Pushing design research outside the academia: My 5 favourite quotes about failure in design research

Last week I attended the DRS 2016 conference in UK. As the main topic of the event, Future-focused thinking was at the core in most of the discussions, debates and paper presentations.

During the event, I presented the paper 'What is sought from graphic designers? A first thematic analysis of job offers for graphic design positions in the United Kingdom', where we are discussing how education in (graphic) design can — or should- acknowledge requests from industry.

In the last day, it was offered for the participants to take postcards showing quotes regarding the failures in design research. I must recognise that the initiative came from Søren Rosenbak, PhD student at Umeå Institute of Design, Sweden.

As pretty much my research interest is regarding to design practice and integration between academia and industry, I selected my five favourites design research failures. As a very biased selection, my selected quotes are showing how other researchers are approaching the problem of integrating and applying design research. Below those 5 postcards and the full quote by the authors.

Design research fails because it stops at research. We need research. We need better principles and more evidence based procedures. But we shouldn't stop with ideas, plans and clever concepts. We need implementation. How can design be successful if it doesn't produce real, practical results? Design research must include the factors that impact implementation. There is a gulf between the design research community and those who transform the design ideas into practical results. How can design be successful if it doesn't produce real, practical results? That's the failure.

Don Norman — director of The Design Lab at University of California, San Diego.

In fifty year Design Research has very successfully developed into a compelling and viable research field of its own. This is both a blessing and a curse. Focus has been on the field, maybe unintentionally overlooking the external perspective. At the same time actors outside design have somehow made design more societally relevant, through concepts such ad Design Thinking, Product Development, Brand Building, Service Development, Sustainability, HCI, etc. That tension — between development and exposition — is necessary and inevitable, and we must advocate for the next generation to carry our work forward, by making it even more accessible and societally relevant.

Anna Valtonen — Dean at Aalto University School of Art, Design and Architecture

The main failure of design research relates to the fact that much remains theoretical and provides little evidence of the results being put into practice in the design of mainstream products, services and systems. Design practice appears not to be influenced greatly by design research and is slow to adopt the ideas that result. Researchers have not focussed enough on creating impact from their research in industry through changes in design practice. Research has been confined to creating new knowledge and disseminating that knowledge without considering how to have a wider impact beyond and educational context. Dissemination does not necessarily lead to impact.

Tracy Bhamra — Professor of Sustainable Design at Loughborough University

The value of Design research as a strategic lens to explore, and through which we can [try to] understand better our complex planet — addressing social, economic and environmental decisions — is increasingly being recognised among experts in academia and practice; primarily in developed countries. Design Research has consistently failed to transfer this knowledge to the wider audiences, to the non-experts, to the majority of the planet's population whose basic needs are still not satisfied in the so called 'digital era'. The realisation of this, and that people are only a piece of this symbiotic wider system, is a potent invitation for opening up new future.

Carolina Escobar Tello — Lecturer in Product/Industrial Design at Loughborough Design School

Not being able to reduce the gap with practice, which implies that knowledge generated by design research is useless for design practice. We hardly see practical designers in design research conferences or design researchers in professional conferences.

Not being able to develop a designerly way of methods. Designers are still relying on methods borrowed from other disciplines, which makes methods difficult to apply to design problems.

Not being able to catch up with new technologies and social paradigms such as IoT or crowd sourcing. Different technologies and users require different types of knowledge, methods and processes.

Kun-Pyo Lee — professor at Department of Industrial Design, KAIST, Korea

As stated before, I had a very biased selection of quotes regarding the integration of design outside the academic environment. Now I close this post returning the question: How design research has been failing in the past?

If you liked this topic, you can show your support by clicking in the icon below or sharing this post. Also, feel free to send me an e-mail: paulo.dziobczenski@aalto.fi — copy and paste is strongly recommended here, sorry for my not-easy-to-type last name :)

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