Design Research: It’s Research But It’s Not Science
Everyone and their mothers have been moving to Austin. Sometimes it’s for a job, sometimes it’s because they hear it’s a cool and weird oasis city. After living here for a while their friends from whatever city they came from ask them, “what’s so special about Austin? How does it move you, and why should I move there?” The answer totally depends on the person. It’s subjective.
Everyone in the innovation industry is moving towards design thinking and with that comes design research as a technique and methodology for collecting qualitative data. When a traditional boardroom client encounters a design researcher for the first time they will ask, “what’s so special about design research? How does it move you, and how does it move my business?”
The answer is hopefully personalized to each designer’s own subjective, creative process and how they interpret design research. No matter what, clients are taking a leap into newness (which is what defines innovation).
It’s tempting to formulate structures and frameworks to give the peculiar practice a backbone of intellect and explicit wisdom. But I would suggest that there is danger in overdeveloping the methods. It could lead to the limiting stiffness that the hard sciences struggle with. For design thinking to be relevant in innovation, it needs to have the flexibility and agility to morph and improve itself outside of strict frameworks. This is where design research differs from scientific research.