Reference, noun

  1. The action of mentioning or alluding to something.
    1. The use of a source of information in order to ascertain something.


  1. Provide (a book or article) with citations of sources of information.[footnote]

cf. Anchor, verb

  1. Provide with a firm basis or foundation.

Design research never takes place within a vacuum. At Design Academy Eindhoven design research is situated within a variety of practices ranging from the arts or crafts to the academic. Rigorous design research builds on existing knowledge from varying practices, and acknowledges this by making a reference to this knowledge. This is a practice which allows the design researcher to summarise knowledge created by others, rather than repeating the original source, and to use it as stepping stones in their own work. In this way design researchers can anchor their work in that of their predecessors, and more generally in the world at large – not only literature, but also films, exhibitions, designs, journalistic articles, debates and more can be referenced. The internet is often the best way to find sources, but not all academic literature is freely available online, nor are all books, films, exhibitions etc..

Data that is collected and structured during design research needs to be referenced in the analysis that is done, for instance through the mapping of data – this is why documentation of data is important. It allows the design researcher to revisit the specific interviews, observations, studies of materials, or stories that support a particular analysis. There are several systems to make references to both your own data and knowledge from other sources. Every publication uses such a system, as do conference proceedings or websites, for instance, indeed, this lexicon too uses a reference system.

Referencing helps to establish whether the knowledge a design research project creates is indeed new or not. Through referencing, the design researcher can observe for themselves, as well as demonstrating to others, what the results of his or her work add to what is already known. Referencing also allows others to scrutinise and critique the design research by contextualising it within existing knowledge. In turn, they may well reference other work, giving another perspective on the design research they critique.


  • Anglia Ruskin, University (2013). Guide to the Harvard System of Referencing. [accessed 18 January 2015].
  • Ultimate Citation Reference [accessed 19 February 2018].