2) methodological-instrumental research for design, and 3) experimental-hypothetical research through design. Buchanan also describes several design research strategies: the first is “to explain design and the products of design within a larger whole or systems” and emphasizes the social and cultural context of design (57). This is dubbed the dialectic strategy. “The second strategy is to explain design and the products of design by seeking the basic elements that underlie the complexities of the material world and the workings of the mind” (57). He describes this as the design science strategy, and it favors analysis, focusing on underlying elements and mechanisms of combination. Buchanan’s third strategy is design inquiry, which he positions between the dialectic and design science strategies. “The third strategy seeks an explanation in the experience of designers and those who use products, without recourse to the theoretical abstractions” of the other two strategies. It emphasizes both “the inventive and creative power of the designer,” and the “discipline of designing” (58). Buchanan warns of the dangers of a single approach, noting, “the tendency of design researchers to prefer a monism instead of understanding the pluralism of research strategies is a tendency that hinders the field at the beginning of the 21st century” (65).

In more recent developments, scholars are asking how design research might connect with other areas within academia. The Nowcasting conference organized by Peter Lunenfeld at UCLA in 2009 joined design theory and the digital humanities, and discussions at the conference included speculation on design and research. Almquist and Lupton imagine an intersection with the humanities and ask, “Could design researchers trained in design, engineering, and the social sciences integrate their studies of use into a more nuanced account of meaning in its social and collective dimensions?” (2009, 4).

In summary, design research remains a robust, multifaceted activity, described by some as a science and by others as a discipline, and it straddles the boundary between academia and the larger world of practice. The pluralism, often championed as positive, has also contributed to some confusion regarding modes, outcomes, definitions and a future, all of which point to a potential goal that might be met by a new journal devoted to the topic.

Launching a Design Research Journal: Feedback
The following sections bring together comments from conversations with the participants noted above, grouped into separate categories.

• Is a design research journal needed?
When people say that we need a new academic journal, they may not be aware of the array of existing journals. So, one first step for AIGA and/or DEC might be to create a resource that makes this information more readily available. What are the existing journals dedicated to design research? What kinds of materials do they publish? An annotated bibliography with an overview could offer access to the broader field of existing work.

As design research continues to evolve in the context of the university, its contributors need outlets for publishing, in part so that they can build dossiers for tenure and promotion. A new journal could address this need.

It can be hard for design educators to explain design research as it remains an unclear term for many. Having a journal that represents and models design research in clearly designated ways could help design educators understand design research, and teach it to their students.

Research has different knowledge requirements depending on the field. Any journal will have to take this into account.

With design research currently, unless you’re already integrated into the community and all of the big ideas that are driving design research, it’s hard to understand the conversation. There’s no point of entry. People don’t know how to engage. A journal could help with this.

There is an internal responsibility to be assessing what we do, and this builds a comfort with other disciplines. We also need to ask what are we adding to these spaces? If it’s the same thing other disciplines do, it’s not additive. There needs to be something else. It doesn’t have to be remedial so that we all understand it.

We work in different modes to create meaning – we can contribute in this way to broader conversations; we can talk about methodologies and epistemological groundings. It’s part of our natural lens.

This is the kind of thing that would raise the AIGA profile. Too often, however, the AIGA tries to do things that are one-size-fits-all, and that can be frustrating. This should be about disseminating ideas, and helping people access ideas in a way that’s meaningful.

In my view, what design is struggling with right now is understanding its collective role. We’re moving from a trade mentality to being a discipline, and we need a place to collect all of our ideas about this. How do we have a dialogue around the discipline? How do we decide what’s important, and where is it going? This is something that a journal could help with. Right now, there’s no discourse and people have no peer network.

We need organizations to see design as a funding opportunity, and a journal could support this effort.

• What kinds of articles could be included in this new journal? What kinds of topics might be covered?
There exist numerous projects within the realm of design research, but they need to be showcased and critically framed in smart ways. A new journal could do this.

Another interesting element could be to include case studies, as a way of both promoting practice, but with a critical perspective. The case study model has great potential.

The journal could also be overtly aware of the need to rethink design education, as we move away from creating objects to creating systems, and with that, the journal could participate in an introduction to new skill sets and a new way of talking about what designers do in the process of making. Can we talk about design thinking and model this in the journal?

It would be valuable if the journal could explicitly show the more cognitive attributes of design that practitioners draw on every day.

The journal should “imagine a new space for new kinds of multimodal writing” that takes seriously the idea of the visual essay.

Speculative design research is a powerful tool that allows you not to illustrate ideas through hypotheses, but through design. However, while many designers may engage in speculative design, they often forget to close the loop and engage in evaluation, moving past the probe, and the designed object to gleaning feedback. What’s needed now are tools for capturing that feedback. We can’t do exit interviews, so how do we capture the in-use experience?

• What might be some of the characteristics of this new journal?
The journal might work best as an online journal, guest-edited, published once or twice a year, with 12 or so substantial pieces. Each guest editor could bring together colleagues and help generate substantial contributions.

It is ironic that one of the most exciting and dynamic fields, with an opportunity to create innovative forms of scholarship, would also need to maintain existing forms of scholarship to engender respect and scholarly approval. Is there a space in between? Can the journal model innovative scholarship and participate in traditional systems of ranking and authority?

If the journal is to use a peer review system, we have to ask what is peer review for us, in these spaces? The market was our peer review for a long time…

The journal should be a model for new kinds of scholarship. It could be a platform for new kinds of participatory scholarship.

• How should the journal be situated relative to AIGA membership?
If AIGA were to do this, it might be interesting to have a journal grounded in practice so that the AIGA membership would be able to engage for fully.

I would be interested to see AIGA leadership describe what they imagine this journal to be, and see if it aligns with what others imagine it to be.

The journal could model different types of scholarship – but there are questions about the kind of scholarship and intellectual questions that exist in the realm of design research, and the interests of the AIGA community: do these overlap? Would the journal more productively reflect DEC?

Overall, everyone in the end supported the creation of a new journal, but nearly everyone said that the journal would need to be scoped and planned carefully. Nearly everyone also agreed that the journal should model new kinds of scholarship, while serving some of the more traditional needs of academic publishing. Several respondents were very excited about the new direction of Design and Culture, in part due to its attention to a qualitative understanding of design research, with a recognition of the role of culture and ideology. There is also enthusiasm for Interactions, the journal published by the Association for Computing Machinery due to its lively mix of articles. A next step in this process could be to host a session during which participants would sketch the outlines of a potential journal, within a set of parameters determined beforehand.

Existing Design Research Journals
Design Studies: The International Journal for Design Research in Engineering, Architecture, Products and Systems Published by the Design Research Society, launched in 1979, and edited by Nigel Cross, a faculty member at the Open University in the UK, Design Studies covers all fields of design, and promotes design research by modeling it through publications it describes as “the highest caliber.” The journal is published by Elsevier, peer-reviewed and international in scope, and publishes six issues per year.

Design Issues Described on its website as “the first American academic journal to examine design history, theory and criticism,” Design Issues was founded in 1982, is published by The MIT Press, and is currently edited by Bruce Brown, Richard Buchanan, Dennis P. Doordan and Victor Margolin. Its offices are located in the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and the journal covers a broad range of design, including communication, industrial, interaction and graphic design. The journal is peer-reviewed and publishes four issues per year.

Journal of Design Research Launched in 2001, Journal of Design Research is edited by Henri Christiaans, Paulien M. Herder and Ina T. Klaasen of Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands and published by Inderscience Publishers. The journal emphasizes “human aspects as a central issue of design through integrative studies of social sciences and design disciplines” and highlights the fact that design encompasses an intellectual and presumably academic field of thought and research, as well as a professional practice wherein research is applied. The journal asserts that, in this context, design research can assume one of two roles: “(1) the scientific study of the process and content of design, and (2) the development of methods and tools to enhance the quality of design practice based on the body of knowledge developed by the scientific study.” The journal was initially published electronically, but now also produces print editions, with four issues published annually. Articles are peer-reviewed.

Iridescent: Icograda Journal of Design Research Launched in March 2010, Iridescent is a peer-reviewed journal connected to the International Council of Graphic Design Associations. Max Bruinsma serves as the journal’s supervising editor, and guest editors include Teal Triggs and Alice Twemlow. The journal avoids the rarefied language of more academically oriented design research journals, and seeks to reach a broad international audience. The journal also attempts to connect the professional associations, corporate members and educational institutions that constitute Icograda’s membership, and states as one of its objectives the desire to “offer an international peer-reviewed publishing platform for innovative research with a specific focus on issues of relevance to contemporary communication design and curriculum development.”

International Journal of Design Edited by Lin-Lin Chen of the Graduate Institute of Design at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology, International Journal of Design is dedicated to providing an international forum for the exchange of ideas and findings from researchers across different cultures and encourages research on the impact of cultural factors on design theory and practice.” Like Journal of Design Research, it recognizes a divide between those in academic contexts and those in the industry, and works to transfer knowledge between these two groups by focusing on “research in which results are of interest or applicable to design practices.” The journal covers many fields of design. Articles are peer-reviewed, and the journal, which is open-access, is published three times a year by the Chinese Institute of Design.

Design Philosophy Papers Edited by Anne-Marie Willis and published in South East Queensland, Australia, Design Philosophy Papers (DPP) “comes from a longstanding desire to gain greater recognition for the study of design by the intellectual community at large, as well as our frustration with the market-driven conservatism of design publishing.” The papers are thoughtful and engaging discussions of current issues in design; the current issue, for example, includes an essay by Carlo Franzato titled “Design as Speculation,” and another by Michael Biggs and Daniela Büchler titled “Some Consequences of the Academicization of Design Practice.”

CoDesign: International Journal of CoCreation in Design and the Arts CoDesign is “inclusive, encompassing collaborative, co-operative, concurrent, human-centered, participatory, socio-technical and community design among others. Research in any design domain concerned specifically with the nature of collaboration design is of relevance to the Journal.” An upcoming special issue is titled Socially Responsive Design, and is dedicated to “Understanding the differences between service design, social design and social innovation and identifying tools and methods for designing and evaluating social change,” with guest editors Lorraine Gamman from Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London, and Adam Thorpe, Central Saint Martins. The journal’s editor-in-chief is Janet McDonnell, also of Central Saint Martins.

Design and Culture A relatively new journal, Design and Culture is an international peer-reviewed journal published by the Design Studies Forum, which was founded in 1983 at a College Art Association meeting in Philadelphia under the name “Design History Forum.” The Forum name changed over the years, and petitioned CAA to gain affiliate status. In its current form, the Forum is a CAA affiliated society. According to the website description, the journal “explores the dynamic, contingent relationships between design and its many cultural contexts.” In covers a full range of fields of design, and investigates the tensions often encountered between critical, analytical, and intellectual activity and traditional studio-based endeavors.” The journal is published issues three times a year.

Works Cited
Almquist, Julka, and Julia Lupton. “Affording Meaning: Design-Oriented Research from the Humanities and Social Sciences.” Design Issues 26.1 (2011) : 3-14. Web. 20 Mar 2011.
Archer, Bruce. “A View of the Nature of Design Research.” In Jacques R, Powell J (eds): Design: Science: Method. Westbury House, Guildford, 1981. Print.
Blessing, Lucienne T. M., and Amaresh Chakrabarti. DRM, a Design Research Methodology. Springer, 2009. Print.
Bonsiepe, Gui. “The Uneasy Relationship Between Design and Design Research.” Design Research Now. Design Research Now. Print.
Buchanan, Richard. “Design Research and the New Learning.” Design Issues 17.4 (2011) : 3-23. Web. 20 Mar 2011.
Coleman, Elizabeth. “Design Matters.” Design Issues 26.4 (2011) : 3-8. Web. 20 Mar 2011.
Cross, Nigel. “From a Design Science to a Design Discipline: Understanding Designerly Ways of Knowing and Thinking.” Design Research Now: Essays and Selected Projects. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2007. Print.
—–. Designerly Ways of Knowing. 1st ed. Springer, 2010. Print.
—–. “Design Research: A Disciplined Conversation,” Design Issues 15:2 (Summer 1999), 5–10.
Fällman, Daniel. “The Interaction Design Research Triangle of Design Practice, Design Studies, and Design Exploration.” Design Issues, Vol. 24, No. 3, Summer 2008 (pp. 4-18).
Michel, Ralf, ed. Design Research Now. Basel: Birkhäuser Basel, 2007. Web. 20 Mar 2011.
Miles, Malcolm. “Picking Up Stones: Design Research and Urban Settlement.” Design Issues 17.2 (2011) : 32-52. Web. 20 Mar 2011.
Ralf, Michel (ed.). Design Research Now: Essays and Selected Projects. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2007 (pp. 55-66).
Roth, Susan. “The State of Design Research.” Design Issues 15.2 (1999) : 18-26. Web. 20 Mar 2011.