Design research tries to answer the obligations of design to the humanities:
1. Design research is concerned with the physical embodiment of man-made things, how these things perform their jobs, and how they work.
2. Design research is concerned with construction as a human activity, how designers work, how they think, and how they carry out design activity.
3. Design research is concerned with what is achieved at the end of a purposeful design activity, how an artificial thing appears, and what it means.
4. Design research is concerned with the embodiment of configurations.
5. Design research is a systematic search and acquisition of knowledge related to design and design activity.
Design research is an activity in search of a definition. The range of research methods and applications employed in design education and practice is broad, from the simple process of surveying existing products in the marketplace to the much more complex process of analysing cultural and cognitive factors associated with new product development and use.
Research in professional practice employs multiple methods and approaches including those derived from the social and behavioural sciences, as well as strategic analyses adapted from business and marketing. The degree to which research plays a role in the design process depends on the size and scope of the design organisation and its capabilities; it is always related to a specific project and conducted within a limited time frame. Information derived from this research is proprietary, and normally is not circulated outside the client-provider relationship.
In the academic environment, design research is becoming more common, but the number of graduate programs with a focus on structured methods and comprehensive theses rather than design production remains relatively small. While other professional disciplines have a tradition of advanced research in academia, design research is a more recent phenomenon. It has yet to establish universal standards related to process, presentation, and evaluation. Faculty with expertise in research are found primarily at large universities and, together with graduate students, they are generating a growing body of knowledge, employing innovative research techniques and focusing on current issues, especially those related to technology and design.
source: The State of Design Research, by Susan Rot; Design: A Review of Forty Years of Design Research by Nigan Bayazit 2004