Reflections on Design and Worldmaking

Recent Trends in Design Research


In the nascent days of Design Research, let's say the early-to-mid 90s for argument's sake, the idea of observing intimate, everyday behaviors in order to gain a fresh perspective about how to design something was a little “exotic” to many clients and creatives. Decades later, we’ve entered a new era where the operating assumptions about “good design” include some form of DR. Today, that form is characterized by the need for collaboration, efficiency, visualization of the outcome, and short-form synthesis.


Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Wicked-er Problems

These are the days of more systemic problems that demand deeper and wider forms of expertise acting in sync. Collaboration and co-design start from the beginning of a project, carry into the field, and then the studio to make sense of what we learn and make. The result is more integrated and adoptable insights and ideas.

2. Speed & Tangibility 

Designing as a research activity, not just a result of it, is producing specific concepts that can be evaluated sooner and more often, then advanced with rich data sets. Prototypes are more apt to “finish themselves” sooner in the process, as strategist Hammans Stallings says.

3. Small Data, Big Leaps 

Many teams are gathering and manipulating smaller observational data sets that are being combined with early concepts and the rich feedback loops resulting from deeper collaboration. This aggregate foundation, because of its diverse nature, is acting as a springboard for bigger and more systemic design strategies. Our clients aren’t just looking for a few bright ideas, but how the experience all fits together inside their organization and across the ecosystem.


Below: working through the details of a service blueprint, a catalyst for design research and a bridge to systemic design solutions.

The Emergent Nature of Empathy

Service Design Culture