Understanding the characteristics of mixed-method research and design research requires understanding some fundamentals of research approaches overall. Mixed-method research and design research both developed out of needs for particular research approaches that more fundamental research methodologies did not address. The characteristics of these research approaches relate to the type of research project for which each has likely application.
Quantitative research focuses on data regarded as empirical. For example, a physical address of a home or business exists as a fact. A researcher can identify the location of the home based on the physical address. Someone doing research on the circumstances that exist at that home, for example a census worker, can identify additional facts about the residents of that home. Although those facts may change, at the time of the census such things as number of residents, income range of the household, and employment status exist as quantitative, or factual, data. Qualitative research methodologies, however, seek to draw research-based conclusions by way of qualitative indicators with reference to the research project. Qualitative factors include such considerations as the effect of perceptions, beliefs, cultural context and experiences on the outcome of a research project.
Mixed-methods research comes out of an environment in which professional researchers have a tendency to use exclusivity in the use of either quantitative research or qualitative research approaches as described at the American Educational Research Association website. One characteristic of mixed-methods research is that this approach seeks to minimize the weaknesses and draw from the strengths of an exclusively qualitative or quantitative research methodology. Another characteristic is that this methodology recognizes the value of knowledge as constructed through qualitative means such as perceptions, as well as experience based on factual aspects of the world in which people live. Another key characteristic of the mixed-method research approach is that it rejects the dualism that sets qualitative or fact-based and quantitative or subjectively based methodologies as having value only in exclusivity from each other.
Design research’s primary characteristic involves that it refers to research at the level of data collection prior to the execution of a design plan. That is, people who work on designing a project -- anything from a new product, such as a new type of cookware, to a computer system to architectural design for a building -- use the design research approach as described at the Loughborough University website. The characteristic aim of design research involves acquiring information from individuals who are, or are likely to correspond to, users of the potential product, system, or building as early as possible in the design phase. Methodologies include such activities as focus groups that allow users, or likely users, to give evaluations of the design’s usefulness and case studies of individuals involved in the use of similar products or of design research itself. Another methodology involves deploying professionals who can represent the projected typical user in the design process. As an example of this last approach, many software development teams incorporate the technical communications staff in their project development plan because at the outset technical communications professionals have an equal unfamiliarity with the software in development to that of a typical end-user. They also have the communications skills to suggest improvements to the technical design staff.