Monday, February 20, 2012

What is research?

For the last two decades design research has been growing and developing world wide. What exactly design research is has not yet been defined, it is an ever-growing definition, adapting as it needs. In general, it involves the application of research methods to design problems. The research methods are borrowed from whichever field is deemed most relevant for the particular design project, be it psychology, economics, or what have you. 

How does a research project start?
The first step to finding a research project is to decide what is your personal field of interest. The next part is deciding on a problem that is within your field of interest. It is best to find a problem that you are hopeful in solving, or finding more information about. This hope is going to be what helps motivate you to continue the project, at times when it is frustrating and gloomy. 

Many people believe that you should have a question you want to answer at the start of your research project, but this isn't necessarily true. It is okay to start out with a question, but allow yourself the flexibility to change the question as you learn more, and as your interest focuses. 

Before you proceed to the next phase of the research project, there is a half step of doing broad research about your field and problem. This broad research can help define your problem, and allows you to understand what previous research has been done already in the same subject area. 

Set Parameters
These can be rules, guidelines, criteria, and tools that help guide you to developing your research method. Your research method is how you will collect your data for your personal research. 

While developing your parameters, you may become overwhelmed by the amount of information already available for your project. While you may initially be tempted to switch topics because of this, you shouldn't let it detour you. Your research could help lead to a new end result, or a new question to ask of the topic. Instead of switching to a new topic, consider tweaking your project so that it is more unique. You should stay with a topic you are interested in, if there is a lot of information already present, then think of it as a community of people with the same interest as you. 

Structure Data
The next step is to analyze your data, organize it, categorize it, throw out irrelevant bits, and structure your field. 

When doing research, you do not necessarily need to create data! It is fine to collect data that is already gathered, such as in the field of philosophy, and analyze it yourself. All you need is to provide a new point of view, that you can defend with evidence from your gathered data. 

Create, document, sketch and read. Use the information you've gathered and play with it, how can it be used to create new objects, new ideas, or new images. Go back to previous stages and experiment more. Research is not a timeline, it's more flexible, and always changing. 

After developing several ideas, and trying out new things, take a step back and look at what you've done. Talk with someone else about it, get a fresh pair of eyes. Talk to an expert, but don't forget to trust yourself. An expert may try to convince you to fall in line with what they believe, and remember you want to try to develop your own point of view. 

This can be an answer to a research question, the results of your experiments, a summary of your time, or even a new question to be asked. The conclusion is basically a validation of what you've spent your time on, you're trying to show people that all of your methods and experiments have been valuable. Focus on the whole project, from beginning to end, and summarize. Try to use the conclusion to push your project one more time. Leaving behind an open question is okay.

Research does not necessarily have to solve problems, it can also make us more conscious. 

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