Design Research Career?

First post here, so first off hello all,

I am currently in my senior year of schooling for Industrial Design, and am starting to go through that semi quarter life crisis period that most seniors go through at some point. As stressful as it has been, it has really helped to me to think about the path that I want to take upon graduating. I have always had a strong interest in sociology, ethnography, and the research end of the design process, but never really thought of it as a possible career path, until recently. So my question is, now what? I have been told a mixture of things of how to pursue a design research career, but no one seems to have a real direct concrete path.

Is there any formal schooling, undergrad or masters programs? Or do most people come from Anthropological/Sociological/Ethnographical backgrounds? What would be my next step to take in order to pursue a career in design research?

I am all ears and very thankful for any help or advice!


…welcome, kt…i am not aware of any programs for design research…you might contact design science or sonic rim or others who specialize in this field, i have attended several design research seminars from these folks over the years and i found them to be very helpful…i have done quite a bit of practical work in this area as well because i find traditional market research to be fatally flawed, virtually useless and often detrimental to the design process…i wish you all the best in your last bit at uni and hope that you find your niche in the design community…


It is a really cool field! I have worked hard to incorporate the processes of ethnography in to my own design philosophy and approach after studing them in college. It is an immerging field; quite a few design consultancies are expanding by incorporating design researchers, and ethnographers.

Another comapny to contact about this path is Lextant. I met an few of their design researchers at a conference and the majority of them had B.F.A.'s in I.D. first as well. I think IIT in Chicago has a design researcher masters program. Anyway good luck, it is a fun journey! Send me a private messsage if you need contact names and numbers.

Thanks mrd and RAVE12 for the insight! I checked out those companies, and they are all on target with what I am looking to do.

RAVE12, you mentioned :

I met an few of their design researchers at a conference and the majority of them had B.F.A.'s in I.D. first as well.

Do you know if after getting their BFA’s in ID did they then go back and get a secondary degree in order to pursue design research? I will graduate in December 2007 with a BFA in ID and a minor in Sociology, so I am currently evaluating whether or not to go straight back to school for a second degree or to go straight into the “working world.” I am currently in the process of sending out resumes and teasers to firms for possible internships over the summer, and am hoping that I am able to land one with a firm with a prominent design research area so that I am able to explore this possible career path further.

If anyone else has any input on my “now what?!” question, I am all ears!

Thanks again,


Hi KT,

I am Director of Research and Design Planning at Ignition, a product design firm in Dallas, TX. There are a couple of good graduate design programs out there where you can learn about many strategic design methods such as design research. I would highly recommend working a few years before selecting one.

My alma matre happens to be the Institute of Design at IIT in Chicago, You can also check out the Stanford Institute of Design, Stanford

Good luck in your classes and never stop learning. Don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you ever have any questions,

kind regards,



Thank you for the info on the graduate programs, I had looked into the program at ITT in Chicago, but had not yet looked at Stanford.

As the Director of Research and Design Planning, what qualifications do you look for in possible Design Research job candidates? Is it viable for for a person with a B.F.A. in Industrial Design to go for a Design Research position straight out of school?

Thank you again for all of your help!

Best regards,


Katie I think we are in a similar boat…I am thinking of doing research.
I like to learn and I like research work too. But I have a dilenma :

Do we need to go to a college to do research ? There are millions and millions of countless things that interest me but can a college actually instill the idea of true research ?

I have some opinions here:
true learning may not require one to go through college. A good college provides a framework and delievers a set of research skills. However saying that a good learner would have been able to get those skills without paying for them. Its visible to the earnest learner.

But I must admit colleges wouldnot take in anyone to teach at University if they do not have the postgrad…but have they wondered that some postgrads don’t meet knowledge standards too ?

just wondering and babbling here.

but I seriously think that its better to gain some work experience
travelling around before setting out to do design research.

I was once involved with design research. My experience had my employers hiring PhD anthropologists and psy people for the heady, thoughtful, parts and giving the grunt work to the ID people.

You might end up doing something like logging hours and hours and hours and hours of video of hand movements into some kind of spreadsheet, operating a still or video camera of interviews or usability testing for above logging, or repeating the same 1 hour usability test to 10 different people a day five days in a row for usability testing.

Often we’d spend weeks or months analyzing mountains of data just to have some kind of statistic (that the client usually wouldn’t understand anyway) that states something that seemed pretty obvious from the beginning. There IS a need, sometimes a critical need, for this kind of research and verfication for SOME things, but it’s pretty dry stuff, especially if you’re an ID person.

If you still think you want to do it, there are plenty of good research focused grad programs in ID, although from my own experiences I think you might be better served getting something like a human factors or anthro degree. My experiences taught me that ID’ers don’t get a lot of respect doing pure design research. We’re thought to have inferior research skills to the Phds and our design skills aren’t needed in that environment at all.

That was just my experience though, its possibly different other places.

I also noticed of the research quality for design is really low compared to engineering or humanties. So you are not the only one who thinks like that. However I do think a designer who is creative in design, and research is someone who will be making waves in the field.

Ohio State has been very influential to the design-research scene. There’s a particular professor there I believe that influenced the design world with Participatory methods. Anyone know who I’m talking about? Fitch, Lextant, Sonic Rim, Big Red Rooster, Black Hagen I think all had connections in some way that traced back.

From my experience I would recommend IIT Institute of Design first and the “D School” at Stanford second.

KT, are you at MIAD or UW Stout?

thanks for all the great feedback… i am trying to take a break at figuring out my life plan and just design for the summer now! And luckily enough I landed a internship that is allowing me to do a lot of ethnographical work…


I am at Stout, one semester left. I predict great things coming out of the program there in the future, and I’m not just saying that… We have definitely gone through our changes in the last four years (whether leadership, curriculum, or faculty you name it), but are on the up and out with some fresh young blood…


Kt, I am also interested in design research, and was curious if you had any updates on your search. I am going to be a senior at MIAD this year.

Please let me know how this is going, I am starting to check into grad schools as well.

Have a look at the graduate interdisciplinary design scienceprogram at U of Michigan.