Consider this common scenario:
An interior designer is designing a busy healthcare clinic. The clinic’s lobby needs to accommodate many anxious clients waiting for their appointments. The designer understands that the patients will likely be stressed and anxious. However, he is unaware of research on how to diminish stressors in the environment. Even if he was aware of the research, he’s too busy to read a lengthy article, so he discusses some options with a colleague, follows his intuition, and hopes for the best outcome.
Design scholars have long lamented the lack of research utilization (how much research influences decisions ) by design practitioners. For instance, in the 90’s, Dickson and White conducted a survey of designers and found that 47 percent of their sample never consulted scholarly journals. The most commonly used information sources were identified as product catalogs, design magazines, and textbooks.
On the other hand, designers may deride the efforts of researchers, citing findings as ill-suited for their use, esoteric, or difficult to understand. Thomas Fisher, dean of the College of Design and a professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota (2004), jokingly suggested that architects were “allergic to data tables and descriptive statistics.”
Recently, the value placed on rigorous design research has increased. For example, the popularization of the design thinking movement provided designers with an approachable, yet systematic methodology for collecting data through pre-design observations, and interior designers can now seek accreditation in evidence-based design. However, my recent study collected information on how design practitioners use research, where they find information, and how much time they spend reviewing sources, and found that we still have a ways to go.
While open-ended responses suggested that interior designers do value research, their research-related tasks largely consist of analyzing design trends, product research and prototyping, and understanding what a client desires. Relatively few designers reported that they conduct on-site observations, inquiries about human behavior and environmental psychology, and post-occupancy evaluations.
The research revealed that the sources of information most frequently used by designers include product literature, conferences and trade shows, and professional organizations. Very few suggested that they reviewed academic journals. This may be due to the fact that designers often face intense time pressures, with tight deadlines on multiple projects. As a case in point, 49 percent of the designers surveyed said that they allotted less than 10 minutes to reviewing an information source.
As a result, a great deal of useful information is not being seen by those who could use it to inform design decisions, impacting those who will use the space for years to come. The potential advantages for practitioners who use peer-reviewed research are:
- The designers are equipped with non-biased knowledge to inform their decisions.
- More informed design decisions may lead to improved outcomes that have long-lasting, positive influences on clients and end users.
- The profession of interior design is advanced by the application of research findings.
As a former design practitioner myself, my research seeks to determine the best methods for communicating research findings. To date, I have conducted studies testing designer responses to different types of research documents and their media preferences for receiving design information. My most recent study centers on learning about designers’ information-gathering strategies.
Given the busy schedules of many design professionals, it is difficult to find willing and qualified study participants. If you’d like to participate in a short survey about information-gathering strategies (and be entered to win a $50 Amazon Gift card), visit Design Research Survey.
For additional details and technical information, please see the full article – Research Utilization in the Design Decision Making Process.
About the Author
Amy Huber is an assistant professor in the department of Interior Architecture and Design at Florida State University. Prior to pursing academia full-time, she was a project designer for the Denver office of Gensler. Her research focuses on design communication, technology, and research utilization.