Research more often is becoming an influencing factor in a broad range of design projects. However, while many designers and clients recognize the benefits of evidence-based design, not enough, on both sides, fully recognize its potential. Designers and authors Gordon Chong, W. Mike Martins, and Robert Brandt aim to change this in their recent release, “Design Informed: Driving Innovation with Evidence-Based Design,” which uses a collection of case studies to demonstrate the power of research data to reveal new design opportunities and convince stakeholders of the value of extraordinary work. The three spoke with Contract to give insight into the inspirations behind the book.
1. What types of audiences do you hope this book will reach?
Martins: It is our hope that this book with be attractive to professionals in all of the design professions, others whose work and efforts are grounded in research, i.e., medicine law, the sciences both physical and social. It is also hopeful that academics who are interested in teaching the next generation of designers to see research and more importantly transparent evidence as an integral part of their education and future practice.
2. The book is heavily based on research. What is the most intriguing study you’ve come across?
Brandt: Interesting question, and I suspect that if three of us each selected one study, we’d have three different choices. That’s precisely the point of the book. Research is targeted toward informing a topic. A wonderful aspect of architectural design is that it brings together many considerations about aesthetics, technology, and people. Research can help us with all of these dimensions and there are many research approaches that can influence great design achievements. It’s the variety of possibilities that makes research compelling, practical, and rich for the design professions. That it’s more than one approach, one study, is what most intrigues.
3. There is a lot to be gained from reading case studies, but what do you ultimately hope people take away from this book?
Chong: Rather than writing about our own research, experience, or biases of approach, we intentionally highlighted the case study interviews and the more innovative work of many within each of the three categories. By doing so, we wanted to express to practitioners that there are many ways to maximize the benefits of research.
Most importantly, the use of research, if it is to be used as a new practice model, needed to be accessible and seen as actually being used in the case studies rather than as an academic or theoretical exercise.
We hope that practitioners reading the case studies will reflect approaches well within their means, identify research topics relevant to their own interests/needs, and understand the potential of becoming more creative.
4. Do you think professional designers pay enough attention to research and case-studies? How can this contribute to their work?
Brandt: This is very ironic. Clearly, the answer is no. It’s ironic because there is a research foundation that all designers use without necessarily knowing it. It’s customary to consider precedents and inevitable to use codes and regulations that were developed through research. However, many designers fear that research will inhibit their creativity.
We believe the opposite: research stimulates and enriches and can co-exist with intuition. It’s all about ways to spark and reveal new possibilities.
There’s also the proverbial “tree in the forest.” How many designers have felt thwarted because their client won’t support what the designer believes to be a great proposal? I dare say most. Well, clients don’t hire designers to satisfy the designer. Clients are accountable the people who sponsor, use, and operate their buildings. If the designer doesn’t help their client understand and trust how a particular design might affect these various stakeholders, the design is likely to not be built. The result can be that our environments don’t improve; the safe path is taken. Research can break that inertia by helping the designer address the stakeholder’s concerns and providing the client with the ammunition to choose the more innovative approach. A great design that never sees the light of day will not delight and inspire.
5. Was there a single reference or a particular study that prompted the writing of this book?
Martins: The book for me is the result of two studies that I was involved in. The first was the development of a strategy to construct design knowledge from practice, a method referenced as “Building Stories,” a research project at the University of California at Berkeley. The second was the collaborative research project done with the 2005 Latrobe Fellowship, funded by the AIA College of Fellows. This study explored the relationship of building performance and human performance in healthcare settings using the resources of an architecture firm, Chong Partners Architecture, the University of California-Berkeley, and Kaiser Permanente Inc..
6. What was the biggest challenge of writing this book?
Chong: In my mind, two challenges remain, not just in relation to our writing but to the acceptance of our premise by the reader:
1) Since our primary audience is the practitioner, we fear that many will want to know the “10 quickest steps to …” This book will not give you specific instruction but will cause you to think about the case studies and the interviewee comments. The reader will need to participate in finding his/her own appropriate research approach.
2) Secondly, there seem to be two responses from today’s practitioner about the use of research and “evidence” to inform design. Some are fearful of the limitations that empirical knowledge may place on creativity. Finding comfort and confidence that research will indeed enhance creativity will be increasingly important.
Download a PDF excerpt from “Design Informed: Driving Innovation with Evidence-Based Design” (Reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc." Robert Brandt, Gordon H. Chong, W. Mike Martin, Design Informed: Driving Innovation with Evidence-Based Design, 2010.)