In design, as in many professions, practice and research exist in mostly separate worlds. Caren Martin has lived in both—the former during her 20 years as an interior designer at Minneapolis architecture firms, the latter at the University of Minnesota's College of Design, where she earned a Ph.D. and has taught since 1995—and she understands that academics and nonacademics have different priorities and use different jargon. Martin also knows this means architects, interior designers, and landscape architects are largely unaware of scholarly research that can make their design work better. To help bridge the disconnect, she and fellow professor Denise Guerin created InformeDesign, which first appeared in 2003. (The capital "D" inthe website's name does double duty: Informed Design.) "[We're] trying to make research accessible and fast and a normal part of practice," says Martin.
InformeDesign's main product is research summaries, which distill design and human-behavior research articles from academic, peer-reviewed journals into language and concepts practitioners can understand. But this isn't research lite, and findings are not skewed in any way. UMinn is a top research institution, and "it's important that the university owns the site," says Martin, because it underscores InformeDesign's serious, objective mission. "Our goal is to publish all research," she says. "We do not make value judgments."
When the website launched, it held just 100 summaries. These days, there are more than 1,700 available, and staff search for new academic articles all year long. InformeDesign also offers other content, posting webcasts and publishing Implications, a newsletter that focuses on one design-related topic each month. All of the site's content can be accessed for free.
InformeDesign now references more than 170 academic journals. And the list continues to grow, thanks in part to user suggestions. Sources have also surfaced because of random requests. "We had someone e-mail us and say, 'I design funeral homes. Is there anything out there for me?'," says Martin. "So we looked and looked and found Death Studies, a journal for morticians, by morticians. There's not much in there we use, but every once in a while there's a great article that's useful for people designing that kind of space."