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Design Research
Brenda Laurel amassed a diverse body of work in Design Research, a book that attempts to shed light on the methods and processes that go into the work we do.

As Peter Lunenfeld points out in his introduction, there are “too many definitions of design.” And one could argue that there are too many definitions of design research. Where does it happen? When does it happen? Who becomes involved? The book’s four chapters attempt to categorize design research into four domains: people, form, process, and action. As design evolves and changes with people, technology, and society, we will no doubt see new categories emerge.

But one will always exist: people. Design solves problems for people, it addresses their particular needs. Any designer that has an understanding of people will have an advantage, and designing for the internet is a case in point. But even before hotlinks and URLs, marketing and advertising utilized focus groups to gauge how people interact and react to goods, products, and communication. Christopher Ireland’s “Qualitative Methods” was a good primer on some of the tasks, tools, and methods for organizing and evaluating focus groups. Few designers have an understanding of how focus groups could shape their work, and Ireland touched on how qualitative research can make projects “brilliant.”

The “form” chapter explores how research shapes a project’s evolution and translation. Research, focus groups, and data mining will only get you so far. There comes a point when you must visualize—put pen to paper, pixel to pixel. Most of this chapter seems speculative on the surface, largely because its authors (researchers) are innovating and inventing. Anne Burdick’s DEMO on innovative methods of designwriting challenges the perceptions and tools we use to transcribe our thoughts. We may see something in the near future that resembles neither Word nor a simple notepad, but instead would be a “space for writing.” Such a space could be customized, and flexed/contracted to meet our unique style of writing. Moveable Type is one example of a space where writing happens, where writing is shared, and then archived for later.

Section three, entitled “process”, felt like the richest chapter. How does a designer manifest form? Are there better ways to generate ideas than thumbnails? Call it procedural or operational, but how we go about designing to meet the objective(s) can be crazed, organized, linear, or fragmented. Full of maps, schemas, flow charts, and PowerPoint slides, “process” attempts to shed light on what works and what gets in the way of seeing a concept from its origin to conclusion.

“Action” closes the book. Many of its articles deal with gaming and interactive design because as Laurel points out, “…games are currently the most exuberant region of the flat-lined technology sector.” She wrote this in 2003, and with it being 2005, I have to say that she’s still on target. Designers, programmers, and advertisers are placing a lot of emphasis on games and devices for gaming. Movies and film make brief appearances in this chapter as well.

Design Research makes a good introductory reader for those looking for a primer on research methods and strategies. Its language and style of writing will not overwhelm you with thick run-on sentences. In each section, a DEMO gives a brief case study that profiles the work of one design researcher with adequate illustrations and photography to visualize their discoveries.

In all, this book would make a nice addition to the classroom and is suitable for senior-level or graduate students. Design Research’s articles could be put to practice and form the basis for assignments or stimulate group discussion among a seminar group.

Book Information
Design Research by Brenda Laurel
336 pages, Hardcover
9.2 x 7.3 x 1.0 inches
Publisher: MIT Press
ISBN: 0262122634
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PUBLISHED ON May.13.2005 BY Jason A. Tselentis