Semantics: "Design Research" and "User Research"

29 Mar 2008 - 3:13pm
6 years ago
5 replies
771 reads
Rob Tannen
2006

I often see (and use) the terms Design Research and User Research interchangeably, although I believe they are overlapping, but different.

-Design Research: This is the broader term. It can refer to the study of design itself (meta-research, if you will). It can also refer to research done in the context of design, but that can include research on materials, processes, users, etc. For example, comparing different types of display technologies, from the perspectives of cost, power consumption or legibility are all cases of design research.

-User Research: The study of the users of a product or system (or potential users for a new one), that can include ethnography, usability testing, etc to inform the appropriate design of that product.

So according to my definitions, User Research is really a type of Design Research, and not all Design Research is User Research.

Is there any consensus on this (loaded question)?

Best Regards,

Rob Tannen, PhD
Director of Research

direct 215-209-3042
main 215-561-5100
www.bresslergroup.com

Comments

29 Mar 2008 - 3:54pm
trevvg
2006

Hi Rob,
I agree with your definitions and organization of those terms hierarchically. At the same time, it reflects your understanding of the term "design" as a designer, rather than as user.

It seems that most people outside of the design profession tend to interpret the term "design" as exclusively referring to "visual design". This could be slightly confusing for some people, and may create problems. I can see people thinking that user testing going on within design research is exclusively addressing "look and feel issues". I suppose it depends on the relative design maturity off your intended audience.

Trevor van Gorp, BFA, M.E.Des,
Principal, affective design
BLOG: www.affectivedesign.org

29 Mar 2008 - 7:09pm
christine chastain
2008

Hi Rob,
I was wondering when someone would bring this up...but what of those
of us that do usability studies and in the next breath tackle
questions like "What is the meaning of clean air?" I find true
differences, except in persons actually doing the research, so
difficult to define!

Thanks for your post!
Christine

29 Mar 2008 - 9:55pm
Paula Wellings
2008

[cross-post, cross reply] :)

In my experience in educational research, design research is generally the
practice of designing a curriculum or another type of designed intervention
and seeing how this new practice or artifact changes the environment and the
practices that people engage in. In academic educational research, design
research is sometimes frowned upon by both ethnographic oriented researchers
and experimental oriented researchers because the ethnographic researchers
see the intervention as disrupting the existing nature of the studied
environment and experimental researchers have problems with the fact that
the design is often iterated during the research process, leading to all
sorts of confounds in the findings. Additionally, some design research is
focused towards creating a particular product/curriculum/intervention, which
is different than designing artifacts to answer more fundamental question
about human psychology/sociology/development. This is a point of tension, in
that the validity of findings for a particular product can be highly
contextual and short lived compared to the answer to more fundamental
questions that ideally have applicability across a number of contexts and
time spans.

Outside of the academic research environment, I see design research to be
quite an exciting practice of integrating understanding people and
environments with understanding the role of new designs in people's lives.
It does seem much more pragmatic in application, which is why in the
educational research context, teachers are often quite excited by design
research practices. The findings are relatively immediate and actionable, if
still methodologically questionable.

In my world of definitions, I'm not sure if one category really is bigger
than the other with regards to comparing Design Research and User Research.
Sort of like saying apples include oranges, but oranges don't include
apples. Design research is generally conducted within some sort of applied
context. User research may be too, but user research can also include need
finding, shadowing, observation, usability testing, etc.

That be my 2 cents. ;)

30 Mar 2008 - 9:18am
Dan Saffer
2003

On Mar 29, 2008, at 1:13 PM, Rob Tannen wrote:

> So according to my definitions, User Research is really a type of
> Design Research, and not all Design Research is User Research.
>
> Is there any consensus on this (loaded question)?

This is how I've always used the terms, although in academic circles
"design research" can mean research about design. Sigh.

User research is a huge part of design research, but there are methods
that designers users to do research that have nothing to do with
users. Competitive analysis, literature reviews, general environment/
content inquiries, etc.

Dan

31 Mar 2008 - 1:38pm
gretchen anderson
2005

Design Research is research that informs the design of a
product/products that may or may not involve talking to users.

User Research is research that involves talking to users. It most often
is used to inform the design of a product but might also be used to
define an opportunity area before a product has specifically been
envisioned.

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Rob
Tannen
Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2008 1:14 PM
To: IxDA Discuss
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] Semantics: "Design Research" and "User Research"

I often see (and use) the terms Design Research and User Research
interchangeably, although I believe they are overlapping, but different.

-Design Research: This is the broader term. It can refer to the study
of design itself (meta-research, if you will). It can also refer to
research done in the context of design, but that can include research on
materials, processes, users, etc. For example, comparing different
types of display technologies, from the perspectives of cost, power
consumption or legibility are all cases of design research.

-User Research: The study of the users of a product or system (or
potential users for a new one), that can include ethnography, usability
testing, etc to inform the appropriate design of that product.

So according to my definitions, User Research is really a type of Design
Research, and not all Design Research is User Research.

Is there any consensus on this (loaded question)?

Best Regards,

Rob Tannen, PhD
Director of Research

direct 215-209-3042
main 215-561-5100
www.bresslergroup.com

________________________________________________________________
Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

Syndicate content Get the feed