What is Design Research?
Let’s start from the basics: what is research? Well, research is ‘the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions. (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016) Design research is a little more complicated than just ‘concerns with what exists but more of what ought to be’. (Milton & Rodgers, 2013) It is a combination of the past and present, using it has a reference to produce better design that suits the needs of the present and future.
Design Research Methods
In my previous projects, various methods of primary and secondary research are used to broaden my perspective of design possibilities and appropriateness. In the book ‘Research Methods for Product Design’ which was a recommended read during first year of university, gave a lot of insight in the vast types of research methods and categorised them into three main sectors: Asking, Learning and Looking.
This sector revolves around questioning and includes: questionnaires, surveys, interviews, market/retail analyses and hands-on analysis. These methods are one of the more popular ones that designers tend to lean toward; it’s easy and straightforward. During my research for my projects, interviews over-ride written surveys and this is because interviews are more details and more interactive. We are able to provoke the interviewee to elaborate more on their thoughts and answers, not only that but we are also able to observe their facial expressions and actions which will either further justify or contradict their answers.
This sectors relates more to the past and current state of mind, for example: competitor product analysis, literature reviews, internet sources and try it yourself. Most of my research revolves around competitor product analysis and this is because; in order for you to do better, you must know what exists and what is lacking. A great ‘try it yourself’ example would be the design of the ‘Flow Hive’ (Good Design, 2016), although the designer is a farmer himself, it is obvious that to make good design you must understand the design and it’s environment. Both Cedar Anderson and Stuart Anderson lived and breathed honey thus they were always in contact with the environment; understanding the behaviours of bees and certain situations that could irritate them (e.g. pests). Therefore, by understanding and interacting with the actual source, a designer is able to provide a higher quality design and become more aware of what is appropriate.
Although most of my research revolves around ‘Learning’, I find that the Looking sectors of research is the most effective and this involves: video and photo diaries, a day in a life, personal belongings, scenarios and trend spotting. We as designers cannot always get a hands on experience when it engages with more professional personnel and requires more skills. Thus we choose the alternate and observe the likes of how a professional works and acts during a span of a period of time. By observing, we start to see sub-conscious behaviours that occur which might be bypassed when the personnel are interviewed or when we do it ourselves as we are not there on a daily basis to create such subtle habits. During the one-day waste audit, I realised I was integrating both Learning and Looking; I was consciously trying it myself but also living a day in a life of my family. While acting on my own waste management, I started to observe my family and how they hand their waste and how much waste they were producing. This is where we realise that we must integrate a number of different design research methods in order for us, as designers, to get a better understanding of our target.
Good Design Awards. 2016, Flow Hive, viewed 14 June 2016,
Milton, A. & Rodgers, P. 2013, Research Methods for Product Design, Laurence King Publishing Ltd, London.
Oxford Dictionaries. 2016, viewed 14 June 2016, <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/research>