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Students in undergraduate design programs often lack opportunity to conduct original research and apply their findings to project solutions. Consequently, they struggle with identifying and framing a design problem, understanding the importance of research-based design, and how to appropriately apply research findings to the needs and desires of project stakeholders. In interior design, this unawareness can lead to design solutions that appeal to the eye, but lack defensible rationale and often do not solve the design problem, or meet user needs. Exposure to research methods and collaborations with practitioners may change how students approach design problems by fostering an empathetic understanding of the human experience.
This design case describes a project design at two universities where 72 sophomore and junior students collaborated with furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, Inc. to generate original research before applying their findings to the redesign of informal learning spaces in their campus libraries. Constructivist Learning and Backward Instructional Design, guided the design of the project. The result of this engagement, exposed students to research methods and research integration strategies, who outwardly demonstrated more confidence in making decisions during the design process. While the long-term implications from this type of engagement are not yet evident, encouraging students to ground their design ideas on evidence they have gathered, and their analysis of it, may not only shape their future decision making, but potentially lead to more appropriate client solutions and provide students with coveted job opportunities in positions where evidence-based design is highly valued.