09/17/2013 04:34 am ET Updated Nov 16, 2013

International Science Design Research

Design Science Research is the lifeblood of design and serves to develop new understanding, knowledge, processes and methods. For the past forty years, about five hundred design researchers from across the world have gathered to present and defend their work at the bi-annual International Conference of Engineering Design (ICED).

Over the course of the four days spent there, one can attend sixteen sessions, listening to some twenty presentations a day and form a pretty good idea about the state of the art in design research. This year, the ICED Conference was held at the Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, Korea, which served as the perfect backdrop for exchanging ideas and methods, while catching up with old friends and making some inspiring new ones.

Dominating the conference this year was user-centered-design, product-service-systems as well as modeling and method development. What received surprising little attention was the study of how designers actually do design. Surprising, because, at the end of the day, no matter how much research one does, if the knowledge does not end up in the designer's head, the effort will fail to provide any new concepts.

The challenge of design research continues to be that relatively few industry people attend these conferences or read scientific papers or books on the topic. As a consequence, less than twenty percent of newly developed methods are embraced and the adoption time is anywhere between ten to twenty years. Practicing professionals' day-to-day activities on design projects are therefore often based on outdated knowledge, which continues to circulate, such as Maslow's Pyramid of Needs, Psychographics and Brainstorming.

What designers really want to know is are things like how to better translate marketing insights into actionable design concepts. The number of forwarded articles from our ninety-five crowdsourcing challenges and design research projects shared on The Huffington Post, show that working better with marketers is by far the major concern of designers. However, this topic received no attention at all at the ICED conference this year.

Few academic design researchers have real life practical experience working in the design field and are missing the tacit knowledge and understanding of the context in which products are developed. This shows up as tunnel vision and a narrow focus on the research topic while missing important holistic aspects of the design process. An example might be that when testing public information systems, it would be a good idea to include people with disabilities in the sample study, even though they may not be the initial focus.

For design researchers and creative professionals to improve upon the current situation, new innovative approaches need to be explored. With the growing size and connectedness of the international and multi-functional design research community this seems like a very achievable goal. The challenge is to get the design research community and the community of creative professionals out of their individual silos and to begin interacting in a meaningful way.

This may involve re-inventing how design research is done. Researchers may need to be more closely connected with industry needs while speaking out to improve the understanding of their research and devising protocols that fit current practices, while increasing the adoption rate of new methods.

The next International Conference of Engineering Design (ICED15) will be held in Milan, Italy, July 2015. Carving a week out of one's busy schedule to attend a design science research conference may be an excellent way to stay on the cutting edge and get inspired, stirring things up a bit and staying connected with the movers and shakers in the field.