Nick de la Mare, Creative Director at frog design, has an illuminating essay up on Creativity Online explaining the methods and madness behind the unsung field of Design Research. An excerpt:
The traditional arc of a project puts research up front, defining the problem, touching upon all relevant areas and coming up with opportunities that track back to that defined problem. From those insights, designers start designing and eventually something gets made. Ideally, months later, the end result still correlates to the research that started the project. Often times, however, a game of telephone has occurred and the researchers' opportunity areas have transformed into something very different.
This waterfall approach goes back to the industrial revolution; it's battle tested but increasingly untenable. Clients want to see progress, things happening, concrete examples that give them confidence in the partner they've chosen. Unwilling to sacrifice time and money for something they think they already have, they chop research from the plan and the end result becomes based on the designers' intuition and little else.
Read the rest here.