module specification

AR7016 - Design Research (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title Design Research
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 40
School The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design (The Cass)
Total study hours 400
328 hours Guided independent study
72 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 10%   Thesis Abstract
Coursework 90%   Portfolio
Attendance Requirement 0%   Attendance and Seminars
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Year City Monday Afternoon
Year City Thursday Morning
Year City Thursday Afternoon
Year City Monday Morning

Module summary

This module, carried out within the context of a design unit, develops design skills and understanding along with an ability to critically engage in design research.

Corequisite: AR7017 Concept and Proposition

Prior learning requirements

Corequisite: AR017N, Design: Concept and Proposition

Module aims

The module aims to equip students for postgraduate level study in design through the development of their skills, understanding and ability in design research. The underlying aim is to raise students awareness and expectations of design research by improving the quality of the process with reference to similar processes in other disciplines. In parallel students will develop their understanding of the unique aspects of design research in relation to the specific issues encountered in the built environment. This background will enable students to critically select and carry out appropriate forms of research in developing well informed design models. The module will also emphasise the function of dissemination in research and encourage high standards of documentation. The module is based in studio with the principal themes and issues being introduced through a seminar programme in the first term, attendance of which is a requirement of the course.


The introductory part of the programme will cover a range of techniques and theories practised in design research and their relationship to research in different subject areas (broadly the sciences, humanities and social sciences). The field of design research is wide ranging and students will discuss the aims of design research, the validity of different research methods, the criteria used to determine them and appropriate modes of dissemination.

The main part of the syllabus is process rather than content driven as the set work or ‘contents’ changes on a year to year basis and will be different for each design unit. In this context design research is distinguished from work undertaken in research degrees as the module is taught: students doing the module will undertake a set project and work within defined parameters. Each design unit is responsible for drawing up the syllabus for their programme, broadly establishing the topic for research and particular field of research methods. Within these parameters the students work either individually or in groups determining a specific framework, process and set of outcomes. The overarching framework followed by each design unit will conform to the process required to satisfy the ‘Learning Outcomes’ set out in the module. From and through the work undertaken within the context of the unit, the student is expecting to develop sufficient material to establish a focussed thesis proposition. This may take a variety of forms, for example the student might extend a particular area of interest or, alternatively, establish and clarify aspects of the wider context of the field of study.

Learning and teaching

Teaching and Learning methods include:1. Seminars which introduce different design research methodologies; their use in practice and relationship to methods from other subject fields;
2. Studio projects set out through a written brief; site or project related visits; talks by/discussions with parties involved in project or related issues; reference to primary and secondary sources of material; workshops on appropriate research methods;
3. Individual and group work, collecting and testing data  and developing prototypical design models using an appropriate range of media and techniques;
4. Individual and group work, developing the project through tutorials, seminars, crits and presentations on work in progress involving peers, tutors, research and subject specialists;
5. Individual or group development of the final portfolio that documents the research aims, methods and results;
6. Individual development of a thesis abstract which establishes the themes, strategic aims and research criteria for the ensuing thesis module.

Opportunities for pdp are available through the module’s programme of learning, starting with the choice of studio units and range of projects.  It is further developed through the portfolio of works prepared for assessment, supported by individual tutorials.  This may contribute directly to the portfolio required for subsequent job applications.

Learning outcomes

On completing the modulethe student should be able to:

1. work within a field of research appropriate to a given design problem and identifythe key cultural, environmental, technological, historical or theoretical issues;
2. identify and assemble the data required from primary and/or secondary sources in order to analyse the selected set of design issues systematically and in depth;
3. develop prototypical design models that interpret research material through testing and demonstrating results;
4. collate, document and present research material to an appropriate standard;
5. produce a concise, written, illustrated abstract which establishes the key themes of the thesis proposition, beyond the studio design project.

Assessment strategy

Module assessment will be based on the presentation of two associated pieces of work:

1. A Portfolio which will demonstrate through appropriate modes of documentation:

• identification of a specific field of research through analysis of key design issues involved in a set project;
• systematic collection and collation of primary and secondary data relevant to the field of research;
• development of a well informed research methodology  or methodologies through the systematic use of a set/s of techniques for data gathering, analysis and progressive testing against results;
• analysis and valid interpretation of results through the development of design models with reference to appropriate precedents;
• presentation of design research to proto-publishing or exhibition standard.

2.  A written abstract of approximately 1000 words which establishes the strategies, scope and evaluation criteria for the Thesis, of which this is a pre-requisite.

Work will be evaluated in each of the assessment instruments against the following criteria:

• scope and ambition
• degree of rigour
• relevance
• quality of analysis and interpretation
• quality of documentation

Modes of documentation for the portfolio submission may include: drawings; photographic material; multi-media material; quantitative data; qualitative data; 3D models or prototypes; web-based material.  All 3D and multi-media work should be recorded in graphic form and explained to a standard suitable for assessment purposes.


The following are indicative only. 

Crouch, C and Pearce, J. (2012) Doing research in design, Berg, Oxford
Laurel, B. (ed), (2003) Design research: methods and perspectives, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Simonsen, J. et al, (eds), (2010) Design research: synergies from interdisciplinary perspectives, Routledge, London; New York

Refereed journals in different subject areas:  issued according to programme
Refereed or equivalent journals in the built environment:  issues according to programme
Articles relevant to design research in refereed or  equivalent journals:  issued according to programme
Electronic sources relevant to design:  issued according to programme