Design-Based Research: What We Learn When We Engage in Design of Interactive Systems?

Half Day Tutorial

Željko Obrenović

More than 20 years ago, Fred Brooks asked: “is interface design itself an area of research, producing generalizable results?” He elaborated that a major issue that confuses and puzzles the human-computer interaction community is the tension between narrow truths proved convincingly by statistically sound experiments, and broad “truths”, generally applicable, but supported only by possibly unrepresentative observations. That is, results indisputably true but disputably applicable, and results indisputably applicable but perhaps over-generalized. Brooks’ question is still relevant.

In this tutorial, I describe the view that the design of complex and novel interactive systems can itself be an area of research, complementing other forms of research, and that it is capable of producing useful and trustworthy results. I call this form of research design-based research, a method of inquiry aimed at exploiting the opportunities that design of complex interactive systems provides to advance our understanding about the problem we are solving, process we are following, and solution we are building. While many designers and researchers already conduct this form of research, and the idea of design-based research is not new, up to date, there have not been many attempts to explicitly define this method. The main goal of the tutorial is to give participants better understanding about the scope and limitations of design-based research, and help them to critically review contributions of this kind.

Intended audience: Interaction designers, HCI researchers and practitioners, students, other professionals in the field.

About the instructor: Zeljko Obrenovic ( is a technical consultant at Software Improvement Group (SIG), in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Before that he worked as a researcher / best practices evangelist at Backbase, as an assistant professor and researcher at the Technical University in Eindhoven, and as a researcher at CWI in Amsterdam. In his work, I aim at bridging software design research and practice, trying to get best of both worlds. His primary interest is in improving early stages of software design and in bringing human aspects in software architecture to make the resulting system more human oriented.