Connecting Research and Design

June 12, 2006 · by Neil Frankel

In an information age, how is it possible that the design brief in both practice and the academy have remained the same since the mid-twentieth century?

In an information age, how is it possible that the design brief in both practice and the academy have remained the same since the mid-twentieth century?

Today, when we know more about the human brain than ever before, when human performance and the ability to create and innovate have become the new currency with which the world measures success, we as a profession remain obsessed with the criteria of design excellence originally presented by the Beaux Arts.

Corporate Anthropologist, Karen Stephenson, notes, "The inertial drag of an industry steeped in its own functional silos ultimately leads to more litigation, acrimony, and regulation. Any industry will cannibalize itself if it cannot invent. But threaded through every industry is the common language of design." The role of the designer in the work of the built environment continues to evolve in a track parallel to our society. When the author, Sigfried Gideon referred to architecture as the "epoch of our time," he posited a parallel relationship between design and the socioeconomic climate of client services. The extraordinary developments in the world of technology, the evolving changes in the sociology of place, and the increased expectations for the role of the built environment in supporting human activity provides the platform for an expanded role of the designer.

The value equation of the designer, and of design, changes as the design brief becomes more ambitious. That ambition to expand the criteria for assessing design relies on the infusion of new information and research into the design process.

This compelling vector has given form to innovation at University Wisconsin-Milwaukee's School of Architecture in a program grounded in the proposed translation of the work of the social scientist into design language. The program, The Center for Workplace Performance, is conceived to demonstrate the inclusive role of design scholarship and applied social research, for workplace effectiveness. Through residency in Chicago, the program will explore the expanded opportunity for the architectural student. The program includes an intensive design studio experience, seminars, and tutorial coursework focused on the social research and environmental behavior within the context and depth of resources available in the Chicago community.

This program of sponsored instruction, funded by Haworth, Inc., establishes an off-campus knowledge center for graduate and doctoral candidates. The program includes the enrollment of twelve students, each semester. The students take residency in Chicago for one semester. Each student is required to take the maximum amount of credit hours for their respective degree program.

The Center for Workplace Performance Study concept is based on demonstrating the inclusive role of design and applied social research for workplace effectiveness. The program goal is to expand research and further develop design skills as students engage in studio work, interactive workshops, field trip experiences, and interaction with corporate leaders and architects throughout the region. Through the student's study and application experiences in the Haworth Studio, the students will help to broaden the overall knowledge base of design; one that is highly effective, aesthetically ambitious, ergonomically appropriate, and environmentally sustainable. The research agenda will be co-authored by the University. Faculty will be drawn from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with participation from organizational behaviorists and cognitive engineers through Haworth, Inc.

The goal is not to turn designers into social scientists, nor switch the center of gravity of traditional design values. The students will train in an area of broadened criteria with the ability to footnote design strategies based on documented social learning within the framework of research methodology. This scholarship is key to the value proposition of our clients and suggests a basis of metrics to assess the outcomes of the work of the profession.

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