Frayling at the Edges: Can Design Research Reach an Age of Majority?

Gilbert Cockton joins us to talk about the legacy of design research since Frayling's seminal paper in 1993. While design research is more ubiquitous, it is still not clear how and why it has matured enough to be beyond adolescence. Join us for a review of progress.


It is now 21 years since Christopher Frayling wrote the much cited but much less read Royal College of Art Research Paper Vol 1, No 1, Research in Art and Design. Design Research should thus now have attained its Age of Majority. Design Research has certainly been growing up since 1993, and it is much better established and more ubiquitous, but it is still not clear how and why it has matured enough to be beyond adolescence and into adulthood. It may well be of course that it should never want to reach adulthood, but should remain forever driven by the energy, idealism and freedom of youth.

In this talk, I revisit Frayling's seminal seminar paper and review progress in his three types of research into, through and for design, primarily, but not exclusively, through the lens of Interaction Design and its academic underpinnings in Human-Computer Interaction research. I build on my colleague Joyce Yee's finding that Frayling's types of research are not mutually exclusive to show that all two or three types can be effectively combined to benefit from the strengths of each while mitigating their weaknesses. However, as with any 'mixed-methods' approach, each type of research must be conducted to the highest possible standards to deliver benefits and to avoid amplifying weaknesses. I will explore what such standards may be for each type of design research, and what may be down to meet these standards.

The aim of this talk is to encourage debate and discussion that understands, recognises and respects creative practices, but also commits to standards for originality, significance and rigour in design research. I hope that we all leave with more answers and questions that can take the debate forward on the nature of research in design.

Speaker's bio

Professor Gilbert Cockton is Professor in Design Theory at the University of Northumbria. His key focus is on the balance between human-focused practice and creative and technical inventiveness in interaction design and evaluation. He is an internationally renowned researcher with a career spanning over two decades. During that time he has received almost 220 invitations to present in 22 different countries, published over 220 papers, chapters, books, articles and edited proceedings (selection available from, with almost 2000 citations (Google Scholar) and secured millions of pounds worth of funding for research and Knowledge Transfer Partnership projects. (see: Link to profile)

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