Selecting a topic to research can be a daunting task. One strength that’s consistent in great designers is their curiosity. Designers tend to have a wide range of interests that take them far afield when exploring the world. Oftentimes, designers are generalists—able to address contexts from many different points of view. Unfortunately, this also means that selecting a topic can be tough for designers because they often have many diverse interests. The world is so big and so curious… how could we ever choose just one part of it to study?

For experience-focused design approaches like experience, service, and interaction design, a research project should focus on the content these design approaches address. In other words, a design research project in experience design should:

  • involve human actors in some way
  • include the design of outcomes/an intervention
  • inspect the effects of interactions between human actors and design outcomes

When selecting topics for your research, be sure they are related to experience design.

Collecting Topics

List as many topics and topic groups as you can and continue to compile this list over months and years. Below each section of listed statements, write questions that address the content in each of these areas. If you can write a compelling and answerable question, then you have the start of a research topic. As you get closer to developing and producing your culminating Thesis Project, this list of topics will change and evolve over time. Like a photographer, the more topics you list (photographs you take) the more likely you’ll be to get a great topic.

Grouping Topics and Questions

Building a list of topics will produce a list of topical interests and specific questions sparked by your list. For example, exploring the domain “Attitudes and Mental Health,” renders the list below:

  • Attitudes and Mental Health
  • Self-esteem and encouraging self-worth
  • Stress management
  • Life goals and determination
  • Men’s resistance to counseling
  • Combatting Apathy

This list then can lead to questions like:

Attitudes and Mental Health Questions

  • How can counseling and mentoring become more culturally acceptable for men to bring healthier mental states?
  • Are there ways we can educate stress-management more effectively?
  • Can intrinsic motivation be imparted culturally?

This process is an iterative one that’s best started early. Again, the longer you have to develop topics, the better the topics will be. Think of it as a sketchbook-type approach to developing research—the result being a range of topics that can fuel many research projects to come.

Dennis Cheatham

Associate Professor, Communication Design

Miami University

Select Your Experience