There's one issue that doesn't seem to have come up in this thread on
the "artifact" of evidence in design research, and that is whatever
it is that describes the research process. The evidence must include
a description of the thing or process that constitutes the object of
inquiry, and it must include a description of what we have done and
To report research, an author must describe the subject or object of
inquiry, the research methods, and the research process so clearly
that the reader understands the project and process fully. This
process narrative is the metanarrative of research, and I'd call this
an artifact of evidence in research of any kind.
Describing the first artifact of evidence involves articulate
narrative description as well as any necessary models, figures,
diagrams, illustrations, drawings, or images. The model may be the
thing itself -- toasters, teapots, cups, cars.
Words also play a role. Only narration transmits the metanarrative of
research to place research in context. This permits us to inquire
into the process and research activity as well as into the subject or
object of investigation. Since the research process takes place in
the mind of the researcher, reporting research requires the narration
of a mental process in addition to a report of what we learn.
Clive's comments on process and realized thing also capture this
distinction, though here, I'm addressing the research process as
distinct from -- though possibly linked with -- the design process.
In discussing this issue in another thread, David Sless pointed to
the work of Robert Horn. Horn notes important new ways of
communicating through what he calls visual language. Horn's theories
of visual language are important for many kinds of communication. One
of Horn's articles describes new ways of communicating that he
believes will and should supplant the older style of normative,
grammatical narrative. He labels this new kind of writing "visual
language." and this includes some of the kinds of writing to which
Peter Storkerson also refers. (Peter takes up some of these issues in
the January 2008 issue of Design Research Quarterly. The issue also
contains an article by David on clarity.)
Early in his presentation, Horn (2001: 1) discusses the challenges
involved in visual language. "(A) what to put in and what to leave
out (there are some kinds of writing where you leave out the most
important information!); (B) how thoughts stick together (and how to
organize this stickiness); (C) what writing should be linear and what
should not; (D) when to tightly integrate words and images into
visual language; and (E) what in the future may be called
metawriting." Then he goes on to discuss the new rules and the old,
considering when and how to apply each.
One of Horn's most interesting points is that visual language
requires the tightly coupled, appropriate use of BOTH words and
images. Neither words nor images alone constitute visual language.
The frequent wish seen in design presentations to find a way of
communicating research without words or alphanumeric symbols is
impossible. Only the tight and appropriate integrated use of words
and images will do for many kinds of research report. For some
discussions, narrative alone will do, particularly for describing
internal processes, thought processes, and the metanarrative of
The need to narrate the research on a metanarrative level is why
neither artifacts nor symbolic presentations can serve as full
research reports. They are part of what the research is ABOUT and
they may constitute part of the research result, but the research
itself takes place in the human mind, and reporting the research must
therefore involve reporting thoughts and experiences.
MANY research reports require images and illustrations. ALL research
reports require narrative.
We're not the only group facing this kind of challenge. Chemist and
Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffman once wrote an article explaining how
people report the research involved in designing chemicals. Can't
find the exact page right now, but I wrote the key quote where he
stated "that it is impossible to write chemistry without drawing
molecules." Hoffman's (2002) elegant discussion shows how words,
equations, and images come together to describe original scientific
contributions to his field. Hoffman's clear, neatly argued lessons
can help the growth of ours.
A good research report shows - and tells - enough for the reader to
understand the methods and value of the work. It is clear. It is as
simple as possible while being as full as it must be. It describes
the subject or object of inquiry, the research methods, and the
research process so clearly that the reader understands the project
and process fully. It demonstrates the qualities of process that help
each reader to judge the work properly AS RESEARCH.
This last quality is a particular distinction between research
reports and reporting about research. A research report is
transparent, and it permits us to know more than the fact THAT
something is supposedly so. It allows us to ask for ourselves WHETHER
something is so, it allows us to ask HOW and sometimes WHY, and it
permits us to work through the issues to reach our own conclusion.
All these issues come into play when we consider the artifacts of
Hoffman, Roald. 2002. "Writing and Drawing Chemistry." Writing and
Revising the Disciplines. Jonathan Monroe, ed. Ithaca: Cornell
Horn, Robert E. 2001. What Kinds of Writing Have a Future? Speech
prepared in connection with receiving Lifetime Achievement Award by
the Association of Computing Machinery. SIGDOC, October 22, 2001.
Dean, Swinburne Design
Swinburne University of Technology