Group of people taking part in a deisgn research workshop

About the course


About the course

4.5 units ·  Mondays and Wednesdays, 1.30–2.50PM, MMCH A11 (first basement level)

Until Spring Break (first class: Wednesday January 17th; last class Wednesday March 28th)

Contact details:,
Office hours: by appointment. For Dan: book via Calendly; for Silvia, please email.


This mini (half-semester course) is about research in design, and mostly about research through design—how to use the methods and skills you’re learning as a designer, to investigate questions in the world, and generate and evaluate ideas. Much of this will be introducing you to how research with people, and contexts, is an important part of the design process, for physical and digital products, communications, services, experiences, and environments. But we’ll also be looking at how to bring knowledge and ideas from outside design, into design: how can designers make use of research done in other fields?

Research is not just something that comes before designing, but can be part of your practice as a designer—a way of doing design that is part of a non-linear process, with iteration and feedback loops, investigating and reframing problems as you work through them, rather than just receiving a brief and executing it before handing over a solution to someone else. Understanding research methods—how to think about what kinds of methods to use, and what they can tell you (and what they can’t) can inform your own work and the development of whatever you’re working on, but also help you address and explore bigger questions outside of design, from social issues to technological challenges.

Over the eight weeks of the course, we’ll be introducing you to a range of methods and ways of thinking about research, with some practical exercises and guest lectures from a variety of practitioners who do research through design, inside and outside of academia. We want you to end up with a foundational repertoire of ways of finding things out through design, which you can apply and develop further during your projects at CMU and in your career.

Sections of the course

The course is arranged into three main sections: 1) Theory, background, and basic methods; 2) Design research in practice: Guest speakers; 3) Applying methods in your work.

Objectives and learning outcomes

What you’ll do:

  • practical exercises including small research projects and exploration of methods
  • lectures, readings and discussions, individually and in groups, covering a range of topics, including guest speakers from academia, industry, and social sectors

Why you’re doing it:

  • to become comfortable with the idea of research in a design context, and understand different kinds of research approaches
  • to gain knowledge of a range of qualitative methods for design research, their advantages and disadvantages, and practical experience of at least two different methods
  • to build a foundation for developing and building on your knowledge and experience of research methods in design, with the insight to be able to use them in future projects