Written for Interactions magazine by Liz Sanders. Edited by Hugh Dubberly.
Design research is in a state of flux. The design research landscape has been the focus of a tremendous amount of exploration and growth over the past five to 10 years. It is currently a jumble of approaches that, while competing as well as complementary, nonetheless share a common goal: to drive, inspire, and inform the design development process.
Making a map is a way to hold a domain still for long enough to be able to see the relationships between the various approaches, methods, and tools. Maps are good for visualizing relationships.
Maps can be useful for showing complexity and change. For example, the underlying landscape of the map may be relatively permanent, changing only as major forces affect it. But the tools and methods shift and change somewhat like trends. And the people who inhabit the landscape may come and go. As in the real world, some people like to stay put and others like to travel. So maps are good for layering complexity and for revealing change as it occurs.
In making the map, I found that I needed to name the dimensions of the design research space in a way that would help bring clarity and light to the landscape. Once this happened, everything else fell quickly into place.