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The designX Lab

designX is the research lab of Larry Leifer PhD, Professor in Mechanical Engineering (Design Group). The designX community consists of a diverse group of research staff, administrative staff, PhD candidates, M.Sc students, visiting professors and visiting students. We study Design.

designX is focused on graduate-level research in the larger subjects of design innovation, design methodology, and design education. Our designX community is comprised of fulltime members who arrive from a diverse range of disciplines including sociology, product design, neuroscience, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, economics, business and architecture. While our lab reflects a range of interests across multiple disciplines, we share an interest and commitment to better understanding Design Thinking – A research and design paradigm which is user-centered and is proving to yield superior outcomes in the face of contemporary problems.

We are actively developing understandings of design as a research topic, as a research method, and as a philosophical approach.

Design as a Research Topic

Historically, one of the core goals of PhD research has been to discover what are designers doing when they design? To this end, designX researchers have studied how design teams use their workspaces, how designers access and reference information in conceptual design, how social interaction affects design outcomes, how different learning styles of team members affect group design work, how geographical distribution affects design team collaboration, how designers use question-asking in the conceptual design process, how expert assistance influences design outcomes, how design entrepreneurs use informal networks to develop innovative ideas, and how design affects the corporate bottom line.

Through presentations, publications and workshops, this research has contributed to the larger understanding of what constitutes design, best practices of creative design action, best practices of design team performance, and how design curriculum should be structured.

Design as a Research Method

designX research reflects one distinguishing characteristic in that it is conducted by researchers with technical backgrounds in design. This encourages empathy with the subjects of our research, but it also induces researchers to adopt design as a research method. Design researchers are also able to conceive, develop and execute design interventions which prototype desired physical and operational characteristics to gain insights on the issues, constraints and opportunities which designers will face in future contexts. By employing design as a tool and method for conducting research, we are able to better understand how design occurs, and expand the realm of how design is applied.

Design as a Philosophical Approach

One of the most important aspects of designX is the emergence and adoption of design as an overall philosophy. This commitment provides a framework from which design students, researchers and practitioners may observe and approach the world at large.

Locally, we articulate the three key tenets of this framework as:

All design is redesign. This observation is evidenced in the major themes of designX research. The notion of "design as redesign" incorporates our observations about design being iterative, about design utilizing analogy, and about the specific contexts that define design problems.

Design is a social process. “Never go hunting alone” communicates the need to form interdisciplinary design teams when superior results are desired. Members of design teams are social beings themselves, and designX research has identified those attitudes, behaviors, and practices which differentiate between adequate and superior design results. Our observations on the demonstrated behavior of design teams, particularly in environments where design team members are geographically-distributed and from different disciplinary backgrounds, further support our belief that design is a social process. Furthermore, designX researchers of implicit interactions have developed detailed insights of behaviors that interactive products emulate to communicate with human users.

Designers preserve ambiguity. The act of design requires both divergent and convergent operations. While one creates ambiguity while the other eliminates it, the presence of ambiguity and its consequential expansion increases discomfort felt by the design team. However, its presence and understanding its role is critical to superior design results. Our interest in informal and ad-hoc methods, as well as research in sketching as part of the iterative design process, is clearly influenced by the importance of ambiguity as a critical design resource. Oftentimes, our designX researchers exploit the ambiguity of research methodologies to best suit the project or question at hand; after all, good designers use whatever tools are at their disposal, and even invent new ones if the situation demands.

designX Meetings

design x

design-X lab meetings are open to the larger Stanford community.

Meetings are held Wednesday afternoons of each academic quarter from 13:00 to 14:20 Pacific Time (1:00 PM to 2:20 PM) We meet on the second floor of the Center for Design Research (CDR) building at 424 Panama Mall (Building 560), which is situated within the Mechanical Engineering cluster. The atmosphere is non-hierarchal, informal and engaged — Questions and group discussion are instrumental in the development of our scholarly community. Persons interested in authoring a presentation or talk should contact the designX meeting coordinator for scheduling. The current designX meeting coordinator is Xiao Ge, PhD candidate.

The goals of each designX meeting are:

  • To foster a culture of graduate-level, critical engagement;
  • To create a respectful place for critical discourse and intellectual exchange;
  • To discuss design and research methodologies;
  • To provide feedback on research outcomes;
  • To build a supportive and productive scholarly community.

For presentations by non-designX members, each presentation will have a corresponding facilitator from the designX community. The facilitator's role is:

  • To ensure that presentations connect with an interest or initiative of the designX lab;
  • To moderate the discussion so that it is relevant, provocative, and on-topic;
  • To ensure the presentation generates the most value for both the presenter and the designX audience.

A schedule and presentation archive are maintained here.

Location of designX Loft, Parking for Visitors

The designX lab has resources on both the lower and upper levels of the Center for Design Research (CDR) building in the Mechanical Engineering cluster at 424 Panama Mall, Building 560.

Visitors have options regarding their choice of transportation mode:

By Bike: Bike racks are plentiful in our vicinity.

By CalTrain: CalTrain provides commuter train service between San Francisco and San Jose. The Palo Alto station is the closest to serve Stanford University. Upon arrival, one may walk, ride the free Stanford / Margeurite bus shuttle, or conjure an Uber ride.

By Uber: We recommend a drop-off at The Oval, which allows for a nice walk across the Main Quad prior to finding the Mechanical Engineering cluster of buildings.

By personal vehicle: As Stanford University is a pedestrian oriented campus, parking is concentrated around our perimeter. For visitors after 4pm, please know that Parking Services does not ticket. For visitors before 4pm, visitor parking exists. Parking spaces are numbered and please note your space number before finding one of the payment kiosks. These kiosks accept both cash and credit cards. Although you will be given a receipt, you do not need to place the receipt on your dash. We have two recommendations for parking, in order of closeness:

  • Visitor Pay Lot, south of the Tresidder Memorial Union. For your navigation system, use the address of 459 Lagunita Dr, Stanford CA, 94305. This option requires more driving and less walking.
  • Visitor Pay Lot, Parking Structure 2 at Via Ortega and Panama Streets. For your navigation system, use the address of 285 Panama St, Stanford CA, 94305. This option requires less driving and more walking.

For those planning a visit for multiple days, please seek options at the university Parking & Transportation Services web site.