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Informed By Design

June 1, 2004
Denise A. Guerin, PH.D., FIDEC, ASID, IIDA and

How to be a good consumer of design research.

FORUM | IDECWe all have somewhat different definitions of design research. We think of it as gathering product information, gathering client information, or producing new information that can be used by designers. The common denominator is that research requires us to collect data and apply them to a design solution. The difference comes in how we collect the data (e.g., informally or formally), how we analyze and use the data (e.g., eyeball the results and apply directly or statistically analyze), and how we add to the body of knowledge. Of course, there are many other examples that lie somewhere in between. No matter what our definition of research is or the way we collect and use data, our goal is to be good consumers of design research.Educators teach students various research strategies for systematically identifying problem parameters, determining the best method to gather information about the problem, and how to analyze and use the information found. As they become practitioners, they continue to develop good research techniques, and they learn to become good consumers of research. The goal of becoming a good consumer of design research is more important today because clients and designers are calling for evidence-based design solutions.The gap between research and practice, if not closing, is no longer getting wider. Today we hear about "research-based practice" and "practice-based research." The first one shows that designers have tools that allow them to use research findings to make design decisions. Their design criteria have some tested knowledge behind them, making it more likely that the design solution will "work." On the other hand, researchers are also collaborating with practitioners to do research in areas that are of importance.Researchers might actually interpret their research findings as design criteria, but that is typically not the case if the research comes from beyond design-related journals. For instance, researchers who publish in the Harvard Business Review or the Journal of Emergency Nursing are writing their findings for MBAs and medical professionals, respectively; neither considers designers as primary consumers of their research.The closing of the gap will commence when design practitioners, students, educators and researchers from all areas of investigation are on the same research page, or at least at the same communication level. This is occurring more quickly because of a new tool developed to transform research findings into evidence-based design criteria. The tool is InformeDesignTM, a Web site that contains a searchable database of research summaries on design and human behavior. InformeDesign currently contains more than 700 "practitioner-friendly" research summaries transformed from a wide variety of academic journals on design and human behavior. A research summary is a two- to three-page bulleted summary of a research article's purpose, rationale, design criteria, key concepts, methods, limitations and the citation. Between 400 and 500 research summaries will be added to the Web site each year. We currently pull articles from about 80 refereed journals both in design (such as Environment and Behavior, Housing and Society, and the Journal of Interior Design) and outside of design (such as the Journal of the American Medicine Association and Academy of Management Journal). A complete listing of all journals used is reported on the site under "Sources." The site is for ALL design practitioners: interior designers, facility managers, architects, landscape architects and even graphic designers . . . anyone who is interested in design and human behavior.So, if you are designing a school, you can go to www.informedesign.umn.edu, type in the key words "schools" and over 40 research summaries that has that key word anywhere in the text will come up on a list for you. Choose from "Designing Schoolyards Can Promote Play," "Children's Reading Skills Affected by Noise Exposure," "Health-Related Complaints in a Water-Damaged School," and many more. The information in each summary will help in your programming by providing information about the client's needs or issues related to the problem. The information can give you design criteria that you can implement in your schematic design. Or the information may be relevant to specifications you complete in design development.And, the best news of all . . . it's free! When you register on the site, you can enter many key words of interest. Then, whenever any new research summaries are added to the site that relate to your topic of interest, you are e-mailed a notification with a link directly to that new research summary. Additionally, by registering, you receive notification of Implications, the monthly newsletter.The bottom line: InformeDesign facilitates practitioners' use of research as a decision-making tool in the design process, thereby improving the quality of design solutions and enhancing the public's health, safety and welfare. Design practitioners, students, educators and even the public can become a better consumer of research through the use of this tool and implement evidence-based design criteria in solutions.

  • Denise A. Guerin is a Morse-Alumni Distinguished Professor of Interior Design in the Department of Design, Housing and Apparel at the University of Minnesota. She received IIDA's Michael Tatum Award for Excellence in Education Award and NCIDQ's Louis Tregue Award. She is the coordinator of InformeDesign and teaches ethics, business practice, interior design research and design studios. Caren S. Martin has practiced as an interior designer and project manager for 17 years in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. She is a governor appointee to Minnesota's licensing board and serves as that board's representative to NCIDQ. Martin is also a FIDER site visitor and an Affiliate Member of DHA's Graduate Faculty. She is the director of InformeDesign.Additionally, Drs. Martin and Guerin co-authored The Interior Design Profession's Body of Knowledge: Its Definition and Documentation.
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