Designing Design Research 2

Professor Jeremy Myerson.
School of Design and Manufacture,
De Montfort University,
Leicester, UK.

E Mail


Jeremy Myerson is a London-based design writer, editor and broadcaster. A graduate of the Royal College of Art and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, he is affiliated to De Montfort University where he is Professor of Contemporary Design and engaged in research into creative workplaces.

Founder-Editor of DesignWeek and former Managing Editor of World Architecture, he is a well-known commentator on design and the author of a number of books, including New Public Architecture, Design Renaissance, Gordon Russell:Designer of Furniture, and International Interiors 6.

His exhibitions as curator include Doing A Dyson at the Design Museum, the Look Inside international touring show for the British Council, and the British Design and Art Direction Awards shows in Glasgow, Singapore and London. He broadcasts regularly as design correspondent on BBC News 24.

'Contract research: dissemination of results'

"....unless you tell people about your research - and unless you disseminate its findings far and wide - then there appears little point in doing it in the first place."

" It is no use complaining that design practitioners do not read research papers. They are the audience and it is for researchers to provide their results in an acceptable form."


def: to disseminate:

'to scatter about, sow in various places....'

- Oxford English Dictionary

This presentation looks at how to get the widest and most advantageous coverage for the outcomes of contracted research - using the media to reach relevant professional, academic or industrial networks and opinion formers. Its starting point is the belief that organisations which commission research will want the findings made as accessible as possible to as many people as possible - they will not want the research to gather dust on a shelf.

Effective dissemination is therefore essential and, as the literal definition of 'disseminate' is 'to scatter about, sow in various places',an agricultural metaphor is appropriate because research findings need to be treated and tended, harvested and distributed as any crop, if contract research is to have its desired impact in the wider world.

Extending this agricultural metaphor, it is possible to see three distinct aspects to the art of dissemination:

* Climate

This concerns the prevailing ideas and preoccupations around at the time the research is being published. Is the climate right and receptive to what you might have to say ? Are people already focusing on the issues you raise ? Given the current climate of Government interest in innovation, design and technology in the light of the Millennium Dome, New Brand for Britain and other initiatives, the climate for design research is currently a favourable one - although there is little evidence as yet that design researchers in universities have actively tapped into this positive mood. While scientific, medical, health and social behavioural research findings regularly make the headlines, design research remains largely locked out of the media discourse - despite growing general interest in the subject.

* Cultivation

This concerns tending and nurturing your research findings, applying the right treatments, involving the right people with the right expertise, and accessing the right channels of knowledge distribution. As your research takes shape, how are you going to communicate its message and to whom ? How will you approach the media ? What mechanisms will you adopt to bring the findings to a professional audience? At the cultivation stage, you should consider whether an exhibition or a short report or a video is the best form of dissemination. You should make strategic use of your research steering group, and brief interested journalists. You should collaborate with your sponsors' public affairs team. You should develop a media plan. All these elements may seem outside the conventional academic researcher role, but design research has suffered from lack of cultivation in the past and it needs to be tended carefully if you want to disseminate the findings effectively.

* Reaping the benefits

This is the stage where you reap what you sow. By taking advantage of afavourable climate and carefully cultivating your research findings, you can influence the debate in your field of enquiry and set agendas for the future. In mastering the mechanics of media coverage, academic researchers can build on the platform of the refereed paper and formal full-length report with a range of non-traditional 'publications'. A strategy for reaping the benefits should be in place 'from scientific journal to radio soundbite'. A good test is to ask yourself the 'pub question' - can you explain what your research mission and outcomes are about in one simple sentence to a bloke in a pub ? Demystifying and simplifying your research is not dumbing down - it is being smart because it allows you to get the key points across.

This presentation goes on to discuss a number of research projects in which there has been a concerted attempt to disseminate the findings widely. These include 'The Changing Government Workplace' (De Montfort University 1997), a design management study of 40 Government offices in the UK jointly undertaken with HMSO Furniture. This built apon a favourable climate in terms of an incoming government looking to reinvent its public institutions and an office sector openly debating new ways of working. It cultivated itsmessage through a seminar, short report, carefully placed magazine articles, and undergraduate projects generating further publicity. The benefits of this approach in terms of influencing the current agenda in public sector office design are beginning to emerge.

In conclusion, much of this presentation may seem to be more about the spin doctor than the serious, researcher, social scientist or statistician. We can all be mindful of GK Chesterton's famous put-down: 'Journalism largely consists of saying "Lord Jones Dead" to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive...!' But unless you tell people about your research - and unless you disseminate its findings far and wide - then there appears little point in doing it in the first place.

Contract research:
dissemination of results
to disseminate

to scatter about, sow in various places.....

- Oxford English Dictionary

to disseminate

  • Climate
  • Cultivation
  • Reaping the benefits

  • media coverage

  • Scientific research - 'discovery'
  • Medical and health issues
  • Media and social observation

    What about design research?

  • media coverage

  • Europe's identity


  • climate

  • Ideas in the wind
  • Current professional preoccupations
  • Pre-Millennial tension

    A positive climate for design research

  • cultivation

  • The right treatment
  • The right people
  • The right distribution channels

    Design research needs careful cultivation to make the story grow

  • reaping the benefits

  • The mechanics of media coverage
  • 'From scientific journal to soundbite'
  • Publication and the 'pub question'

    Design research benefits from a 'mission to explain'


    In not more than 25 words, describe a piece of toast to a martian...


    The Changing

    A study of 40 Government offices in the UK

  • The Monolith
  • The Makeshift
  • The Moderniser
  • The Mould-breaker
  • The Changing

  • Climate:
    change of Government,
    reinventing our institutions
  • Cultivation:
    seminar, report, magazine articles,
    undergraduate project
  • Reaping the benefits:
    setting the agenda, media coverage,
    more work
  • Technological change and
    design education

    A review of changing practices in UK higher education

  • Climate:
    rapid and frightening
    technological change
  • Cultivation:
    presentations, employer report
    steering network
  • Reaping the benefits:
    take-up of
    research tools
  • The Work Aesthetic

    The impact of cultural change on office furniture

  • Climate:
    new ways of working emerging
  • Cultivation:
    report, seminar, magazine articles
  • Reaping the benefits:
    influencing the agenda in
    education and industry
  • .

    For another article by Jeremy Myerson click on the title. CRUCIAL TIMING by Jeremy Myerson

    Please use the following to cite material from Design Design Research 2.

    Author(s), "Title of Paper", in Designing Design Research 2:The Design Research Publication, Cyberbridge-4D Design /drs2.html, Editor- Alec Robertson, De Montfort University, Leicester. 26 February 1998.

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