Published 2017. Originally an answer on Quora to Why is it that research can be done by collaborators and design can't? Also published on the Huffington Post.


This is too strong of a statement to be entirely true, but there’s something interesting in it. That research seems to be a collaborative global process and designing artifacts deliberately to solve a goal looks like it comes out of maverick work.

Some of the key differences between research and design are:

Research work usually builds very clear, reusable levels of abstraction as it goes along.

https://qph.fs.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-43a3cdf442c6c3f4673aebe376bfc519

Meanwhile, the design process looks more like this. It starts with a goal and you discard whatever along the way doesn’t seem to be evaluating well against your goal.

https://qph.fs.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-e155cf9ec6364b748e4dde9590ae21f8

In other words, research is more accepting of a breadth first search and design goes depth first to solve a problem and then iterates from there. I also just want to clarify that research often does have goals and needs goals to be successful, but they’re often not as specific or short-term oriented as design problems.

With that context, I’d propose the following reasons why design doesn’t work as well with collaborating

So for example, the cell phone is largely the emergence of research — basic science research led to the discovery of the p-n junction led to transistors led to microchips led to computers led to small computers that can communicate. But along the way people realized goals for them and used something closer to the design process to accomplish them, e.g.

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