Working title) Building sustainable communities in UK: working and living in the mixed-use developments.

Research project guide


Your final year will be governed by a Learning Contract, developed between you and your tutors, which (amongst other things) establish the relationship between your written and design work; in other words, the extent to which your written work is related to, and/or underpins, the design component. It is important for you to note that you should link both components, although the way and the degree to which this can be extended, is now open to you.

It has become apparent that employers are increasingly asking that potential employees are able to demonstrate an ability to express themselves articulately in writing and so it makes sense that your research project forms a coherent part of your overall design portfolio. This module is worth 100 credit points, with a design project that informs (in most of the cases) the research project and vice versa. This guide deals with the  research componentthe research project.

This guide is intended to help you understand the purpose of and process involved within an extended piece of research and analysis. It will describe ways of deciding on a choice of subject, the preparation for the type of research you will undertake, the analysis of the existing information, and writing up the information along with presenting and referencing the finished piece.

The written component offers the opportunity to research and analyse an issue that is of personal interest or relevance, and which should provide the grounding that underpins your practical design component. While this is often seen as a rather daunting exercise, research and using that research is an integral and intrinsic part of the design process and you should see your research project as such.

The options that are now available to you are meant to open new possibilities in terms of the way in which you might choose to approach and develop your research project. The research can help you develop a research question which in turn can provide direction to your studio project.

You will find that a research project, regardless of its format or length, is composed of two separate but related activities:

” the research or investigation itself and

” your interpretation of that investigation in a critical and analytical fashion.

Although the quality of the final work clearly depends in part on how you investigate your topic, the analysis of the information is equally if not more important. Ultimately, if the whole is not clearly and coherently articulated and presented then the entire process cannot be appropriately assessed.

choice of subject

The first problem is the choice of subject and, often to the student, more particularly, of title. NB: At the outset it is critically important to ensure that your topic/area of investigation meets with the approval of the tutor team. Clearly, the general area of study is not a problem you are on a course that is related to art, design and aesthetics within a built/designed environment and are therefore, presumably interested in that field.

However, narrowing the field down to identify an area that will sustain your research over 7,500 words can be difficult. At this stage you are nowhere near arriving at a  definitive title . Titles such as  Colour are clearly unacceptable; it is far too broad. The topic would need to be defined and limited by some preliminary reading. Even then, you must understand that the title remains provisional. After the initial research you may have constrained the work/title to  Colour in Architecture . Even then, the title is not particularly important; what is more relevant are the questions and the area(s) opened up by the debate.

The  title is best reconsidered again at the end and you should ensure that this clearly reflects what the work is actually about. Often titles which are fairly generic such as  Colour in Architecture require sub-titles which aid clarity and definition. Sub-titles should not normally exceed fifteen words in length.

Your research question must, however, be very clearly defined early on in the process so that you know exactly what you are going to do. Remember you are judged against what you say you are going to do, and then how you do it.

If you have elected to link your written work to your practical design work, you need to decide how closely they are to be linked. For example, a research project topic of  Colour in Architecture would clearly not relate to your entire design execution of, for instance, a hospice facility, but would certainly underpin the manner in which colour was ultimately used to achieve a specific purpose, e.g. architectural colour to promote healing effects/environments.

This could be even more specific such as healing effects for children etc. The options are endless and you are urged to consider how you can take advantage of the research opportunity. If, for example, you had not linked your research project to your design work, then you would need to do additional research in order to inform your ultimate use of colour. Think about the opportunities and ways in which the research that you are already doing for your written component may be used to strengthen design choices that you make and solutions that you offer.

Art and design is not an exact science and the aim of the research project is not to prove something  right. The aim is, through analysis and objective reasoning underpinned by a rigorous research method, to demonstrate your ability as a researcher. The point of doing research is to help us make appropriate selections, or arrive at appropriate solutions, or take appropriate actions. As a designer, research informing what you do is essential.

Although it is desirable to limit your topic to eliminate unproductive reading you do need to read widely, at least initially, in order to establish a working knowledge and understanding of the wider area of your research. It will probably be self-limiting in any case due to the sheer quantity of source material you will discover and your own interest in one or more areas.

You also need to make sure that the topic in sufficiently interesting to you to maintain your enthusiasm through to the end of research. One further issue needs to be considered at this stage; whether there is an adequate range of sources at hand. A potentially fascinating topic might well be capsized by too little documentary evidence. The choice of topic will clearly be influenced by the quantity and quality of published sources. The next section explains how to make the most of resources.


It is important to note that you are not writing a report; a research project is intended to draw conclusions and evaluate the material. That material should consist of both primary and secondary sources and it is important to distinguish between the two.

Primary material means first-hand accounts, reflections and statements. They are not based on other written works. They are in their original form, without having been arranged or interpreted by anyone else. While visits to buildings or other locations are clearly valuable for the purposes of observation, and while observations are important, do not assume that the visit itself constitutes primary source material, it is how the observation is done that makes it important. You should also endeavour to discuss the primary source with some relevant figure; the designer, say or a user.

Secondary sources such as books and journals discuss primary sources, selecting, interpreting and editing the raw material. It is important to define terms of reference and purpose at the outset.

You should never rely on single sources; good research projects contain a balance between primary and secondary material. Although you clearly need to draw your own conclusions from both types of sources, it is in the primary sources that you may find material overlooked by others and those primary sources make the research project specific to yo