Positioning Design Research for the 21st Century


Design research is an essential component of the more broadly understood European innovation system. It is a powerful tool to support the effective introduction, utilisation and management of design.

Design research is carried out at universities, industry and society. It is a multifaceted activity that covers, for instance, professional design disciplines (including product and industrial design, services, fashion, graphics, branding, interiors, architecture etc.), design methods (processes, tools, management), design issues (user-centred design, sustainable design), as well as the history and theory of design.

Design research is increasingly located in multi-disciplinary programmes reflecting its contribution to almost every aspect of everyday life. It is not only deductive and inductive, but also abductive, meaning that design inherently aims to propose new and better futures.

The most distinctive methods of design research are practice and experimentation. They are also the most common methods used at universities and businesses, and have been identified as contributing to innovation in businesses, organisations and society. As such, design research is part of the European innovation system.

There are three recent trends in design research that are significant for supporting the development of better design innovation in Europe. The first one is an increase in interdisciplinarity (for example, designers working alongside scientists and social scientists, addressing issues such as digital economies, sustainability, democracy and citizenship). The second trend is the emergence of new methods, which are a recurring theme of this report, such as co-design, participatory design and open design. The third trend is new domains, such as service design, strategic design and policy design).

Currently, design research exists in pockets of excellence across Europe, at both universities and businesses/organisations. There is a need to nurture and further develop this excellence in order to ensure that the knowledge chain between researchers, research and practical applications remains strong in order to create strategic benefit for European innovation.

Design Research Supporting Sustainable Business and Society

Supporting and incorporating research both for and through design in EU programmes will improve the quality of design innovation in European enterprises, and particularly in SMEs, while contributing to Europe’s ability to rethink consumption, production, and ways of living that support growth in a sustainable manner.

The use of design and design methods in business and society addresses global challenges. There is a need for greater knowledge of the links between design and economic growth, design and management, design and social wellbeing, design and environmental sustainability, and design and policy making. This knowledge will enable a better understanding of the multifaceted value of design and thereby allow enterprises, including SMEs and public sector organisations, to better harness and make use of its power.

One Response to “Positioning Design Research for the 21st Century”

  1. Antti Ainamo

    We need design research to move from essentialism to appreciate also evolutionary and systemic perspectives on business ecosystems, systems of innovation, and creativity. Design research, in turn, needs moving from design promotion to critical inquiry. Here, historical and sociological research on luxury fashion and design of mobile phones, for example, can help.

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