Caroline Hummels, Pierre Lévy
Design research in which construction — be it product, system, space, or media — takes centre place and becomes the key means in constructing knowledge. It’s a small but growing slice of design research. There are many types of constructive design research, but only a few approaches have been successful for a decade or more. These can be categorised as: Lab, Field, and Showroom. They come from different places, with some having roots in universities, some in design firms, some in engineering and the social sciences, and some in contemporary art. The crux of any laboratory study is experimentation. The researcher manipulates the thing of interest in the lab to learn how people react to it while holding other things constant. Field researchers work with context in an opposite way from researchers in a lab. Rather than bringing things of interest into the lab for experimental studies, field researchers go after these things in natural settings, that is, in a place where some part of a design is supposed to be used. Showroom relies on debate rather than statistics, like Lab, or precedents and replication, like Field. It questions the way in which people see and experience the material world and elicits change through debate.
The approach gives many handles to investigate new realities: Constructive design researchers do not try to analyse the material world, nor do they see design as an exercise in rational problem solving. Rather, they imagine new realities and build them to see whether they work. The main criterion for successful work is whether it is imaginative in design terms.
Koskinen, I., Zimmerman, J., Binder, T., Redström, J and Wensveen, S. (2011). Design research through practice: From the lab, field and showroom. Waltham, MA: Morgan Kaufmann.