Design research seeing broader adoption — but challenges remain
Architecture and engineering firms Perkins Eastman and Ewing Cole have released a white paper discussing the challenges and opportunities for successfully incorporating design research into improved design delivery.
"Where Are We Now? Elevating Design Practice through Design Research" is based on findings from a 29-question survey on design research roles and responsibilities including students, educators, designers and design research professionals. Among survey takers, only 25% said incorporating research into the standard design process is either easy or very easy, while another 25% reported incorporating research is difficult, and an additional 17% said it’s very difficult (one-third of participants were neutral on the subject).
- While some survey respondents reported struggling with keeping up to date on technology and software to guide design research, finding workarounds and creating alternative tools helped with solution discovery and often led to unanticipated innovations.
At the architectural end of the AEC universe, it can perhaps be easy to understand how research not only informs but incorporates a large portion of the design process. Since its formation as a discipline in the early 1960s, design research has sought to expand both the concept and the embedded role of research is design work, particularly as it incorporates interaction design — involving the human/computer interaction evolution — and software development.
And yet enterprise investment into design research remains threadbare. The Perkins Eastman survey analysis found many firms simply don’t have enough billable work to support a research unit, creating staffing, overhead and salary challenges to fund research.
Established BIM and design software firms have been successful in funding organic research design and also acquiring it, as Autodesk did with New York City–based architect and researcher David Benjamin’s The Living design studio in 2014 as a foray into construction typology and materials research.
As it relates to construction technology, design research is frequently battle-tested in the 3-D printing arena, most notably at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which in the past several months announced active research and development projects to create a 3-D-printed excavator as well as set a new world record for the largest 3-D printed component using robotic arm technology.
Post-occupancy property and asset management isn’t bereft of its design research adherents either. Case in point: coworking space developer WeWork, which in August 2016 began an exhaustive analysis of the architectural planning, programming and design of the modern workplace.