Design Next is not a research unit, but it supports research in many ways. It is a hub that brings together UNSW’s various design research streams, advises faculties on how to create a research strategy, and helps launch research in which design plays a significant role.

With research, your first point of contact will be deputy and associate deans of your home faculty, but if you decide to consult Design Next, here are some things we can do for you.

PhD positions: Clean Energy Futures 
Design Next is hiring two PhD candidates to work on the challenging topic of energy futures.

For further information and how to apply download the position description. 
2021-07 Energy Futures - PhD Position description.pdf


Design Next is a hub that connects design-related research across UNSW. Design Next:

  • Supports research with seed funding, using a simple lifecycle model
  • Connects design research to industry
  • Gives advice to groups, programs and faculties that want to develop research programs in strategically important areas
  • Catalyses forming interest groups and networks, and turns these into project initiatives.

We don’t conduct research independently, but the staff can participate in research activities with a limited time allocation.

Design Next has experienced academics and its network has many more. Contact us if you are interested in building a research program for your group. We also have plenty of editorial experience, which is useful when developing publication strategies.

Although Design Next is not a research unit, it will conduct research, specifically in the early stages of the design process. The focus will be on the human side of design to complement UNSW’s research profile, on concept creation, and on the business side of design.

If you are interested in these areas, please contact Design Next.

Small seed grants for supporting design research are available twice a year in 2019-2021, once in September/October, one in February/March.

Some of the best design professors in the world have always used the classroom as a research instrument. This makes sense. Universities, after all, are not only institutions of higher learning, but also of knowledge creation, and building courses around research keeps teaching fresh and interesting. It may also attract students to research.

Imagine running a class for 50 students. You break them into 10 teams, each team creates 3 concepts, and prototypes one of these concepts. This means you have 30 concepts and 10 prototypes at the end of the course. Design is not a well-funded research field, so it makes sense to treat some of these outcomes as research hypotheses.

However, students own their IP, so you should follow a few ethical rules in order to not exploit them:

  • Build courses around your research. If the questions in the course come from 10 years of background research, your stake is much higher, and students will appreciate this.
  • Make your intentions clear at the beginning of the course.
  • Give students a possibility to opt out if they aren’t open to cooperating with you.
  • Prepare a protocol you can use to get rights from students. It’s a good idea to restrict these rights to research papers. If you plan to use your research for, say, creating patents, there are much better and ethical instruments than the classroom. If you keep knowledge creation and money-making in strictly separate categories, you will avoid problems in the future.
  • When you publish, give proper credit to the students. The standard means to do this are co-authorship (recommended), an acknowledgement note, and in some cases, writing under a collective name. The last method is more typical in the artistic end of the design world.

It’s good to keep in mind that in some research fields, editors may not accept work that builds on the classroom. The reasons are usually ethical but are equally often related to quality concerns. On the latter issue, design is quite easy-going. 

Many Northern European professors publish papers with their students. These papers build on classroom projects. For them, the classroom becomes a testbed for producing divergent concepts that are later turned into research hypotheses. These projects attract students to research, keeping it fresh by bringing young minds into it. We’d like to do something similar at UNSW.

There are a couple of great examples below of how the classroom can assist in understanding some of these possibilities:

  • Philip Ross’s marvellous PhD thesis in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Philip explored ethical theories, created concepts based on these explorations, built prototypes, and tested them with users. In the early, creative phase of his study, his students created several highly imaginative concepts, and also helped him in the prototyping process. He gave the students credit for their work, and later worked with some of them when he went to business with his concepts. You can find his thesis online by searching Ross, Philip 2008. Ethics and Aesthetics in Intelligent Product and System Design. Eindhoven, the Netherlands: Technishe Universiteit Eindhoven, on:
  • Peter Hasdell is an Australian designer working in Hong Kong. He took a group of students to Miaoxia in Sichuan and built a community kitchen for an earthquake-impacted village using earthquake-proof traditional construction techniques. His funding came from a foundation based in Hong Kong. He has published a few papers from the project, which is is still taking place. Search “Hasdell” from these proceedings:

Design has become a significant research field. By now, there are thousands of designers who have a PhD and some of the leading design schools are research-led.; In places like Aalto in Helsinki, Eindhoven in the Netherlands, and Politecnico di Milano, design education takes place in an environment defined by research. As research fields, business and engineering are much larger and went through a similar process about two decades earlier.

Many design schools in the world focus on teaching and usually only have a couple of researchers in their staff, but this is changing with teachers increasingly completing a PhD. In many academic communities, design is transitioning from a practice-led to a research-led discipline.

The great thing about design research is that it is fairly open to people from various disciplines and cultures. However, this means that the field is often quite dispersed. As a research field, design roughly breaks into five to seven camps today. A good chunk is done in industrial design engineering programs, where research tends to build on scientific methods. The definitive work has been done in the Netherlands (Delft and Eindhoven), and most Asian schools follow this model. 

Another very strong community is focussed around user-centred design the concept of user experience, which is expressed variously, but usually forms the key dependent variable of user-centred communities. The leaders are in North America (Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, MIT, Indians, Toronto and Vancouver), Scandinavia, and the UK. These areas generate citations and have proven to be very useful for education. 

Other research areas are smaller, and build on the business, history, or some branches of architecture, and to the social sciences, especially anthropology. Contemporary craft has also generated research that usually builds on art, philosophy, and the humanities. The most experimental work tends to come from Northern Europe, with Milan as an obvious outpost. 

As all this suggests, design research consists of several communities, and there is no centre. Methods and the style of research tends to vary significantly by community, good business research if worlds away from good craft. Yet, there are about five journals and 3-4 book series to follow (see Resources on this site). There are two large conferences, their quality is very variable, and several smaller regional or typically targeted conferences that usually collect the best work. 

Academic funding bodies typically support design with significant sums only in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and the UK. The European Union also has a design policy, which has funded design research through collaborations rather than through the European Research Council. Even in these countries, researchers tend to collaborate with engineers, computer scientists, or scientists if they want to be competitive for larger grants. As this breakthrough shows, there are countries that have highly cited researchers who are taken seriously by the government. Most of these are designers by training now.

The best work in design research tends to be conscious of the boundary of practice and research. Going too far in either direction tends to make research hard to understand to the other side, which takes away the excitement, enthusiasm and support designers need to make and keep their field relevant.

Yes, you can if you follow some of the traditional academic bits of wisdom. Above all, choose your community because no one can cover everything that is happening in design. Be novel. Choose your methodology after analysing your community. Try to write to the top journals, or in the case of user-centred design, conferences. Position your work to the boundary of research and practice; you will be held accountable by both parties and getting disapproval from either side means trouble in the long run. Keep publishing constantly and collaborate with more experienced partners in other disciplines. 

All this should generate those all-important metrics that you need for promotions: H-indexes in the range of 6 for assistant professors, above 10 for associates, and 15-20 to professors, with citations in the 200-400 range for junior positions, and above 1000 for full professors. These would not be high figures in physics or medicine, but you can’t compare apples and oranges. However, never simply write to get citations; research is a process of creating knowledge, and not a popularity contest. An important finding can unpopular at first.