Bringing Design Research Within Reach

H. Don Bowden, AIA, FASID

Bringing Research Within Reach


One of the distinguishing features of any profession is a body of knowledge that defines its practice. Another is a process of inquiry that challenges and expands that body of knowledge, helping to ensure that it stays vital and relevant.

Interior designers are fortunate that, in addition to enjoying a respectable body of professional knowledge and research, they can draw upon the knowledge of other
disciplines that investigate various aspects of the interior built environment. In
addition to architecture and engineering, the sciences of ergonomics, optics and acoustics, to name only a few, have greatly increased our understanding of how people interact with their physical surroundings. Psychology, sociology and cultural anthropology provide insight into the social uses and meanings of defined spaces, whether natural or fashioned.

Nonetheless, research and practice maintain a rather tenuous relationship. The applicability of pure research to practice is often obscure, and designers tend to rely on one another, rather than on researchers, to resolve immediate problems. Moreover, for the practitioner, research may be difficult to track down, access and interpret.

Up to now, the advancement of research-based design and of design research has been hampered by this disconnect between research and practice. A new, free on-line
service, however, may change all that.

Recently, a new Web site called InformeDesign joined the Internet at Created by the University of Minnesota with sponsorship by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and industry contributors, InformeDesign houses a searchable database of research summaries on interior design and human behavior. Drawn from a wide range of academic disciplines, the easy-to-read research summaries highlight the design issues addressed by the research, relevant design criteria and key concepts. A list of hyper-linked, related keywords makes it easy to locate additional information—and invites exploration and discovery.

InformeDesign is the brainchild of Caren Martin, Ph.D. and Denise Guerin, Ph.D., of the Department of Design, Housing and Apparel at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. They and a team of trained researchers have reviewed hundreds of articles and developed the research summaries. The database now holds more than 250 summaries covering dozens of topics, and the plan is to add between 400 and 500 summaries a year.

Other features of InformeDesign include a glossary of terms, calendar of research-related events and a sources list. Visitors can register with the site to receive e-mail notices when new research summaries on topics of interest are added to the database. A monthly newsletter, Implications, reporting on issues facing practitioners and researchers who focus on design and human behavior, will be available through the site shortly. Future plans include Web casts of research events. These events will be archived, as well, for viewing at visitors' convenience.

More than just an information site, InformeDesign has been developed to evolve into an on-line community for those interested and involved in design and human behavior research. Practitioners and researchers can engage in dialogue by participating in a number of on-line forums and posting requests or inquiries about collaborative research projects. Educators, students, industry representatives and researchers in related fields will also find the site useful.

Special thanks must go to the founding contributors—Armstrong World Industries, Inc., the Carpet & Rug Institute, Sherwin-Williams and Vista Window Films—that are supporting this revolutionary project. Through their involvement, these organizations are acknowledging the critical role that research plays in informing design solutions and in laying the foundation for the profession's future.

The arrival of InformeDesign opens the way to greatly abbreviate the time between discovery and application, and to increase interaction between practitioners and researchers. It is now up to us to use this new tool to strengthen our profession and build its future.

ASID National President H. Don Bowden is founder of his own firm, H. Don Bowden-Architect, in Mobile, AL. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3580; fax (202) 546-3240;