Design Research in a Non-linear World: Adapting to a Ubiquitous Playground of Content

By Erin Mariel Mays and Cynthia Kossayan.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The research process has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past decade. This is partly a result of advancing technology, which has facilitated the widespread and decentralized availability of data. Since today’s design researchers have access to modern tools and methods for managing and analyzing this content, a new way of conducting research has emerged. Those entering the profession today are part of the generation known as Digital Natives, people who were born between approximately the years 1980 and 2000— people who grew up immersed in information and user-generated content. This is the Google generation, a culture that expects to have any fact, image or bit of information available with a few quick keystrokes and a mouse click. This freedom of resources enables an attitude of unfettered curiosity: Digital Natives are not afraid to try new interpretations of old processes. As a result, Digital Natives are more likely to adopt processes from various disciplines, incorporating and amalgamating principles from fields such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, design, and business.
Spurred by its newest practitioners, design research has evolved into a more holistic approach that explores the convergence of the equally important analog and digital worlds and examines the interaction between the two. In fact, the interplay even influences how research is conducted. Like the content itself, the way people continuously process, gather, analyze, and communicate information has also adapted. It is dynamic, ever-changing, agile, and never finished. This is not to negate the relevance of the traditional social science research processes, which still play a critical role in the field. Modern practices are not meant to change the intention of traditional research processes and methodologies, but rather to foster the natural adaptation of the way research is conducted by harnessing today’s ubiquitous data, tools and social behaviors.
This paper addresses the evolving tools and techniques that Digital Natives bring to the discipline, and what this shift means for traditional processes in design, strategy, and business. As society changes, researchers need to adopt new strategies for exploiting an abundance of content, dealing with ambiguity to create meaning, and taking advantage of the ongoing multi-directional conversation that technology enables.

Keywords: Digital, Design Research, Tools, Techniques, Social Science, Strategy, Human Behavior, Digital Native, Digital Immigrant, Generation, Content, Processes, Internet, Data, Methods

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 6, pp.1-10. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.060MB).

Erin Mariel Mays

Design Strategist and Researcher, Strategy and Research, Karten Design, Los Angeles, California, USA

Erin is a senior Strategist and Researcher at Los Angeles-based product innovation consultancy Karten Design. She works with executives at leading product manufacturers to develop research strategies and leads Karten Design’s off-site research and exploration. Through comprehensive analysis of research data, Erin helps to establish design criteria and recommendations for Karten designers and engineers to use as they develop differentiated products. She uses research to look for business opportunities for clients based on consumer unmet needs and market opportunities. Erin graduated from UCLA with degrees in Anthropology and Design/Media Art, and has an MBA in Design Strategy from California College of the Arts. She has extensive experience using primary and secondary research including ethnographic research, observations, interviews, and shadowing to track consumer trends and analyze the market.

Cynthia Kossayan

Design Researcher, Strategy and Research, Karten Design, Los Angeles, California, USA

As a Design Researcher at Los Angeles-based product innovation consultancy Karten Design, Cynthia draws on her education as a sociologist. With a breadth of interests and a passion for human behavior, Cynthia observes and explores trends at both the individual and societal levels. She believes that empathy is a crucial component of responsible design, and closely dissects the behaviors, relationships and emotional connections that she observes in the field. Cynthia is a lead researcher in a broad range of projects at Karten Design, where she conducts secondary research and primary, off-site research that includes ethnographies, contextual inquiries and interviews. To translate her research into actionable items for Karten designers and engineers, Cynthia analyzes research data and facilitates meaningful transfers of information. Cynthia holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from UCLA and has completed summer courses in the school’s Architecture program. Her career includes positions with UCLA’s Department of Urban Planning and the Los Angeles Times.


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