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Design research needs better standards

Postby Thathertz » December 1st, 2005, 4:23 am


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Why is it that Design is so far behind other academic disaplines in it's research pratices?

Case studies may seem practical since designers tend to work in small groups , and its difficult, timely and expensive to develop experiments with external validity. But their are many draw backs, focus groups and case studies provide insight into specific situations are a poor representation of the general public and broader circumstances outside of a controlled environment. The use of more broadly applicable research methods for designing research is pertinent, since the intention of design is often to consider the needs, emotions, and context a final product will be used in –how it will likely be used or function in a broad social environment. Case studies are intimatley focused, and base decisions on an unrepresentative segment of the population. If design’s goal is to achieve professional status, and credibility within the academic realm, Design theory, and design research must a adopt a reliable method for research related more akin to those used by existing social sciences

Case studies are only inferences....
Freud used case studies, and they developed many hypothesiss for the field of psychology, but as a evidence or theory they a extremly weak. So Why is design Still using methods abandoned by other "more established" disaplines?

Postby Guest » December 1st, 2005, 7:48 pm


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hmm.. guess no one cares.

Postby iab » December 2nd, 2005, 8:23 am


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First, I would like to say it is different and not necessarily worse. That said, I can think of two reasons off the top of my head. Also, my one qualifier is that I have little knowledge of academia, all of my experience is with business.

First is time and money (basically the same thing). I may be misinterpreting your post but it seems you are talking about qualitative methodologies. I have never dealt with a company that has the time or money to do qualitative research on the front end of product development. Business is responsible to the shareholders not the data. They will do qualitative on the back end for 510K compliance or clinicals.

Second is, we don’t have to. I can do research with one, yes that’s one respondent and successfully bring a product to market. It all depends on the respondent. If I get Tony Hawke to say my skateboard is great or Tiger Woods to like my golf club or the classic example of Michael Jordan giving thumbs up to my shoes, I don’t to spend any effort on broadening my research base. With the right thought leader, pardon my French, I will be sh*tting gold bricks. In general, you can get what you need from quantitative studies.

Finally, IMO, research is either watching someone/something or asking them questions, it’s not that complicated. I think there is little difference between Jane Goodall watching some monkeys and an IDer watching a teenager use their cell phone.

Postby Guest » December 2nd, 2005, 9:32 am


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... not to mention only some designers take interest in such "research", the public at large simply "suffers" through the (often atrocious) design bestowed on it and get on with the truly important issues in their lives. And there are more pressing needs out there than just such "research".

Postby Guest » December 13th, 2005, 9:56 pm


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okay i could now reply with an entire essay.. :D

Postby mrd » December 14th, 2005, 12:44 pm


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...the way i approach research is not so much how i do it or how much of it i do...i just do it...what ever my resources are and my circumstances will allow.

Re: Design research needs better standards

Postby Guest » January 2nd, 2006, 1:17 pm


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Thathertz wrote:Why is it that Design is so far behind other academic disaplines in it's research pratices?

So Why is design Still using methods abandoned by other "more established" disaplines?


Because Design is most markedly not science. I think you'll find that in the engineering design fields (such as product design; electrical design; mechanical design etc..) a scientific approach is often used, though perhaps not properly or stringently. In other fields of design (industrial, fashion, interior) the curriculum taught and the business practices don't support or encourage scientific methods. It's empirical at best, and non existant at worst.

Most art-based design students and practitioners flee conventional scientific boundaries, as they are aesthetic and "feel" driven. This is a real challenge for most companies, as usability and product testing often suffers. Take the case of the cell phone manufacturer Samsung. They have been turning out some fine new designs, and using interesting materials. However, their quality control and testing is abysmal - the same can be said of Nokia, and many others.

Consider the following statement: "Applying science to design takes the fun out of it".

The real issue lay with combining these two disciplines - art and science - into workable products. Most companies fail at this goal due to reasons far beyond the scope of this thread. It's partly in the dynamic of getting engineers and artists to work together.

Postby Cordy Swope » January 11th, 2006, 6:21 am


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iab wrote: I have never dealt with a company that has the time or money to do qualitative research on the front end of product development. Business is responsible to the shareholders not the data.


This is preceisely an argument FOR doing qualitative research on the front end of product development, which is incidentally 99% of the sort of work that I do. As was descirbed in a subsequent post, the need for doing some qualitative research at the beginning of product development arose from the fact that in the 80's, there were a lot of products that were design skin jobs, which were impossible to use (e.g. the pet-outrage of the time was the unprogrammable VCR).

Some design consultancies began to offer up "usability" in a rather direct answer to this issue. Others began to find that a "definition" phase often was beneficial in ensuring that the right features were included in the design. This in turn became widened in the 90's when some products (e.g. the Reebok Pump, various P&G offerings) succeeded as a result of a process of qualitative research combined with design and engineering. And now that the business press has gotten hold of these stories, practically every design firm who wants to be considered seriously is adopting qualitative research methods into the front end of their processes - a lot of them are doing so at the urging of their clients.

While the advent of 3-D printing and other types of rapid prototyping have sped up certain aspects of the product development process, the addition of more tools and techniques on the front end have made some firms expensive. But the price of NOT doing some sort of consumer understanding piece at the beginning is often and increased chance of failure in the market, which I would think most shareholders care about. The field of design research has grown out of - and benefitted from -shareholder frustration with stagnant growth.

Postby iab » January 12th, 2006, 4:05 pm


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Cordy Swope wrote:
This is preceisely an argument FOR doing qualitative research on the front end of product development, which is incidentally 99% of the sort of work that I do. As was descirbed in a subsequent post, the need for doing some qualitative research at the beginning of product development arose from the fact that in the 80's, there were a lot of products that were design skin jobs, which were impossible to use (e.g. the pet-outrage of the time was the unprogrammable VCR).

Some design consultancies began to offer up "usability" in a rather direct answer to this issue. Others began to find that a "definition" phase often was beneficial in ensuring that the right features were included in the design. This in turn became widened in the 90's when some products (e.g. the Reebok Pump, various P&G offerings) succeeded as a result of a process of qualitative research combined with design and engineering. And now that the business press has gotten hold of these stories, practically every design firm who wants to be considered seriously is adopting qualitative research methods into the front end of their processes - a lot of them are doing so at the urging of their clients.

While the advent of 3-D printing and other types of rapid prototyping have sped up certain aspects of the product development process, the addition of more tools and techniques on the front end have made some firms expensive. But the price of NOT doing some sort of consumer understanding piece at the beginning is often and increased chance of failure in the market, which I would think most shareholders care about. The field of design research has grown out of - and benefitted from -shareholder frustration with stagnant growth.


My bad. I meant to write quantitative instead of qualitative. Would that be a Freudian slip or just plain stupidity?

As for qualitative research, I can’t remember the last time a client didn’t want any.


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