What is Design Research? An Interview with D.S Nicholas, RA, AIA, NCARB of Drexel University

By Sharon Leshner on Sep 27, 2016

Photo courtesy of Drexel University

Design Research Symposium 
Friday October 14th | 12:30PM - 8:00PM
URBN Center | 3501 Market Street, Philadelphia PA 19104
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How does design answer complex problems? According to D.S Nicholas, Director of The MS Design Research Program at Drexel University, the answer is simple: research. We spoke with Dee about this program at Drexel, a brand new program (in its inaugural year) that is predicated on the idea that research holds an important place in any design process. Read the full interview below:

Q: Tell me about Design Research…
A: Design Research is an exploration of information as a way of driving a decision making process. When designers make decisions, they typically pull from their past experience and their aesthetic. The process is different for design researchers, as opposed to the typical project-oriented design process, design researchers create knowledge around information and processes that come from the study of different issues and problems.

Q: What kind of issues do Drexel’s Design Research students study?
A: These types of projects bring up bigger questions, and that’s where design research comes in. Students delve into the topics of technology, intelligent design, wearables, patient centered health processes, community outcomes, and sustainability, to name a few. Design research can both answer specific questions related to these topics, and further the knowledge resources around these questions.

Q: Where is design research happening?
A: Design Research is increasingly a part of design theory and practice at many different scales. Built environment professionals are exploring how to put design research into practice. Some firms even have research arms. For example: Our Health and Design Consortium at Drexel, is collaborating with an industry partner, Ballinger on possible joint research projects with their healthcare sector.

Design researchers ask: What are the different ways that research can effect outcomes, and process, and how it can effect built environment and the questions that we ask?

Q: What is the typical outcome of a design research project?
A: Design research creates new processes, new technologies and multiple lines of inquiry. The outcome of Design Research is knowledge, often in addition to a physical artifact. For example, in my work I am studying Biophilic Interiors-- I am examining how to produce plants and foods indoors with my collaborator from Biology Dr. Shivanthi Anandan. While I am not aiming at producing consumer grade hydroponic units, our project is producing knowledge that’s might be useful to those in that sector.

Interested in learning more about the symposium or the program? Please contact Dee at dsn35@drexel.edu