School Survey: 2005

Research—Its Role in North American Design Education

In reporting on architecture and design, we have found that notable advancements often result from systematic inquiry: a study of visual perception might produce a new wayfinding system, or an analysis of the human body may lead to an innovative task chair. But we also realize that design is essentially an intuitive, not a methodical, process. So where does applied research—a formal investigation to find a solution to a specific practical problem—fit in?

We dedicated our annual education survey to answering this question and examining how research is perceived and carried out in the design fields. Between April 6 and May 20, 1,051 design educators, students, and practitioners in six disciplines completed our Web-based survey, which in addition to posing general questions asked respondents to give a definition of design research and cite recent projects that have incorporated it. Their answers revealed that while most academics and professionals consider research fundamental to their work, opinions of what counts as research vary widely.

Designers in all disciplines list surfing the Internet as one method; other cited methods include canvassing materials and finishes or looking at historic precedents. Critical-thinking exercises and history classes qualify at the undergraduate level. “The research that my students do can best be described as trolling the ocean of information with nets of their own construction,” one respondent remarks.

Where applied research is being done, at the graduate and professional levels, quality and consistency seem to be lacking. “When I compare the research that my sister’s chemistry students do to what my design students do, my approach seems like a desperate attempt to pump education into a vacuum rather than an orderly process based on shared knowledge,” one frustrated educator says.

Look at these pages to find out how design research is being funded, where findings are published, and what areas are in need of further study.

Click the links below to download and view PDF versions of the 2005 school survey:

2005 School Survey – Results

Supporting Material:

2005 School Survey – Participating Schools
2005 School Survey – Participating Firms and Designers
2005 School Survey – Research Conducted by Designers
Graphic: Which Research Areas Are Well-Funded?
Graphic: Do Practicing Designers Rely on Student Research?

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