50 Years of Design Research









Design Research: What is it? What is it for? 

Victor Margolin

University of Illinois


Keywords: Design research; Design studies, Doctoral design


The slippage in use between design research as an activity without a precise identity and its characterization of an intellectual field has caused considerable confusion. PhD programs in design are now offered and have become vehicles for producing academic design researchers. This has vastly increased the number of researchers with doctorates but it has not contributed to the coherence of a field and certainly not to the formation of a discipline. As more PhD graduates take up teaching positions, they are under pressure to continue their research and publish it. Without a set of shared questions, they are often left to their own devices to invent a research topic. While the authors adopt what appear to be valid methodologies to guide their investigations, the questions they pose are often narrowly drawn, have no relation to a larger set of issues, and are consequently of little interest or value to other scholars. When it comes to pedagogy, the lack of consensus about what course of studies would constitute a doctorate in design is especially disconcerting. By virtue of not having any consensual curriculum, it is difficult to assess the value of someone’s degree. A big problem in the field is the confusion between an academic degree in design and one in design studies. Instead of perpetuating the term ‘design research,” I suggest adopting the related terms “design’ and ‘design studies” to delineate more precisely the nature of the knowledge or capabilities they signify. 

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Cite this paper: Margolin, V. (2016). Design Research: What is it? What is it for? Proceedings of DRS 2016, Design Research Society 50th Anniversary Conference. Brighton, UK, 27–30 June 2016.

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