Design research


1 Introduction

Design research had emerged since 1960s and got rapid growth from early 1990s. (Cooper & Press, 2007) It contributes to organisations and people's daily life. According to Bruce Archer (1981) “Design research is systematic inquiry whose goal is knowledge of, or in, the embodiment of configuration, composition, structure, purpose, value, and meaning in man-made things and systems”. It is for investigating and analysing theories, processes, applications, method and contexts related design areas (Cooper & Press, 2006).

The purpose of this study is to critically discuss three design research papers from international journals, and evaluate them mainly in aspects of research process, method, validity and outcome; moreover, characteristics and nature of design research will be elaborated during the evaluation.

Paper 1: ‘Branding and design management: a brand design management model'.

Paper 2: ‘Industrialization as a key element of sustainable product-service solutions'.

Paper 3: ‘Using product design strategically to create deeper consumer connections'.

2 Paper 1 Review

Since twentieth century brand has become central to companies (Aaker, 1991), the value to business of having differentiated brand is indisputable (Clifton et al., 2003). The paper 1 stresses on analysing the importance of design to branding, and strategic design management to brand management, for the purpose of establishing a brand design management model.

It applied a qualitative methodology interviewing 38 top-level managers in 28 Spanish companies from the furniture, electronics and tourism industries, which are with better brand and design awareness. The in-depth interviews lasted over three months. A main question ‘how the companies considered excellent in design and performance, managed the design process' was conducted. In addition, researchers applied non-intrusive observational techniques. It combined with company analysis and a questionnaire. These set up a triangulation with latter examination in literature forming a complementary and mutual supported framework.

The paper critically links theory and information of primary research. Then a new model is introduced, which integrates design and brand management across the NPD process. The result base on that design is a part of business strategy and a driver of innovation; also regarded as an important competitive advantage. Additionally, marketing and design working closely is beneficial to build strong brands. Some references and cases convince the viewpoints. To illustrate, Bruce, Cooper (1997) and Mozota (2003) indicate that design, marketing and branding activities influence and promote mutually, and a case about a top manager making brand and design decisions shows a success experience in a South Korean company in 2006 (Walton, 2008). In general, this paper encourages managers to rethink the relationship between design and branding, but it appears to be not sufficient to present detailed and profound strategies.

3 Paper 2 Review

Today, one of essential issues in the world is the environment and sustainability. Therefore product-service systems (PSS) are studied intensively In order to find solutions for environmental problems (Mont & Tukker, 2006). This article was carried out by Evans, Partidário and Lambert in 2007 investigating sustainable product-service solutions through industrialization system. It leads by research questions:‘How feasible and useful are multi-stakeholder processes in designing sustainable real life product-service systems?'and ‘Which conditions are required for their implementation?'

The paper employed an intervention methodology called “the Solution Oriented Partnership methodology” by using three case studies to test concepts in practical situations. The multiple cases have been implemented for 12 months. The research assembled data from its process observation, semi-structured interviews and focus group with participants, and document analysis (contracts and business plans). Meanwhile, it compared with consistent and inconsistent literature for improving the robustness of finding.

The study holistically integrates information from environmental, economic and social assessment leading to validity solutions. As can be seen from customers' evaluation (Fifure 2), a case named La Flambrera, adopting a co-development product-service, advanced many aspects of customers' experience and social benefits. Furthermore, the investigation indicates that environmental improvements for SME employee solution decreased consumption of energy, water and transports, which results in reduced global warning. However, it increased packaging waste and material use. Another important benefit of the solution is cost reduction comparing with priors service system. Consequently, it is believed that industrialization logic is a workable solution for bigger systems to better environmental and sustainable issues.

4 Paper 3 Review

This article wrote by Charles H. Noble and Minu Kumar in 2008, which aims at using product design strategies to build stronger consumer connections. Recently, design-driven companies, such as Apple and Dyson, have been increasingly noticed. Thus, it is believed that product design plays a key role to advance their competitive advantage and lead to success.

The research is investigated from three aspects, including industrial experts, consumers, and theories. Firstly, numerous literatures have been reviewed and studied to explore the information about design, strategy and innovation. Then an in-depth interview with designers (experts) from different industries and countries was conducted in order to read terminology and techniques of product design. Lastly, it applied an interactive abject-elicitation technique (Snyder & Ammons, 1993) to discover consumers' perspectives.

Two approaches (Figure 5) creating value via design have been found by anaysing theory and data. The basic path of building connection with consumers is to use design as functional differentiation, and it can be achieved by both utilitarian and kinesthetic design strategies. Another approach utilizing visual and kinesthetic design strategies to fulfill emotional value is strongly recommended by authors. A supported view from brand perspective by Leslie de Chernatory (Figure 6) convinces functional and emotional values structure, whereas form brand viewpoint two values generating promised experience is hardly mentioned in this article.

Furthermore, it is believed that the analysis of three design strategies is sufficient. Utilitarian design tends to apply multi-functionality (Table 2) and modular product (Dell) strategies. Kinesthetic design focuses on physical interaction between users and products. Ergonomics knowledge and sensory cues are considered in design processes, such as Nintendo Wii and Dyson's products (Table 2). Yet, Visual design creates product personality adding novelty and aesthetic elements into design, and zeitgeist and natural metaphor are described as primary tactics (Table 2). These results are supported by rich cases and data and presented in an organised manner.

Table 1. Product Images (Source: Noble & Kumar, 2008)

5 Best paper and reason

An effective and focused research benefits to design development, and optimizes design policies, tools and processes (Cooper & Press, 2009). It is considered that paper 2 being effective and focused is the best paper compared with the rest 2. There are three main reasons and more details in Table 2. First, it shows a systemic process with rigorous structure and methodology, which is defined as problem-solving activities. Second, it crosses and links with many industries and sectors, such as production, transportation and catering, contributing to end-users governments, enterprises, and environment. Third, its system design and solution finding always focuses on good for stakeholders.

Paper 1

Paper 2

Paper 3


-Strong theory basis

-Clear structure

-Integration of theory and practice (test)

-involve producer, consumers and other stakeholders

-creative on co-development process design

-Wide reading

-Rich cases to support theory

- theory vs. practice


Overall concept but short operational strategies

Less existing literature

Lack in customers' perspective


-Survey only based on Spanish companies

-Most respondents from top-level, only 2 from design area

Actors' positivity impact result of PSS experiment and test

Only students (similar background and age) test products and feedback


Valuable model for improving design and brand management

Incentive organizations to rethink and implement PPS for sustainability

Useful for designer and non-designer to follow the design strategies


Design and brand decision made by the highest hierarchical

-Creative thinking on product-service system design

-Sustainability can be profitable

-Difference between utilitarian, kinesthetic and visual design strategy and function

-Emotional approach has potential to create deeper consumer connection


emphasize to find solutions for focused industries, and synthesize experiences from others

Collect data more frequently as feedback to improve performance

Investigate how product design can contribute to promised experience

Table 2. Compare and contrast of three papers

6 Influence - nature of design research

Through the analysis and evaluation of three papers, the nature and characteristic of design research are explored and elaborated next. Design research aims at improving design and related to beautify and qualify people's life and environment of the future. Therefore, it is a solution oriented and decision making activity (Cooper & Press, 2007), which uses client's language including economics to interpret and expatiate. Likewise, it is an integration of theory and practice.

Furthermore, research methods are essential ingredients of research and are various (Figure 1). The methodology is for explaining the reasons for using its research process, which illustrates the method of gathering information and describe connections and relationship between each parts and objectives (Clough & Nutbrown, 2007). Therefore, design research is a systematic task employing rigorous methodological framework and methods. It is undertaken by clear steps connecting and proving to each other, which insures that findings are objective and rational (Bayazit, 2004), and outcomes of new concepts, views and directions can benefit to its audiences.

Secondary Research

Literature Collection (Books, Articles, Text books, Online source…)

Case Study

Statistical Data Collection

Quantitative Qualitative

Participant Observation

Passive Observation

Survey and Questionnaires Group Interview

Structured and -Semi-structured Interviews

Customer Journey

Video audio

Videotaping and Photography

Primary Research

A quality design research is base on wider and deeper data analysis from various views and using creative thinking to explore valid and valuable results (Gray & Malins, 2004). Take paper 3 as an example, it starts with a wide reading, bring out questions, then interpret and connect information, lead to results. It is a critical process about questioning, envisaging, linking, understanding and attempting (Gray & Malins, 2004).

It can be seen that design research is not isolated to only study in design area and simply consider about product design. It is an interdisciplinary study applying a wide range of knowledge and perspectives from different academic disciplines. There is a trend that researchers not only from Industrial, engineering, graphic design, but also from social sciences, psychology, marketing and management areas conduct design research, and in some cases, they cooperate with each other to tackle design problems (Cooper & Press, 2009). Therefore, Increasing research methods and directions are being attempted to synthetically study design and some other aspects related design. (Buchanan, 2001)

7 Conclusion

This article presents characteristics and nature of the design research via evaluating three design research papers. A limitation should be considered. The study is based only on in-depth analysis of three contemporary research papers. It would be worthy to study more works from different field related to design. Nevertheless, findings are integrated with some viewpoint from literatures. As much as confirming the outcomes are appropriate and valuable. Future research is recommended to lean to co-research and cross-research. Research teams comprise by designers and non-designers sharing information, technologies and knowledge to develop and create new way to search.


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Appendix 1-Branding and design management: a brand design management model

Appendix 2 -Industrialization as a key element of sustainable product-service solutions

Appendix 3 -Using product design strategically to create deeper consumer connections

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