Design Educators Community

Design Research Database

February 15, 2011 / By admin

The Design Research Database is in the early stages of development. It recognizes the importance of research to the growth and development of the design discipline. Unfortunately, the community lacks a resource that provides strong examples of design research. Those interested in this initiative hope to address this problem by developing a design research database. This endeavor is a costly one to see to fruition and maintain. Thus, we’re reaching out to all educators for help and suggestions.Please send us your ideas

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  • Steven McCarthy

    In American academic culture, the term ‘design research’ is fraught with internal conflict. While most graphic design faculty agree that rigor and excellence are necessary components of a respectable design research agenda, there is disagreement about the value system required to ensure those qualities. What are the appropriate methods, venues, scope, audiences and outcomes for design research? How might the discipline’s leadership guide the field toward a more reputable – but not necessarily more institutionalized – design research culture?

    A major challenge to consider is the discipline’s varied forms of creative production, as design faculty:
    — produce traditional scholarship (conference presentations and peer-reviewed journal articles)
    — write for the design trade press (as critics or journalists, or for publishers with broad appeal),
    — create commissioned commercial designs (often published in competition ‘annuals’)
    — curate themed exhibitions
    — create speculative works (experimental designs or fine art for exhibition),
    — use design methodology itself to investigate a topic (design authorship, critical design),
    — engage in “alternative critical writing,”1 – blending fact and fiction, or objectivity and subjectivity, often under a literary alias (typically published in the alternative press).

    Although academic cultures vary by discipline and institution, the act of blind peer review or impartial jury is a universal assumption in the dissemination of research. This ensures that scholarship competes on its own merits and that personal relationships, collegial ties or other conflicts of interest don’t enable bias or contribute to a class system. “At issue [in graphic design research] are standards that fall short of being egalitarian, transparent or readily attainable.”2 While invitational inclusion – for example, by an editor or curator – can signal the relative importance of a scholarly or creative work, this context must be recognized for its potential hazards.

    Besides building the discipline’s body of knowledge and bolstering teaching, design research productivity is viewed as critical in cases of faculty tenure and promotion, and for building institutional status. Standards that are both more established and more inclusive of innovative research methods and outcomes will help reward rigor. Venues that are primarily oriented toward the design profession, and its role in the marketplace (self-promotion, gaining clients, capturing entry fees or selling magazines), should be scrutinized for their value to design research. Venues that are primarily oriented toward fine art (art-making, gallery exhibits and dealer relationships) should also be examined for their relevancy. Appropriate cases may be made for both, but the value system ought to be harnessed by design research, not the other way around.

    The growing number of graduate programs educating doctoral students is another consideration in the formulation of a coherent design research culture. As research involving qualitative and quantitative methodologies, analysis of data, evaluation of survey results, and more discursive writing has greater impact on the discourse, how will the current value system – which is dominated by the creative practice-based MFA – integrate with this emerging one?

    The challenge is thus defined: graphic design research must evolve into a more coherent and rigorous culture, while also incorporating innovative methods and new ideas.

    1. Gonzales Crisp, D. (2009) “Discourse This: Designers and Alternative Critical Writing” Design and Culture. United Kingdom: Berg. Volume 1, Issue 1. (105-120)

    2. FitzGerald, K. (2010) “Designers are Material” Volume: Writings on Graphic Design, Music, Art, and Culture (in manuscript). New York: Princeton Architectural Press. (unpaginated)