Mention the word research, and many people tune out, shut down, or glaze over. Although some may see research as a tedious undertaking, the process of finding new knowledge can actually be incredibly exciting – especially when you’re passionate about the topic at hand.
Research is often defined rather broadly in the design industry (sometimes referring to informal or even haphazard information gathering), but HDR’s definition is clear. We define research as a systematic, scientific endeavor to understand, document, and predict relations between things—specifically, the relations between the work we do and the outcomes our clients care about. For example, one of our research plans pertains to the relationship between single-patient room design in a neonatal intensive care unit and infants’ medical outcomes.
‘Systematic’ and ‘scientific’ mean that planned and deliberate steps are taken to minimize potential for bias, which can come in many forms, from pre-conceived notions of researchers themselves, to inappropriate sampling, to inadequate data and/or analysis, to participants who say what they think you want to hear. The list goes on. The bottom line is that high quality research engages scientific methodologies to minimize potential for bias.
The transdisciplinary nature of design research compels our research team to integrate our work with that of the many smart and talented professionals across our company, from planners to data scientists, from designers to economists, in order to innovate knowledge about the positive or negative impacts of design decisions that ultimately can be applied or avoided in practice, and considered toward optimal decision-making. We constantly strive to expand and refine our knowledge base in order to better serve our clients, informing designs that achieve intended organizational and user outcomes, and that ultimately can improve quality of life for workers, patients, students, and even communities.
In order to expand our knowledge to the benefit of our clients, we often partner with them to conduct research, engaging in design questions of mutual interest where the evidence about outcomes is limited or even non-existent. Research provides a critical feedback loop to affirm or refute assumptions (or hypotheses, as we say in research) through empirical measurement. By asking the right questions and diving deep into real and valid data, we can move beyond myths and share credible results. Legitimate research helps our clients understand the impacts our designs will have on their employees, occupants, and the community. Our guiding purpose is to advance design with evidence that matters.
Stay tuned for future blogs, where we’ll talk about what evidence is, how to be a savvy consumer of research, and the steps HDR is taking to raise the bar on quality of evidence in design.