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DesignX is the research group of Professor Larry Leifer, PhDat the Center for Design Researchat Stanford University.


The scope of the design research activity in the DesignX research group spans a broad range of topics related to design, including understanding existing practice, developing emerging technologies, and charting the course of design education.

Design as a Research Topic

One of the core goals of research at CDR is to find out what is it that designers do when designers do design. To
this end, CDR researchers have studied how design teams use their workspaces [1], how designers access and
reference information in conceptual design [2], how social interaction affects design outcomes [3], how different
learning styles of team members affect group design work [4], how geographical distribution affects design team
collaboration [5], how designers use question-asking in the conceptual design process [6], how expert assistance
influences design outcomes [7], how design entrepreneurs use informal networks to develop innovative ideas [8],
and how design affects the corporate bottom line [9]. This research has contributed to the larger understanding
of what design is, has explored how different factors affect the products of the design process, and has influenced
how design curriculum should be structured.
One distinguishing characteristic of CDR research it is conducted by researchers with technical backgrounds in
design. This encourages empathy with the subjects of our research, but it also induces researchers to adopt design
as a research method. Design is applied to adapt traditional methods for research, providing new tools for data
collection and analysis [12]; research on design observatories [11], noun-phrase analysis [13], internet knowledge
repositories [14], instrumented workspaces [15] emerged as a natural byproduct of our efforts to understand
design. Design researchers are also able to build innovative designs, prototyping the design artifacts of the future
to gain insights on the issues, constraints and opportunities which designers will face in years to come. This
approach is evident in groundbreaking research on assistive robotics [16], learning technologies [17], drive by wire
cars [18], bio-mimetic robots [19]. By employing design as a tool and method for conducting research, we are able
to better understand how design occurs, and expand the realm of how design is applied.
One of the most important aspects of CDR is the emergence and adoption of design as an overall philosophy.
This "design thinking" provides a frame from which design students, researchers and practitioners may observe
and approach the world at large. Locally, we articulate the three key tenets of this framework as: 1) All design is
redesign. 2) Design is a social process. 3) Designers preserve ambiguity.
This framing and philosophy is evidenced in the major themes of CDR research. The notion of "design as
redesign," which incorporates our ideas about design being iterative, about design by analogy and situated design,
has led CDR researchers to look for external sources of design inspiration; researchers in bio-mimetic design, for
instance, are extremely specific about how they study and emulate insects in the creation of bio-mimetic robots;
researchers of implicit interactions provide detailed discussions of the human behaviors that interactive products
emulate to communicate with users. The emphasis on collaboration, particularly in environments where people
are geographically distributed and come from different disciplinary backgrounds, speaks to our belief that design
is a social process. Our interest in informal and ad-hoc methods, as well as our history of research in sketching
activity as part of the iterative design process, is clearly influenced by the importance of ambiguity as a critical
design resource. Our researchers often exploit the ambiguity of what it means to do design research to pick and
choose the research methodologies that will best suit the project or question at hand; after all, good designers use
whatever tools are at their disposal, and even invent new ones if the situation demands.


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