The three types of Research that are associated with Design and its practice are Research into Design, Research through design and Research for Design. These different denotations fall under the larger umbrella of Research by Design; “Hauberg calls it strategy, is used to describe the various ways in which design and research are interconnected when new knowledge is produced about the world through the act of designing” (Roggema, 2016, p3). The same article discusses the different stages of research through design with analysis, projection and synthesis being the most ground level form of the research models that exist or can be conceived. Joanne Mendel’s journal article on ‘Taxonomy of Research Models’ brings a four stage model –Discover-Reframe-Envision-Create. The author also gives us methodologies used in each stage of the design process, where the latter stages are defined by the nature of the design outcome.
As an example to aptly describe and differentiate these terms I would like to look at the process of designing a user experience. User experience as a term has gained immense importance in the last decade with the growth of HCI (Human Computer Interaction) in the Knowledge Age. The process or evolution of advancement in this field has come about by revisiting the ‘ontological aspects’ (Godin, Zahedi) of an ‘experience’. How can a physical act of accessing a service or product digitally, which might be linked to the consumer’s mind emotionally, be differentiated in the market space from other competitors?
In this case Research through design could be used to envision scenarios, create SWOT analysis, trend reports, customer journey maps and so on to find a golden link between the consumer and the emotional appeal of the brand. These action based frameworks and tools are often supported by theory grounded in research and creation of a new knowledge base – “In user experience model, the UX construct can be well-defined with a set of indicators. The first part is the user satisfaction towards the product..It is created when the user can easily and comfortably reach his or her usage goals with the product, when a smooth interaction is created by a seamless change of operation and system feedback, and when information is presented in an innovative, clever way” (Smith, 2017)
Thus we can pick out two to three points in the above statement that form a base for further research into design for the same context (brand landscape) with separate brands. For e.g. if Nike and Adidas were to launch a new store, their goals or ontological view of what they want to achieve would be same. However, they would have different approaches based on their brand vision, their tools for insight generation and their outcome.
Research into design would be taking a deep dive into the epistemological and ontological aspects of user experience and looking at it from a socio cultural perspective. There are academic papers and journals articles that explore the underlying layers of user experience design and might have a more critical outlook towards the same. “Given experience’s psychological nature, a starting point for this research has been the question: What is user experience? The main approach of this work has been the development of empirical and analytic methods for evaluating qualitative representations of UXs” (Rousi, 2013, p 17) In her doctorate research paper titled ‘From Cute to Content – User Experience from a Cognitive Semiotic Perspective’ Rousi underpins the way users perceive experience, and critically examines research through design itself with a scenario that a certain experience could be shaped momentarily according to the user’s state of mind, having little to do with the physical experience he or she is meant to be encountering. Research through design, in a way, questions and provides new perspectives on the existing knowledge base.
Research for Design as pointed out by Frayling is constitutes research with a small r- “what Picasso considered was gathering of reference materials rather than the research proper” (Frayling, 93/94, p 5). Thus this would be research done while assimilating all the different visual or other sensory elements of the outcome of the user experience. In this case the research is projected in the outcome itself. In a way the weight of the term ‘design’ in this case has a lot more weightage. If a customer walks into a Nike store and successfully makes a purchase, then research for design could be proven insightful.
A critically humorous take on user experience from Dilbert Comics
Simon Grand, Wolfgang Jonas Mapping Design Research
D. Godin and M. Zahedi Aspects of Research through Design
R. Roggema Research by Design
Joanne Mendel – Taxonomy of research models
R Rousi From Cute to Content – User experience from a cognitive semiotic perspective