The definition of research in the broadest term is explained first. It states that research is the discovery of new knowledge by gathering of data, finding facts and information. I think this could even include the day to day normal observations of others or even the weather. We are constantly changing the way we act and think based on this kind of research to adjust to our environments.
In the scientific sense, research means going through a set of structured steps with a specific goal in mind to expand on existing knowledge. We don’t have to go in detail through the scientific method to know that science is concerned with getting as close to the “Truth” as possible. Control and independent variables are there so that scientists can compare, discuss, understand and analyze, to avoid just shooting around in the dark. They use structured techniques to quantify data and generalize results. They are focused on the measured, qualitative research to measure the incidence of various views and opinions rather than quantitative research.
In comparison what does design mean? Design’s goals are to understand systems, people, culture and products to serve human needs and wants. Designers are not experts in any particular field. They are experts in visual communication and become a pseudo specialist in the current subject that their clients happen to be in. They are dealing with people, sociology, psychology, anthropology. In other words, they are the “soft sciences.” These sciences cannot follow the scientific method. Humans are complex. Actions, behaviors, feelings and decisions cannot be controlled or isolated from each other. Here, any attempts at finding the “Truth” get turned into “well this is kinda the truth or something like it is I guess.” This is clearly quantitative research. It can be linked to some sort of measurement, some numbers, but in general it is exploratory and investigative. Findings are not conclusive and cannot be used to make generalizations about the population of interest. Designers can develop an initial understanding and stable base for future decision making.
People, paying clients in particular, want “Truths.” Design has a step by step process to problem solving but it will get nowhere near the results that come out of the scientific process. Then there is the world of creativity that we must deal with. Coming out with a great idea that can solve a problem is unpredictable. There are no steps to achieve a creative idea, it can happen anytime, anywhere. Creative, artistic people have to constantly struggle with the format of the industrial word. Ideas do not come off a conveyer belt.
We help communicate and understand things that are closer to the “Truth” than other designers. But science is just the subject matter. Just because we are not designing a brand experience to increase profits, we are still dealing with messy humans that can read a message wrong and get confused. Is scientific design closer to the hard sciences? Through a more goal orientated design problem, can we use a bigger chunk of the scientific method and come up with ground breaking discoveries ourselves? Can art and design not just facilitate communication but actually push science forward?