Article for IDPure 34, 2014.
Original article in French, translation not mine.
What does it actually mean to do research in design? The very mention of research in design often raises inquisitive eyebrows. Pharmaceutical, chemical, material research—in brief, scientific research—is a less obscure domain, and while highly specialist, it is no less comprehensible by the average person, whether that be in relation to its aim or means of operation (white coats included). But what does it really mean to do research in the area of applied art? And what would the purpose of it really be?
In order to try and outline a response to these questions, I suggest we demystify a little the term research (“what does it mean?”) and its process (“how do we do research?”). […]
A simple way of defining research could be the following: researching is discovering, creating, and organizing information and knowledge about a topic, then publishing it. These activities do not play an equal role according to the project or the stage at which they are found. They may overlap and sometimes play an unassuming role. There are many reasons that can make research difficult to understand: this process is not necessarily easy to describe, yet it is entirely possible to carry it out locally and simply (and without even realizing it). Let's try, then, to analyze the different stages to learn more.
One element exists, however, even before the start of the research; it is something inside us, that we all have—we can call it fascination, incomprehension, curiosity, a desire for rebellion, whatever you like—it is the thing that pushes us to ask questions about the world. This curiosity leads to the formulation of a question. It can be very simple, or very complex; it may find its origin in an attraction toa subject, in a problem encountered on a daily basis, in a glance at an intriguing or mundane object. This is what makes research important and interesting: a question mark is the starting point for many adventures. The question of research builds a framework: what am I trying to understand, and in what context? We also return to this question when we run out of other options, or when we feel like we are losing our way. […]
Creating may also be a designer’s favorite aspect. […] In research, we create knowledge (or know-how) and this with the help of the tools that are very familiar to us, since they are the same as those that we use in our practice. To this, we add a way of seeing the world, or grasping it, which we can borrow from other areas—philosophy, anthropology, ergonomics—but also anticipation, humor, or dreams (why not). […]
Since this type of research is principally fundamental, the knowledge that it generates is not always easily quantifiable, particularly in relation to financial returns. Yet in the current economic context, centered on immediate returns and a model that is moving towards maximum productivity, we could be tempted to minimize the importance of research in the domain of design. However, this would be sawing off the leg of the ergonomic chair that we are sitting on. […] Let’s encourage research in higher education in order to recover its legitimacy. It is a question of making it visible and of encouraging student initiatives; we ought to give it a chance to develop and imagine the world of tomorrow.