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Design Research Initiative

Architectural Computer Design, Photo by Justine Bursoni

Designers play key roles in addressing society's critical technological and social challenges. All designers conduct research, and many researchers employ design, but few opportunities exist for collective reflection on design as a primary component of the work of a research university. The Design Research Initiative brings together creative thinkers from across the College of Fine and Applied Arts.

  • What kinds of new knowledge does design produce, and how is that knowledge best conveyed?
  • When should design research present solutions, and when should it define problems?
  • How can research settings support rigorous design work that takes real risks on the road to innovation?
  • What practices can help ensure success for collaborations between designers and partners within and outside the university?
  • What can designers accomplish at a research university but nowhere else?

Faculty members and visiting scholars examine these questions—and expand the conversation—in the collaborative community of the Design Research Initiative. This faculty-led program seeks to better understand, explore, and share the unique potential of design conducted at the nexus of education, industry, and academic inquiry. This initiative also provides a locus for faculty contributions to the programming of the new Siebel Center for Design, a facility for outreach, education, and experimentation in design open to all students eager to engage with these issues. With the support of the following dedicated resources and professional relationships, the college is working to realize and share a new vision for how design research can serve innovation.

A group of design research fellows will lead this initiative. During their two-year terms, they will accomplish the following:

  • Lead and participate in a weekly seminar to collectively examine and develop research methodologies in design. This gathering will serve as the campus hub for those who wish to better integrate design into their research. Each week, fellows will compare research, discuss readings on design research methods, and, through dialogue, help others on campus achieve a more informed integration of design into their own research. Together the fellows will also collaborate on clearer communication about the unique demands, approaches, precedents, and possibilities of doing design in a research context.
  • Identify and pursue external research support with a focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration. FAA will work with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and other colleges to put the fellows in regular contact with potential collaborators across campus and provide guidance on securing new funds in support of embedded design research.
  • Contribute to collective dissemination on shareable methods of research in design. Sharing about research methods for design can take many forms, from video documentation to peer-reviewed journal publication, conference presentation, and nontraditional self-published formats. The two-year program will culminate in a public reflection intended for internal and external audiences on best practices for research in design.

Aaron Brakke is an assistant professor in the Illinois School of Architecture and the principal of Whiteknee, a design practice based in Bogota, Colombia. Previously he worked with firms including Joseph Giovannini and Archi-Tectonics. He engages with indigenous communities in South America to create and teach ancestral and new technologies. In his research, he explores digital tools and how they impact fabrication, visualization, and manufacturing.

Mary Pat McGuire is an assistant professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture. She previously was a research fellow with the Landscape Architecture Foundation and earned a faculty award from the Environmental Protection Agency. Her work concentrates on modifying surfaces to change the functions and effects of urban water. She recently launched the Water Lab to further research urban water and is completing Depave Chicago, a stormwater project.

Conor O'Shea is an assistant professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and the founding principal of Hinterlands Urbanism and Landscape. Previously he was a visiting assistant professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. In collaboration with Hinterlands, he had an installation featured at the 2015 Chicago Architecture Biennial. His work concentrates on urban processes, ecologically conscious design, and socially conscious urban futures.

Stan Ruecker is Petullo Professor of Graphic Design in the School of Art and Design. He most recently was an associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. In addition to developing prototypes for interfaces, he publishes and presents widely on information design, visualizations in the humanities, and interdisciplinary research project management. In 2011, his book Visual Interface Design for Digital Cultural Heritage with Milena Radzikowska and Stéfan Sinclair was released.

Suresh Sethi is a professor and the Avery Chair of Industrial Design in the School of Art and Design. Previously he was the vice president of Whirlpool Design South Asia and the global design director for the Air and Water group at Whirlpool. He also served on the India Design Council and the Advisory Committee of Urban Heritage Conservation in Mumbai, India. His design work focuses on lighting, consumer electronics, and home appliances.

Stephen Taylor is a professor of music and the chair of Composition-Theory in the School of Music. He uses traditional instruments and live electronics in his award-winning pieces that navigate art and science and has commissions from organizations including the American Composers Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In addition to conducting the Illinois Modern Ensemble, he publishes and lectures on György Ligeti, Björk, Radiohead, and African rhythm.

Marci Uihlein is an assistant professor in the Illinois School of Architecture and a licensed professional engineer. Previously she was a visiting lecturer with the department's study abroad program in Versailles, France, and worked with the global firm Arup. In 2013, she earned the Building Technology Educators' Society Emerging Faculty Award. She researches structural pedagogy, structural design in architectural projects, and professional ties between architects and engineers.

Yun Kyu Yi is an assistant professor in the Illinois School of Architecture. He previously was an assistant professor with the TC Chan Center for Building Simulation and Energy Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and an investigator on the University of Pennsylvania Carbon Reduction Action Plan. He has published extensively on energy systems, building performance, computational modeling of behavior, and sustainable architectural practices.

Research by creative thinkers is supported across FAA through funding programs and initiatives. Consult the information on financial resources for details.