Meredith Davis’s article “Building a Culture of Design Research” definitely struck a chord with me. I was really frustrated with the opening anecdote on the study done on the prevalence of research in undergraduate study, especially that “for most undergraduate students, research means library retrieval only and focuses on the subject matter of their design, not on the characteristics of users or context.” I’ve been told time and time again in the last year or two that to be a successful designer, it’s necessary to immerse yourself in all kinds of subjects, in the design field or otherwise. Of course, it’s critical to research the specific subject for a particular project, but we cannot just be limited to that. If we fail to also research audience and user needs, cultural or societal context, existing competition or attempts at a solution or other big-picture topics, I don’t think it’s truly possible to arrive at the best solution. It makes me sad that that’s a component missing in so many undergraduate (and graduate) programs given the way our role as designers has shifted. Davis noted this change, saying that the “goal today [in design] is not to simplify things, as we did under modernism, but to manage them” and that “design is no longer at the cosmetic end of a decision-making food chain but a necessary partner with a variety of disciplinary experts.”
Davis also said that “undergraduate curricula generally infer that the way to begin work on a design problem is by drawing, that solutions reside in an abstract visual language, and that reading and writing belong primarily to the domains of history and criticism.” This statement completely embodies one of my biggest struggles as a designer. I identify much more as an analytical than a creative thinker, and over the past four years, I’ve found myself very challenged when I start a project from a visual place. I find myself brainstorming more using words than sketches, which always seemed like the wrong way to do it in such a visual field. And yet, it seems to work better for me. The projects where I’ve started with research or writing, like our capstone project, I’ve found to be much more conducive to developing my thinking in a stronger way, which then leads to a stronger end product – both visually and content-wise. I’m incredibly glad that my education has allowed me to develop research skills that I might not have in other programs – I feel much more prepared as a thinker, which has helped me immensely to be prepared as a designer.
Source: Building a Culture of Design Research, Meredith Davis. https://segd.org/building-culture-design-research-0