A mixed-methods approach to interior and architectural design history research

Authored by: Kathryn L. Burton , Elaine L. Pedersen

The Routledge Companion to Design Research

Print publication date:  October  2014
Online publication date:  October  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415706070
eBook ISBN: 9781315758466
Adobe ISBN: 9781317636250


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Quality research is the result of the appropriate application and use of research techniques. “No single method of data collection. .. is ideal. Each has inherent strengths and weaknesses” (Abowitz and Toole, 2010: 108). A mixed-methods approach may provide stronger findings if the methods that have been selected each provide further insight on the subject being explored. Additionally, sometimes the methods may “counterbalance each other” adding a strength to the other method’s weakness (ibid.: 112). Abowitz and Toole (2010: 113) believe that the use of mixed-methods is most effective when methods are mixed “that have different but complementary strengths and weaknesses”. If a careful selection of methods is made and each type of method used balances and supplements the other methods, more inclusive data may be collected (Abowitz and Toole, 2010; Fielding, 2010). Many researchers conduct their research using one method that they have deemed appropriate to their research purpose, however, the use of mixed-methods research continues to grow (Fielding, 2010). Most typically when researchers use a mixed-methods research approach they are referring to the use of both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods (Abowitz and Toole, 2010; Creswell, 2009; Creswell and Plano Clark, 2011). However, a mixed-methods approach can be constructed from exclusively qualitative data collection when different qualitative paradigms are applied to the data. In fact, mixed-methods approaches have been called “multiple ways of seeing” (Creswell and Plano Clark, 2011: 4). While design scholars may typically use a mixed-method qualitative approach, design history scholars may find it worthwhile to consider the application of a mixed-methods qualitative approach because of the potential for uncovering multiple layers of data not readily available in a single methodological approach. Traditional historic design research uses the historic method and those in material culture may use the historic method and/or variations of artifact analysis, but it is rare to find much mixing of methods. A search of articles published across three scholarly journals, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Journal of Design History and Journal of Interior Design, Special Issue—Time: People + Products + Processes (focusing on design history) bore this out. Of the articles reviewed (Bowler and Brimblecombe, 2000; Ortenberg, 2011; Kinchin, 2005; Bluestone, 2012; Yanni, 2003; Marcus, 2012; Lasc, 2013; Heathcott, 2012; Huppatz, 2012; Barnes and Jackson, 2012; Edwards, 2013; Al Shihabi, 2013) most did not explicitly reveal their methods, but the historic method was apparent from the authors’ use of primary and secondary materials as data sources. In two cases other methods were evident in conjunction with the historic method; artifact analysis (Al Shihabi, 2013) and a supplemental use of oral history (Marcus, 2012). While this small sampling of literature cannot be considered exhaustive, it does seem to represent a common practice among design historians to focus on the historic method for their research.

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