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Design Research Initiative

Using Architecture Machinery 2016, Photo by Justine Bursoni

Designers play key roles in addressing society's critical technological and social challenges. All designers conduct research, and many researchers employ design, but few opportunities exist for collective reflection on design as a primary component of the work of a research university. The Design Research Initiative brings together creative thinkers from across the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

  • What kinds of new knowledge does design produce, and how is that knowledge best conveyed?
  • When should design research present solutions, and when should it define problems?
  • How can research settings support rigorous design work that takes real risks on the road to innovation?
  • What practices can help ensure success for collaborations between designers and partners within and outside the university?
  • What can designers accomplish at a research university but nowhere else?

Faculty members and visiting scholars examine these questions—and expand the conversation—in the collaborative community of the Design Research Initiative. This faculty-led program seeks to better understand, explore, and share the unique potential of design conducted at the nexus of education, industry, and academic inquiry. This initiative also provides a locus for faculty contributions to the programming of a new Design Center, a facility for outreach, education, and experimentation in design open to all students eager to engage with these issues. With the support of the following dedicated resources and professional relationships, the college is working to realize and share a new vision for how design research can serve innovation.

A group of design research fellows will lead this initiative. During their two-year terms, they will accomplish the following:

  • Lead and participate in a weekly seminar to collectively examine and develop research methodologies in design. This gathering will serve as the campus hub for those who wish to better integrate design into their research. Each week, fellows will compare research, discuss readings on design research methods, and, through dialogue, help others on campus achieve a more informed integration of design into their own research. Together the fellows will also collaborate on clearer communication about the unique demands, approaches, precedents, and possibilities of doing design in a research context.
  • Identify and pursue external research support with a focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration. FAA will work with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and other colleges to put the fellows in regular contact with potential collaborators across campus and provide guidance on securing new funds in support of embedded design research.
  • Contribute to collective dissemination on shareable methods of research in design. Sharing about research methods for design can take many forms, from video documentation to peer-reviewed journal publication, conference presentation, and nontraditional self-published formats. The two-year program will culminate in a public reflection intended for internal and external audiences on best practices for research in design.

The first group of fellows will be composed of five new and three existing faculty members, who will be selected through a competitive process. The five new faculty members will be hired from the following ongoing searches:

  • Assistant Professor of Design,
    Illinois School of Architecture
  • Associate Professor of Design,
    Illinois School of Architecture
  • Petullo Professor of Graphic Design,
    School of Art and Design
  • Associate Professor/Full Professor and Avery Chair of Industrial Design,
    School of Art and Design
  • Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture,
    Department of Landscape Architecture

With the support of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, each fellow will receive a one-time research support award ($50,000 for new faculty, $25,000 for existing faculty) to be used for research assistants, computational support, prototyping materials, travel and site visits, and course buyout in support of time spent on the seminar and experimental products.

The Design Research Initiative will be guided by advisors who will be named at a later date.

For questions about this initiative, contact Kevin Hamilton, professor of art and design and senior associate dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, at kham@illinois.edu.

Research by creative thinkers is supported across FAA through funding programs and initiatives. Consult the information on financial resources for details.