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The 4 types of research methods in ui/ux design (and when to use them).

  • User Experience
  • 4 minute read
  • by Rich Staats

Design research is a necessary part of creating a user-centered product. When done right, you’re able to gather data that helps you:

  • Identify and solve relevant design problems.
  • Better understand the product’s end users.
  • Improve your designs based on data-driven research.

Though there are many different ways to collect data and do design research, they can broadly be categorized as either primary, secondary, exploratory, or evaluative research. In this article, we’ll explain these four types of research methods in the context of UI/UX design and when you should use them in your design process.

Primary research

Primary Research

Primary research is the simplest (and perhaps most effective) way to come up with data to get a better understanding of the audience for which you’re designing. The purpose of primary research is to validate design ideas and concepts early on in the design process. The data you collect from primary research allows you to design meaningful, user-centered solutions.

Let’s take a look at some examples of primary research:

Conducting interviews with individuals or in small groups is a great starting point, and there are many ways to go about it. Depending on your project, you might conduct direct interviews or indirect interviews. Direct interviews are simple question-answer format interviews whereas indirect interviews are set up in a more conversational style. You’ll also have to decide whether you’ll interview people in-person or remotely.

Focus groups

Focus groups are structured, group interviews in which a moderator guides the discussion. As a UI/UX designer, you might consider using this research method when you need to gather user insight quickly.

Usability testing

Once you develop a prototype, you can recruit test participants and conduct usability tests  to uncover foundational issues with the product’s user experience and gather user feedback. The idea is to define user goals and turn them into realistic task scenarios  that the test participants would have to complete using your prototype.

Secondary research

Secondary Research

Secondary research is when you use existing books, articles, or research material to validate your design ideas and concepts or support your primary research. For example, you might want to use the material you gather from secondary research to:

  • Explain the context behind your UI design.
  • Build a case for your design decisions.
  • Reinforce the data you gathered from primary research.

Generally speaking, secondary research is much easier (and faster) to do than primary research. You’ll be able to find most of the information you need on the internet, in the library, or your company’s archives. Here are some places you can collect secondary research from:

  • Your company’s internal data, which may include information contained in your company’s files, databases and project reports.
  • Client’s research department, e.g. the data your client has regarding user behavior with previous versions of the website/application, user interests, etc.
  • Industry statistics, i.e. the industry’s general consensus, standards and conventions.
  • Relevant books, articles, case studies and magazines.

Websites have evolved a great deal over the last two decades, and so has the way users interact with them. This is why one of the most common challenges with secondary research in UI/UX design is outdated data. In such cases, UI/UX designers resort to other research methods (such as primary research or exploratory research) to gather the data they need.

Exploratory research

Exploratory Research

Exploratory research is usually conducted at the start of the design process with a purpose to help designers understand the problem they’re trying to solve. As such, it focuses on gathering a thorough understanding of the end user’s needs and goals.

In the Define the Problem stage of the design thinking process , you can use exploratory research techniques to develop a design hypothesis and validate it with the product’s intended user base. By doing so, you’ll be in a better position to make hypothesis-driven design decisions throughout the design process.

You can validate your hypothesis by running experiments. Here are some of the ways you can validate your assumptions depending on where you are in the design process:

  • Conducting interviews and surveys
  • Organizing focus groups
  • Conducting usability tests
  • Running various A/B tests

Essentially, you’re combining exploratory research and primary research techniques to define the problem accurately. You can do this by asking questions that encourage interview participants to explore different design concepts and think outside the box.

Before you begin collecting data, remember to write down the experiment you’re running and define the outcomes that validate your design hypothesis. After doing exploratory research, you should have enough data to begin designing a solution.

Evaluative research

Evaluative Research

Exploratory research gives you enough data to begin designing a solution. Once you have a prototype on hand, you can use evaluative research to test that solution with real users. The goal of evaluative research is to help designers gather feedback that allows them to improve  their product’s design.

There are two main functions of evaluative research: summative and formative .

  • Summative evaluation is all about making a judgment regarding the efficacy of the product once it’s complete.
  • Formative evaluation, on the other hand, focuses on evaluating the product and making improvements (i.e., detecting and eliminating usability problems) during the development process.

For example, you can conduct usability tests in which you ask test participants to use the product to perform a set of tasks. Keep in mind that the purpose of evaluative research is to gather feedback from users regarding your product’s design. In case you’re short on time or low on budget, you can choose to conduct usability studies that fit in your time and budget constraints (such as guerrilla usability testing ).

Deciding which research method to use depends on what data you’re trying to gather and where you are in the design process. The information you collect through your design research will enable you to make informed design decisions and create better user-centered products.

Let’s quickly recap the four types of research methods UI/UX designers can use in the design process:

  • Primary research  is used to generate data by conducting interviews, surveys, and usability tests and/or organizing focus group sessions.
  • With secondary research,  you’re able to use existing research material to validate your design ideas and support your primary research.
  • Exploratory research  is when you come up with a design hypothesis and run experiments to validate it.
  • Once you have a prototype, you can use evaluative research  to see if there’s any room for improvement.

Which of these research methods do you use in your design process and how? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Inside Design

4 types of research methods all designers should know

Emily esposito,   •   oct 22, 2018.

R emember that fifth grade science project where you learned about primary research for the first time? Like most things we learned in elementary school, you probably didn’t expect it to creep back into your day-to-day adult life. However, in reality, designers have to conduct research and analyze data all the time.

Design research is a critical step in creating the best user experience. It helps you understand your customers’ behavior and turn it into actionable insights to improve your design.

Top Stories

Primary research.

Perhaps the most important method in design research, this involves you or your team going directly to the source (your customers) to ask questions and gather data. Most often, the goal is to better understand who you are designing for or to validate your ideas with the actual end user.

Some examples of primary research include:

One-on-one interviews are a great place to start when collecting primary research. There are three main types of interviews: directed, non-directed, and ethnographic. Direct interviews are the most common and follow the standard question and answer format. Non-direct interviews are used when participants may not feel comfortable with direct questions. Instead, this interview is set up as a conversation (with some rough guidelines). Ethnographic interviews involve observing people in their day-to-day environment (very similar to the contextual inquiry method covered below).

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User groups.

Also known as focus groups, these are structured interviews involving three to six participants. A moderator guides the discussion, providing verbal and written feedback through the exercises. This research method is best when you need to get a lot of user insight in a short period of time.

Contextual inquiry

You first ask users a set of standard questions, then observe them in their natural environment as they complete their everyday tasks. It’s not just an interview or an observation—you want to watch people perform tasks as they explain what they are doing and why. This type of research is especially important in the beginning of the design process to learn what is important to users and how they interact with similar tools or services.

Asking users to document their own experience will help you see your product through their eyes.

“Design research helps you understand your customers’ behavior and turn it into actionable insights to improve your design.”

Diary study

Occurring over an extended period of time (from a week to a month, or even longer), participants are asked to keep a diary and log specific information about their activities. In-situ logging is the simplest way to collect data from diaries—users report all details about the activities as they complete them.

Usability testing

Once you’re deeper into the design process and have a prototype to share, usability testing helps you put that design into the wild to gather feedback. Here, you would ask potential or current users to complete a set of tasks using your prototype.

Secondary research

Secondary research is when you use existing data like books, articles, or the internet to validate or support existing research. You may use secondary research to create a stronger case for your design choices and provide additional insight into what you learned during primary research.

Work with existing content, like presentations or articles, to present a strong case for your design choices.

This type of research method is quick and cheap—all you need is internet access or a library card to start. However, some common challenges with secondary research include not being able to find the specific information you need, or battling outdated, low-quality data.Here are some places where you could gather secondary research:

  • Internal data, like your company database, sales reports, or historical information
  • Government statistics or information from government agencies
  • University research centers
  • Respected magazines and newspapers

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Generative or exploratory research.

Generative research, also known as exploratory research, focuses on a deeper understanding of user needs and desires. It is usually conducted at the beginning of the design project when you need to answer basic questions like, “What problem are we solving for our customers?” This discovery phase helps you to identify a design hypothesis and validate it with your customers. You won’t always know what the outcome or answers will be, but they will create a strong foundation to make good design decisions going forward.

You’ll see a lot of overlap between generative research and primary research since the whole point of generative research is to get out and talk to your users. Examples of generative research include interviews, user groups, surveys, and contextual inquiries.

Before you start your research, make sure you know what you intend to learn from the results.

Evaluative research.

After gathering your generative research, you’re prepared to design a solution for your customers. Evaluative research allows you to test that solution, giving users the opportunity to “evaluate” your prototype. Your goal is to collect feedback to help refine and improve the design experience. One of the most popular ways to conduct evaluative research is to have people use your product or service as they think out loud (again, a subset of primary research). A perfect example of this research method is usability studies.And, for whichever type of evaluative research you choose, there are two types: summative and formative. Summative emphasizes the outcome more than the process (looking at whether the desired effect is achieved) and formative is used to strengthen idea being tested (monitoring the success of a process).

Keep asking questions

How do you decide which research method to use? It depends on what you’re trying to learn. You may start with primary research and find that more questions arise after getting to know your customers better (and that’s a good thing!). These new questions will help you decide what you need to learn next. When in doubt, always follow the questions.

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by Emily Esposito

Emily has written for some of the top tech companies, covering everything from creative copywriting to UX design. When she's not writing, she's traveling the world (next stop: Japan!), brewing kombucha, and biking through the Pacific Northwest.

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A Complete Guide to Primary and Secondary Research in UX Design

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

To succeed in UX design, you must know what UX research methods to use for your projects.

This impacts how you:

  • Understand and meet user needs
  • Execute strategic and business-driven solutions
  • Differentiate yourself from other designers
  • Be more efficient in your resources
  • Innovate within your market

Primary and secondary research methods are crucial to uncovering this. The former is when you gather firsthand data directly from sources, while the latter synthesizes existing data and translates them into insights and recommendations.

Let's dive deep into each type of research method and its role in UX research.

If you are still hungry to learn more, specifically how to apply it practically in the real world, you should check out Michael Wong's UX research course . He teaches you  the exact process and tactics he used that helped him build a UX agency that generated over $10M+ million in revenue.

What is p rimary research in UX design

Primary UX research gathers data directly from the users to understand their needs, behaviors, and preferences.

It's done through interviews, surveys, and observing users as they interact with a product.

Primary research in UX: When and why to use it

Primary research typically starts at the start of a UX project. This is so that the design process is grounded in a deep understanding of user needs and behaviors.

By collecting firsthand information early on, teams can tailor their designs to address real user problems.

Here are the reasons why primary research is important in UX design: ‍

1. It fast-tracks your industry understanding

Your knowledge about the industry may be limited at the start of the project. Primary research helps you get up to speed because you interact directly with real customers. As a result, this allows you to work more effectively.

Example: Imagine you're designing an app for coffee lovers. But you're not a coffee drinker yourself. Through user interviews, you learn how they prefer to order their favorite drink, what they love or hate about existing coffee apps, and their "wishlist" features by talking directly to them.

This crucial information will guide you on what to focus on in later stages when you do the actual designing. ‍

2. You'll gain clarity and fill knowledge gaps

There are always areas we know less about than we'd like. Primary research helps fill these gaps by observing user preferences and needs directly.

Example: Let's say you're working on a website for online learning. You might assume that users prefer video lessons over written content, but your survey results show that many users prefer written material because they can learn at their own pace.

With that in mind, you'll prioritize creating user-friendly design layouts for written lessons. ‍

3. You get to test and validate any uncertainties

When unsure about a feature, design direction, or user preference, primary research allows you to test these elements with real users.

This validation process helps you confidently move forward since you have data backing your decisions.

Example: You're designing a fitness app and can't decide between a gamified experience (with points and levels) or a more straightforward tracking system.

By prototyping both options and testing them with a group of users, you discover that the gamified experience concept resonates more.

Users are more motivated when they gain points and progress levels. As a result, you pivot to designing a better-gamified experience.

Types of primary research methods in UX design

Here's a detailed look at common primary research methods in UX:

1. User interviews

  • What is it: User interviews involve one-on-one conversations with users to gather detailed insights, opinions, and feedback about their experiences with a product or service.
  • Best used for: Gathering qualitative insights on user needs, motivations, and pain points.
  • Tools: Zoom and Google Meet for remote interviews; Calendly for scheduling; Otter.ai for transcription. ‍
  • What is it: Surveys are structured questionnaires designed to collect quantitative data on user preferences, behaviors, and demographics.
  • Best used for: Collecting data from many users to identify patterns and trends.
  • Tools: Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, and Typeform for survey creation; Google Sheets and Notion for note taking. ‍

3. Usability testing

  • What is it: Usability testing involves observing users interact with a prototype or the actual product to identify usability issues and areas for improvement.
  • Best used for: Identifying and addressing usability problems.
  • Tools: FigJam, Lookback.io , UserTesting, Hotjar for conducting and recording sessions; InVision, Figma for prototype testing; Google Sheets to log usability issues and track task completion rates. ‍

4. Contextual inquiry

  • What is it: This method involves observing and interviewing users in their natural environment to understand how they use a product in real-life situations.
  • Best used for: Gaining deep insights into user behavior and the context in which a product is used.
  • Tools: GoPro or other wearable cameras for in-field recording; Evernote for note-taking; Miro for organizing insights. ‍

5. Card sorting

  • What is it: Card sorting is when users organize and categorize content or information.
  • Best used for: Designing or evaluating the information architecture of a website or application.
  • Tools: FigJam, Optimal Workshop, UXPin, and Trello for digital card sorting; Mural for collaborative sorting sessions. ‍

6. Focus groups

  • What is it: Group discussions with users that explore their perceptions, attitudes, and opinions about a product.
  • Best used for: Gathering various user opinions and ideas in an interactive setting.
  • Tools: Zoom, Microsoft Teams for remote focus groups; Menti or Slido for real-time polling and feedback. ‍

7. Diary studies

  • What is it: A method where users record their experiences, thoughts, and frustrations while interacting with a product over a certain period of time.
  • Best used for: Understanding long-term user behavior, habits, and needs.
  • Tools: Dscout, ExperienceFellow for mobile diary entries; Google Docs for simple text entries. ‍

8. Prototype testing

  • What is it: Prototype testing is when users evaluate the usability and design of early product prototypes with users.
  • Best used for: Identifying usability issues and gathering feedback on design concepts
  • Tools: Figma for creating and sharing prototypes; Maze for unmoderated testing and analytics. ‍

9. Eye-tracking

  • What is it: A method that analyzes where and how long users look at different areas on a screen.
  • Best used for: Understanding user attention, readability, and visual hierarchy effectiveness.
  • Tools: Tobii, iMotions for hardware; Crazy Egg for website heatmaps as a simpler alternative. ‍

10. A/B testing

  • What is it: A/B testing compares two or more versions of a webpage or app feature to determine which performs better in achieving specific goals.
  • Best used for: Making data-driven decisions on design elements that impact user behavior.
  • Tools: Optimizely, Google Optimize for web-based A/B testing; VWO for more in-depth analysis and segmentation. ‍

11. Field studies

  • What is it: Research done in real-world settings to observe and analyze user behavior and interactions in their natural environment.
  • Best used for: Gaining insights into how products are used in real-world contexts and identifying unmet user needs.
  • Tools: Notability, OneNote for note-taking; Voice Memos for audio recording; Trello for organizing observations. ‍

12. Think-aloud protocols

  • What is it: A method involves users verbalizing their thought process while interacting with a product. It helps uncover their decision-making process and pain points.
  • Best used for: Understanding user reasoning, expectations, and experiences when using the product.
  • Tools: UsabilityHub, Morae for recording think-aloud sessions; Zoom for remote testing with screen sharing.

Challenges of primary research in UX

Here are the obstacles that UX professionals may face with primary research:

  • Time-consuming : Primary research requires significant planning, conducting, and analyzing. This is particularly relevant for methods that involve a lot of user interaction.
  • Resource intensive : A considerable amount of resources is needed, including specialized tools or skills for data collection and analysis.
  • Recruitment difficulties : Finding and recruiting suitable participants willing to put in the effort can be challenging and costly.
  • Bias and validity : The risk of bias in collecting and interpreting data highlights the importance of carefully designing the research strategy. This is so that the findings are accurate and reliable. ‍

What is secondary research in UX design

Once primary research is conducted, secondary research analyzes and converts this data into insights. They may also find common themes and ideas and convert them into meaningful recommendations.

Using journey maps, personas, and affinity diagrams can help them better understand the problem.

Secondary research also involves reviewing existing research, published books, articles, studies, and online information. This includes competitor websites and online analytics to support design ideas and concepts. ‍

Secondary research in UX: Knowing when and why to use it

Secondary research is a flexible method in the design process. It fits in both before and after primary research.

At the project's start, looking at existing research and what's already known can help shape your design strategy. This groundwork helps you understand the design project in a broader context.

After completing your primary research, secondary research comes into play again. This time, it's about synthesizing your findings and forming insights or recommendations for your stakeholders.

Here's why it's important in your design projects:

1. It gives you a deeper understanding of your existing research

Secondary research gathers your primary research findings to identify common themes and patterns. This allows for a more informed approach and uncovers opportunities in your design process.

Example: When creating personas or proto-personas for a fitness app, you might find common desires for personalized workout plans and motivational features.

This data shapes personas like "Fitness-focused Fiona," a detailed profile that embodies a segment of your audience with her own set of demographics, fitness objectives, challenges, and likes. ‍

2. Learn more about competitors

Secondary research in UX is also about leveraging existing data in the user landscape and competitors.

This may include conducting a competitor or SWOT analysis so that your design decisions are not just based on isolated findings but are guided by a comprehensive overview. This highlights opportunities for differentiation and innovation.

Example: Suppose you're designing a budgeting app for a startup. You can check Crunchbase, an online database of startup information, to learn about your competitors' strengths and weaknesses.

If your competitor analysis reveals that all major budgeting apps lack personalized advice features, this shows an opportunity for yours to stand out by offering customized budgeting tips and financial guidance. ‍

Types of secondary research methods in UX

1. competitive analysis.

  • What is it: Competitive analysis involves systematically comparing your product with its competitors in the market. It's a strategic tool that helps identify where your product stands about the competition and what unique value proposition it can offer.
  • Best used for: Identifying gaps in the market that your product can fill, understanding user expectations by analyzing what works well in existing products, and pinpointing areas for improvement in your own product.
  • Tools: Google Sheets to organize and visualize your findings; Crunchbase and SimilarWeb to look into competitor performance and market positioning; and UserVoice to get insights into what users say about your competitors.

2. Affinity mapping

  • What is it: A collaborative sorting technique used to organize large sets of information into groups based on their natural relationships.
  • Best used for: Grouping insights from user research, brainstorming sessions, or feedback to identify patterns, themes, and priorities. It helps make sense of qualitative data, such as user interview transcripts, survey responses, or usability test observations.
  • Tools: Miro and FigJam for remote affinity mapping sessions.

3. Customer journey mapping

  • What is it: The process of creating a visual representation of the customer's experience with a product or service over time and across different touchpoints.
  • Best used for: Visualizing the user's path from initial engagement through various interactions to the final goal.
  • Tools: FigJam and Google Sheets for collaborative journey mapping efforts.

4. Literature and academic review

  • What is it: This involves examining existing scholarly articles, books, and other academic publications relevant to your design project. The goal is to deeply understand your project's theoretical foundations, past research findings, and emerging trends.
  • Best used for: Establishing a solid theoretical framework for your design decisions. A literature review can uncover insights into user behavior and design principles that inform your design strategy.
  • Tools: Academic databases like Google Scholar, JSTOR, and specific UX/UI research databases. Reference management tools like Zotero and Mendeley can help organize your sources and streamline the review process.

Challenges of secondary research in UX design

These are the challenges that UX professionals might encounter when carrying out secondary research:

  • Outdated information : In a world where technology changes fast, the information you use must be current, or it might not be helpful.
  • Challenges with pre-existing data : Using data you didn't collect yourself can be tricky because you have less control over its quality. Always review how it was gathered to avoid mistakes.
  • Data isn't just yours : Since secondary data is available to everyone, you won't be the only one using it. This means your competitors can access similar findings or insights.
  • Trustworthiness : Look into where your information comes from so that it's reliable. Watch out for any bias in the data as well. ‍

The mixed-method approach: How primary and secondary research work together

Primary research lays the groundwork, while secondary research weaves a cohesive story and connects the findings to create a concrete design strategy.

Here's how this mixed-method approach works in a sample UX project for a health tech app:

Phase 1: Groundwork and contextualization

  • User interviews and surveys (Primary research) : The team started their project by interviewing patients and healthcare providers. The objective was to uncover the main issues with current health apps and what features could enhance patient care.
  • Industry and academic literature review (Secondary research) : The team also reviewed existing literature on digital health interventions, industry reports on health app trends, and case studies on successful health apps. ‍

Phase 2: Analysis and strategy formulation

  • Affinity mapping (Secondary research) : Insights from the interviews and surveys were organized using affinity mapping. It revealed key pain points like needing more personalized and interactive care plans.
  • Competitive benchmarking (Secondary research) : The team also analyzed competitors’ apps through secondary research to identify common functionalities and gaps. They noticed a lack of personalized patient engagement and, therefore, positioned their app to fill this void in the market. ‍

Phase 3: Design and validation

  • Prototyping (Secondary research) : With a good grasp of what users need and the opportunities in the market, the startup created prototypes. These prototypes include AI-powered personalized care plans, reminders for medications, and interactive tools to track health.
  • Usability testing (Primary research) : The prototypes were tested with a sample of the target user group, including patients and healthcare providers. Feedback was mostly positive, especially for the personalized care plans. This shows that the app has the potential to help patients get more involved in their health. ‍

Phase 4: Refinement and market alignment

  • Improving design through iterations: The team continuously refined the app's design based on feedback from ongoing usability testing.
  • Ongoing market review (Secondary research) : The team watched for new studies, healthcare reports, and competitors' actions. This helped them make sure their app stayed ahead in digital health innovation. ‍

Amplify your design impact and impress your stakeholders in 10+ hours

Primary and secondary research methods are part of a much larger puzzle in UX research.

However, understanding the theoretical part is not enough to make it as a UX designer nowadays.

The reason?

UX design is highly practical and constantly evolving. To succeed in the field, UX designers must do more than just design.

They understand the bigger picture and know how to deliver business-driven design solutions rather than designs that look pretty.

Sometimes, the best knowledge comes from those who have been there themselves. That's why finding the right mentor with experience and who can give practical advice is crucial.

In just 10+ hours, the Practical UX Research & Strategy Course dives deep into strategic problem-solving. By the end, you'll know exactly how to make data-backed solutions your stakeholders will get on board with.

Master the end-to-end UX research workflow, from formulating the right user questions to executing your research strategy and effectively presenting your findings to stakeholders.

Learn straight from Mizko—a seasoned industry leader with a track record as a successful designer, $10M+ former agency owner, and advisor for tech startups.

This course equips you with the skills to:

  • Derive actionable insights through objective-driven questions.
  • Conduct unbiased, structured interviews.
  • Select ideal participants for quality data.
  • Create affinity maps from research insights.
  • Execute competitor analysis with expertise.
  • Analyze large data sets and user insights systematically.
  • Transform research and data into actionable frameworks and customer journey maps.
  • Communicate findings effectively and prioritize tasks for your team.
  • Present metrics and objectives that resonate with stakeholders.

Designed for flexible and independent learning, this course allows you to progress independently.

With 4000+ designers from top tech companies like Google, Meta, and Squarespace among its alumni, this course empowers UX designers to integrate research skills into their design practices.

Here's what students have to say about the 4.9/5 rated course:

"I'm 100% more confident when talking to stakeholders about User Research & Strategy and the importance of why it needs to be included in the process. I also have gained such a beautiful new understanding of my users that greatly influences my designs. All of the "guesswork" that I was doing is now real, meaningful work that has stats and research behind it." - Booking.com Product Designer Alyssa Durante

"I had no proper clarity of how to conduct a research in a systematically form which actually aligns to the project. Now I have a Step by Step approach from ground 0 to final synthesis." - UX/UI Designer Kaustav Das Biswas

"The most impactful element has been the direct application of the learnings in my recent projects at Amazon. Integrating the insights gained from the course into two significant projects yielded outstanding results, significantly influencing both my career and personal growth. This hands-on experience not only enhanced my proficiency in implementing UX strategies but also bolstered my confidence in guiding, coaching, mentoring, and leading design teams." - Amazon.com UX designer Zohdi Rizvi

Gain expert UX research skills and outshine your competitors.

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Mizko, also known as Michael Wong, brings a 14-year track record as a Founder, Educator, Investor, and Designer. His career evolved from lead designer to freelancer, and ultimately to the owner of a successful agency, generating over $10M in revenue from Product (UX/UI) Design, Web Design, and No-code Development. His leadership at the agency contributed to the strategy and design for over 50 high-growth startups, aiding them in raising a combined total of over $400M+ in venture capital.

Notable projects include: Autotrader (Acquired. by eBay), PhoneWagon (Acquired by CallRails), Spaceship ($1B in managed funds), Archistar ($15M+ raised) and many more.

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Color Theory

What is color theory.

Color theory is the study of how colors work together and how they affect our emotions and perceptions. It's like a toolbox for artists, designers, and creators to help them choose the right colors for their projects. Color theory enables you to pick colors that go well together and convey the right mood or message in your work.

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Color is in the Beholders’ Eyes

“Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams.” — Paul Gauguin, Famous post-Impressionist painter

Sir Isaac Newton established color theory when he invented the color wheel in 1666. Newton understood colors as human perceptions —not absolute qualities—of wavelengths of light . By systematically categorizing colors, he defined three groups:

Primary (red, blue, yellow).

Secondary (mixes of primary colors).

Tertiary (or intermediate —mixes of primary and secondary colors).

What Are Hue, Value and Saturation?

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Hue is the attribute of color that distinguishes it as red, blue, green or any other specific color on the color wheel.

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

Value represents a color's relative lightness or darkness or grayscale and it’s crucial for creating contrast and depth in visual art.

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

Saturation , also known as chroma or intensity, refers to the purity and vividness of a color, ranging from fully saturated (vibrant) to desaturated (grayed).

In user experience (UX) design , you need a firm grasp of color theory to craft harmonious, meaningful designs for your users.

Use a Color Scheme and Color Temperature for Design Harmony

In screen design, designers use the additive color model , where red, green and blue are the primary colors. Just as you need to place images and other elements in visual design strategically, your color choices should optimize your users’ experience in attractive interfaces with high usability . When starting your design process, you can consider using any of these main color schemes:

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

Monochromatic : Take one hue and create other elements from different shades and tints of it.

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

Analogous : Use three colors located beside one another on the color wheel (e.g., orange, yellow-orange and yellow to show sunlight). A variant is to mix white with these to form a “high-key” analogous color scheme (e.g., flames).

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

Complementary : Use “opposite color” pairs—e.g., blue/yellow—to maximize contrast.

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

Split-Complementary (or Compound Harmony ): Add colors from either side of your complementary color pair to soften the contrast.

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

Triadic : Take three equally distant colors on the color wheel (i.e., 120° apart: e.g., red/blue/yellow). These colors may not be vibrant, but the scheme can be as it maintains harmony and high contrast. It’s easier to make visually appealing designs with this scheme than with a complementary scheme.

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

Tetradic : Take four colors that are two sets of complementary pairs (e.g., orange/yellow/blue/violet) and choose one dominant color. This allows rich, interesting designs. However, watch the balance between warm and cool colors.

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

Square : A variant of tetradic; you find four colors evenly spaced on the color wheel (i.e., 90° apart). Unlike tetradic, square schemes can work well if you use all four colors evenly.

Your colors must reflect your design’s goal and the brand’s personality . You should also apply color theory to optimize a positive psychological impact on users . So, you should carefully determine how the color temperature (i.e., your use of warm, neutral and cool colors) reflects your message.

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

For example, you can make a neutral color such as grey warm or cool depending on factors such as your organization’s character and the industry.

Color Schemes

Use Color Theory to Match What Your Users Want to See

The right contrast is vital to catching users’ attention in the first place. The vibrancy you choose for your design is likewise crucial to provoking desired emotional responses from users. How they react to color choices depends on factors such as gender, experience, age and culture. In all cases, you should design for accessibility —e.g., regarding red-green color blindness. You can fine-tune color choices through UX research to resonate best with specific users. Your users will encounter your design with their expectations of what a design in a certain industry should look like. That’s why you must also design to meet your market’s expectations geographically . For example, blue, an industry standard for banking in the West, has positive associations in other cultures.

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

However, some colors can evoke contradictory feelings from certain nationalities (e.g., red: good fortune in China, mourning in South Africa, danger/sexiness in the USA). Overall, you should use usability testing to confirm your color choices.

Learn More about Color Theory

Take our course Visual Design: The Ultimate Guide .

Register for the How To Use Color Theory To Enhance Your Designs Master Class webinar with color experts Arielle Eckstut and Joann Eckstut.

See designer and author Cameron Chapman’s in-depth piece for insights, tips and examples of color theory at work.

For more on concepts associated with color theory and color scheme examples, read Tubik Studio’s guide .

Questions related to Color Theory

As an artist, it's important to have a solid understanding of color theory. This framework allows you to explore how colors interact and can be combined to achieve specific effects or reactions. It involves studying hues, tints, tones, and shades, as well as the color wheel and classifications of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

Illustration depicting the color wheel

The Color Wheel © Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Complementary and analogous colors are also important concepts to understand, as they can be used to create stunning color combinations. Additionally, color theory delves into the psychological effects of color, which can greatly impact the aesthetic and emotional impact of your art. By utilizing color theory, you can make informed decisions about color choices in your work and create art that truly resonates with your audience.

Color theory is a concept used in visual arts and design that explains how colors interact with each other and how they can be combined to create certain feelings, moods, and reactions. Arielle Eckstut, co-author of 'What Is Color? 50 Questions and Answers on the Science of Color,' explains that color does not exist outside of our perception, and different brains process visual information differently. Our retina, a part of the brain, plays a crucial role in color vision, and our brains constantly take in information from the outside world to inform us about our surroundings.

Watch this video for a deeper understanding of the science behind color:

To learn color theory, enroll in the ' Visual Design: The Ultimate Guide ' course on Interaction Design Foundation. This comprehensive course covers all aspects of visual design, including color theory. You will learn how colors interact with each other, how to combine them to create specific feelings and reactions, and how to use them effectively in your designs. 

The course includes video lectures, articles, and interactive exercises that will help you master color theory and other key concepts of visual design. Start your journey to becoming a color theory expert by signing up for the course today !

Color theory helps us make sense of the world around us by providing a shorthand for using products, distinguishing objects, and interpreting information. For instance, colors can help us quickly identify pills in a bottle or different dosages.

Designers also consider cultural, personal, and biological influences on color perception to ensure the design communicates the right information. Ultimately, color helps us navigate the world safely, quickly, and with joy. Find out more about the significance of color in design by watching this video:

To use color theory effectively, consider the following tips from Joann Eckstut, co-author of 'What Is Color? 50 Questions and Answers on the Science of Color, in this video:

Understand the effect of light: Daylight constantly changes, affecting the colors we see. Changing the light source will change the color appearance of objects.

Consider the surroundings: Colors appear to change depending on the colors around them, a phenomenon known as simultaneous contrast.

Be aware of metamerism: Colors that match under one light source may not fit under another.

Remember that various factors such as light source and surrounding colors influence color, which is not a fixed entity. Being aware of these factors will prepare you to work effectively with color. Watch the full video for more insights and examples.

Color theory, as we know it today, is a culmination of ideas developed over centuries by various artists and scientists. However, one key figure in its development is Sir Isaac Newton, who, in 1666, discovered the color spectrum by passing sunlight through a prism. He then arranged these colors in a closed loop, creating the first color wheel. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe later expanded on this with his book "Theory of Colours" in 1810, exploring the psychological effects of colors. 

Modern color theory has since evolved, incorporating principles from both Newton and Goethe, along with contributions from numerous other artists and researchers. To learn more about color theory, consider enrolling in the Visual Design - The Ultimate Guide course.

Understanding color theory might seem daunting at first, but it is manageable. Michal Malewicz emphasizes in the video below, that initially, a UX designer only needs three colors: a background color, a foreground (text) color, and an accent color. 

It's advisable to start with fewer colors and gradually incorporate more as you become comfortable. Also, avoid color combinations like red mixed with saturated blue or green, and always test your colors for contrast and accessibility. Mastering color theory ultimately comes down to practice and observation. If it looks good, then it is good. For a comprehensive learning experience, consider enrolling in the Visual Design - The Ultimate Guide course on Interaction Design Foundation. Enroll now

Answer a Short Quiz to Earn a Gift

What are the primary colors according to traditional color theory?

  • Red, blue, green
  • Red, green, violet
  • Red, yellow, blue

Why is an understanding of color theory crucial for UX design?

  • It ensures that color use only conforms to brand guidelines.
  • It helps guarantee that designs are visually appealing but not necessarily functional.
  • It optimizes the visual and emotional impact of designs on the user.

How do colors influence psychological responses in graphic design?

  • Colors can evoke specific emotions and affect how users understand information.
  • Colors do not significantly impact the viewer’s emotions or perceptions.
  • Colors primarily function to make the design beautiful without influencing user interaction.

What is the purpose of using complementary colors in design?

  • To create a monochromatic look using shades of the same color on the color wheel.
  • To increase visual impact and contrast by pairing opposite colors on the color wheel.
  • To reduce visual contrast and blend elements more smoothly.

What does color temperature communicate in design?

  • It dictates the physical temperature conditions a design must withstand.
  • It only pertains to the design's color when viewed on digital screens.
  • It uses warm, neutral and cool colors to evoke specific emotional states.

Better luck next time!

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Literature on Color Theory

Here’s the entire UX literature on Color Theory by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Color Theory

Take a deep dive into Color Theory with our course Visual Design: The Ultimate Guide .

In this course, you will gain a holistic understanding of visual design and increase your knowledge of visual principles , color theory , typography , grid systems and history . You’ll also learn why visual design is so important, how history influences the present, and practical applications to improve your own work. These insights will help you to achieve the best possible user experience.

In the first lesson, you’ll learn the difference between visual design elements and visual design principles . You’ll also learn how to effectively use visual design elements and principles by deconstructing several well-known designs. 

In the second lesson, you’ll learn about the science and importance of color . You’ll gain a better understanding of color modes, color schemes and color systems. You’ll also learn how to confidently use color by understanding its cultural symbolism and context of use. 

In the third lesson, you’ll learn best practices for designing with type and how to effectively use type for communication . We’ll provide you with a basic understanding of the anatomy of type, type classifications, type styles and typographic terms. You’ll also learn practical tips for selecting a typeface, when to mix typefaces and how to talk type with fellow designers. 

In the final lesson, you’ll learn about grid systems and their importance in providing structure within design . You’ll also learn about the types of grid systems and how to effectively use grids to improve your work.

You’ll be taught by some of the world’s leading experts . The experts we’ve handpicked for you are the Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design Emeritus at RIT R. Roger Remington , author of “American Modernism: Graphic Design, 1920 to 1960”; Co-founder of The Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and leading color consultant Joann Eckstut , co-authors of “What Is Color?” and “The Secret Language of Color”; Award-winning designer and educator Mia Cinelli , TEDx speaker of “The Power of Typography”; Betty Cooke and William O. Steinmetz Design Chair at MICA Ellen Lupton , author of “Thinking with Type”; Chair of the Graphic + Interactive communication department at the Ringling School of Art and Design Kimberly Elam , author of "Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type.”

Throughout the course, we’ll supply you with lots of templates and step-by-step guides so you can go right out and use what you learn in your everyday practice.

In the “ Build Your Portfolio Project: Redesign ,” you’ll find a series of fun exercises that build upon one another and cover the visual design topics discussed. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you will get hands-on experience with the methods you learn and in the process you’ll create a case study for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.

You can also learn with your fellow course-takers and use the discussion forums to get feedback and inspire other people who are learning alongside you. You and your fellow course-takers have a huge knowledge and experience base between you, so we think you should take advantage of it whenever possible.

You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you’ve completed the course. You can highlight it on your resume , your LinkedIn profile or your website .

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Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources

What they are and how they compare (with examples)

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Kerryn Warren (PhD) | January 2023

If you’re new to the wild world of research, you’re bound to encounter the terrible twins, “ primary source ” and “ secondary source ” sooner or later. With any luck, “ tertiary sources ” will get thrown into the mix too! In this post, we’ll unpack both what this terminology means and how to apply it to your research project.

Overview: Source Types

  • Primary sources
  • Examples of primary sources
  • Pros and cons of primary data
  • Secondary sources
  • Examples of secondary sources
  • Pros and cons of secondary data
  • Tertiary sources
  • Summary & recap

What are primary sources?

Simply put, primary sources (also referred to as primary data) are the original raw materials, evidence or data collected in a study. Primary sources can include interview transcripts, quantitative survey data, as well as other media that provide firsthand accounts of events or phenomena. Primary sources are often considered to be the purest sources because they provide direct, unfiltered data which has not been processed or interpreted in any way.

In addition to the above, examples of primary sources can include

  • Results from a social media poll
  • Letters written by a historical figure
  • Photographs taken during a specific time period
  • Government documents such as birth certificates and census records
  • Artefacts like clothing and tools from past cultures

Naturally, working with primary data has both benefits and drawbacks. Some of the main advantages include

  • Purity : primary sources provide firsthand accounts of events, ideas, and experiences, which means you get access to the rawest, purest form of data.
  • Perspective : primary sources allow you to gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives of the people who created them, providing insights into how different groups of people viewed an event or phenomenon.
  • Richness : primary data often provide a wealth of detail and nuance that can be missed in secondary data (we’ll cover that shortly). This can provide you with a more complete and nuanced understanding of their topic.

On the flip side, some of the main disadvantages include

  • Bias : given their “rawness”, primary sources can often contain biases that can skew or limit your understanding of the issue at hand.
  • Inaccessibility : sometimes, collecting fresh primary data can be difficult or even impossible. For example, photographs held in private collections or letters written in a language that you’re not fluent in.
  • Fragility : physical artefacts such as manuscripts may be fragile and require special handling, which can make them difficult for you to access or study.
  • Limited scope : primary sources often only provide a glimpse of a particular event, person, or period of time, so you may need to rely on multiple primary sources to gain a more complete understanding of a topic.

As you can see, the strengths and weaknesses of primary sources are oftentimes two sides of the same coin . For example, primary data allow you to gain insight into peoples’ unique perspectives, but at the same time, it bakes in a significant level of each participant’s personal bias. So, it’s important to carefully consider what your research aim is and whether it lends itself to this type of data source.

Now that you’ve got a clearer picture of what primary sources/data are, let’s take a look at secondary sources.

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

What are secondary sources?

Secondary sources are materials that provide an analysis or interpretation of primary sources (primary data). For example, secondary sources of information can include books, journal articles and documentaries . Unlike primary sources (which are raw and uninterpreted), secondary sources provide a distilled, interpreted view of the data.

Other examples of secondary sources include

  • A book that provides an analysis of an event
  • A biography of a pop icon
  • An article that provides an interpretation of a public opinion poll
  • A blog post that reviews and compares the performance of competing products

As with primary sources, secondary sources have their own set of pros and cons. Some of the main advantages include:

  • Convenience: secondary sources are often easier to access and use than primary sources, as they are widely available in libraries, journal databases, etc.
  • Interpretation and synthesis : secondary sources provide a synthesis of the topic of interest, which can help you to quickly understand the most important takeaways from a data set.
  • Time-saving : secondary sources can save you time, as you don’t need to analyse primary sources yourself – you can just read summaries or interpretations provided by experts in the field.

At the same time, it’s important to be aware of the disadvantages of secondary sources. Some of the main ones to consider are

  • Distance from original sources : secondary sources are based on primary data, but the information has been filtered through the lens of the author, which will naturally carry some level of bias and perhaps even a hidden agenda.
  • Limited context: secondary sources may not provide the same level of contextual information or detail as primary sources, which can limit your understanding of the situation and contribute toward a warped understanding.
  • Inaccuracies : since secondary sources are the product of human efforts, they may contain inaccuracies or errors, especially if the author has misinterpreted primary data.
  • Outdated information : secondary sources may be based on primary sources that are no longer valid or accurate, or they may not take into account more recent research or discoveries.

It’s important to mention that primary and secondary data are not mutually exclusive . In other words, it doesn’t always need to be one or the other. Secondary sources can be used to supplement primary data by providing additional information or context for a particular topic.

For example, if you were researching Martin Luther King Jr., your primary source could be transcripts of the speeches he gave during the civil rights movement. To supplement this information, you could then use secondary sources such as biographies written about him or newspaper articles from the time period in which he was active.

So, once again, it’s important to think about what you’re trying to achieve with your research – that is to say, what are your research aims? As with all methodological choices, your decision to make use of primary or secondary data (or both), needs to be informed by your overall research aims .

Before we wrap up though, it’s important to look at one more source type – tertiary sources.

Need a helping hand?

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

What are tertiary sources?

Last but not least, we’ve got tertiary sources . Simply put, tertiary sources are materials that provide a general overview of a topic . They often summarise or synthesise information from a combination of primary and secondary sources, such as books, articles, and other documents.

Some examples of tertiary sources include

  • Encyclopedias
  • Study guides
  • Dictionaries

Tertiary sources can be useful when you’re just starting to learn about a completely new topic , as they provide an overview of the subject matter without getting too in-depth into specific details. For example, if you’re researching the history of World War II, but don’t know much about it yet, reading an encyclopedia article (or Wikipedia article) on the war would be helpful in providing you with some basic facts and background information.

Tertiary sources are also useful in terms of providing a starting point for citations to primary and secondary source material which can help guide your search for more detailed, credible information on a particular topic. Additionally, these types of resources may also contain lists of related topics or keywords which you can use to find more information regarding your topic of interest.

Importantly, while tertiary sources are a valuable starting point for your research, they’re not ideal sources to cite in your dissertation, thesis or research project. Instead, you should aim to cite high-quality, credible secondary sources such as peer-reviewed journal articles and research papers . So, remember to only use tertiary sources as a starting point. Don’t make the classic mistake of citing Wikipedia as your main source!

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Let’s recap

In this post, we’ve explored the trinity of sources: primary, secondary and tertiary.

  • Primary sources include the original raw evidence or data that you collect yourself in a study. For example, interview transcripts or statistical data.
  • Secondary sources include distilled analyses and interpretations of primary data that someone else collected in their study. For example, journal articles and critical analysis pieces.
  • Tertiary sources include materials that provide a general overview of a topic. For example, encyclopedias, study guides and handbooks.
  • Each source type has its own set of strengths and weaknesses , and can play a different role within a research project.
  • Primary sources and secondary sources are not necessarily mutually exclusive – they can work together to provide a comprehensive view.
  • It’s important to ensure that your choice of source (or sources) is guided by and aligned with your research aims .

If you’d like to learn more about primary and secondary research, be sure to check out the rest of the Grad Coach blog here . Alternatively, if you’re looking for hands-on help with your project, take a look at our 1-on-1 private coaching service .

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Secondary research in ux.

primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

February 20, 2022 2022-02-20

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You don’t have to do all the user-research work yourself. If somebody else already ran a study (and published it), grab it!

Have you ever completed a project only to find out that something very similar has already been done in your organization a couple of years ago? That situation is common, especially with rising employee-churn rates, and fueled the popularity of research repositories (e.g., Microsoft Human Insights System) and the growth of the  research-operations community . It should also inspire practitioners to do more secondary research.

Secondary research,  also known as desk research or, in academic contexts, literature review, refers to the act of gathering prior research findings and other relevant information related to a new project. It is a foundational part of any emerging research project and provides the project with background and context. Secondary research allows us to stand on the shoulders of giants and not to reinvent the wheel every time we initiate a new program or plan a study.

This article provides a step-by-step guide on how to conduct secondary research in UX. The key takeaway is that this type of research is not solely an intellectual exercise, but a way to minimize research costs, win internal stakeholders and get scaffolding for your own projects.

Academic publications include a literature review at the beginning to showcase context or known gaps and to justify the motivation for the research questions. However, the task of incorporating previous results is becoming more and more challenging with a growing number of publications in all fields. Therefore, practitioners across disciplines (for instance in eHealth, business, education, and technology) develop method guidelines for secondary research.  

In This Article:

When to conduct secondary research, types of secondary research, how to conduct secondary research.

Secondary research should be a standard first step in any rigorous research practice, but it’s also often cost-effective in more casual settings. Whether you are just starting a new project, joining an existing one, or planning a primary research effort for your team, it is always good to start with a broad overview of the field and existent resources. That would allow you to synthesize findings and uncover areas where more research is needed. 

Secondary research shows which topics are particularly popular or important for your organization and what problems other researchers are trying to solve. This research method is widely discussed in library and information sciences but is often neglected in UX. Nonetheless, secondary research can be useful to uncover industry trends and to inspire further studies. For example, Jessica Pater and her colleagues looked at the foundational question of participant compensation in user studies. They could have opted for user interviews or a costly large-scale survey, yet through secondary research, they were able to review 2250 unique user studies across 1662 manuscripts published in 2018-2019. They found inconsistencies in participant compensation and suggested changes to the current practices and further research opportunities.

Secondary research can be divided into two main types:  internal  and  external research.

Internal secondary research  involves gathering all relevant research findings already available in your organization. These might include artifacts from the past primary research projects, maps (e.g.,  customer-journey map ,  service blueprint ), deliverables from external consultants, or results from different kinds of  workshops  (e.g., discovery, design thinking, etc.). Hopefully, these will be available in a  research repository . 

External secondary research  is focused on sources outside of your organization, such as academic journals, public libraries, open data repositories, internet searches, and white papers published by reputable organizations. For example, external resources for the field of human-computer interaction (HCI) can be found at the  Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) digital library ,  Journal of Usability Studies (JUS ), or research websites like  ours . University libraries and labs like  UCSD Geisel Library ,  Carnegie Mellon University Libraries ,  MIT D-Lab ,  Stanford d.school , and specialized portals like  Google Scholar  offer another avenue for directed search. 

Our goal is to have the necessary depth, rigor, and usefulness for practitioners. Here are the 4 steps for conducting secondary research:

  • Choose the topic of research & write a  problem statement . 

Write a concise description of the problem to be solved. For example, if you are doing a website redesign, you might want to both learn the current standards and look at all the previous design iterations to avoid issues that your team already identified.

  • Identi fy external and internal resources.

Peer-reviewed publications (such as those published in academic journals and conferences) are a fairly reliable source. They always include a section describing methods, data-collection techniques, and study limitations. If a study you plan to use does not include such information, that might be a red flag and a reason to further scrutinize that source. Public datasets also often present some challenges because of errors and inclusion criteria, especially if they were collected for another purpose. 

One should be cautious of the seemingly reputable “research” findings published across different websites in a form of blog posts, which could be opinion pieces, not backed up by primary research. If you encounter such a piece, ask yourself — is the conclusion of the writeup based on a real study? If the study was quantitative, was it properly analyzed (e.g., at the very least, are  confidence intervals  reported, and was  statistical significance  evaluated?). For all studies, was the method sound and nonbiased (e.g., did the study have  internal and external validity )?

A more nuanced challenge involves evaluating findings based on a different audience, which might not be always generalizable to your situation, but may form hypotheses worthy of investigating. For example, if a design pattern is found okay to use by young adults, you may still want to know if this finding will also be valid for older generations.

  • Collect and analyze data from external and internal resources.

Remember that secondary research involves both the existing data and existing research. Both of those categories become helpful resources when they are critically evaluated for any inherent biases, omissions, and limitations. If you already have some secondary data in your organization, such as customer service logs or search logs, you should include them in secondary research alongside any existent analysis of such logs and previous reports. It is helpful to revisit previous findings, compare how they have or have not been implemented to refresh institutional memory and support future research initiatives.

  • Refine your problem statement and determine what still needs to be investigated.

Once you collected the relevant information, write a summary of findings, and discuss them with your team. You might need to refine your problem statement to determine what information you still need to answer your research questions. Next time your team is planning to adopt a trendy new design pattern, it may be a good idea to go back and search the web or an academic database for any evaluations of that pattern.

It is important to note that secondary research is not a substitute for primary research. It is always better to do both. Although secondary research is often cost-effective and quick, its quality depends to a large extent on the quality of your sources. Therefore, before using any secondary sources, you need to identify their validity and limitations. 

Secondary (or desk) research involves gathering existing data from inside and outside of your organization. A literature review should be done more frequently in UX because it is a viable option even for researchers with limited time and budget. The most challenging part is to persuade yourself and your team that the existing data is worth being summarized, compared, and collated to increase the overall effectiveness of your primary research. 

Jessica Pater, Amanda Coupe, Rachel Pfafman, Chanda Phelan, Tammy Toscos, and Maia Jacobs. 2021. Standardizing Reporting of Participant Compensation in HCI: A Systematic Literature Review and Recommendations for the Field. In  Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.  Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 141, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1145/3411764.3445734

Hannah Snyder. 2019. Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines.  Journal of business research  104, 333-339. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2019.07.039. 

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Another way to categorize information is by whether the information is in its original format or has been reinterpreted.

Another information category is publication mode and has to do with whether the information is

  • Firsthand information (information in its original form, not translated or published in another form).
  • Secondhand information (a restatement, analysis, or interpretation of original information).
  • Third-hand information (a summary or repackaging of original information, often based on secondary information that has been published).

The three labels for information sources in this category are, respectively, primary sources, secondary sources, and tertiary sources.

When you make distinctions between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, you are relating the information to the context in which it was created. Understanding this relationship is an important skill that you’ll need in college, as well as in the workplace. The relationship between creation and context helps us understand the “big picture” in which information operates and helps us figure out which information we can depend on. That’s a big part of thinking critically, a major benefit of actually becoming an educated person.

Primary Sources – Because it is in its original form, the information in primary sources has reached us from its creators without going through any filter. We get it firsthand. Here are some examples that are often used as primary sources:

  • Any literary work, including novels, plays, and poems.
  • Breaking news.
  • Advertisements.
  • Music and dance performances.
  • Eyewitness accounts, including photographs and recorded interviews.
  • Blog entries that are autobiographical.
  • Scholarly blogs that provide data or are highly theoretical, even though they contain no autobiography.
  • Artifacts such as tools, clothing, or other objects.
  • Original documents such as tax returns, marriage licenses, and transcripts of trials.
  • Websites, although many are secondary.
  • Correspondence, including email.
  • Records of organizations and government agencies.
  • Journal articles that report research for the first time (at least the parts about the new research, plus their data).

Secondary Source – These sources are translated, repackaged, restated, analyzed, or interpreted original information that is a primary source. Thus, the information comes to us secondhand, or through at least one filter. Here are some examples that are often used as secondary sources:

  • All nonfiction books and magazine articles except autobiography.
  • An article or website that critiques a novel, play, painting, or piece of music.
  • An article or web site that synthesizes expert opinion and several eyewitness accounts for a new understanding of an event.
  • The literature review portion of a journal article.

Tertiary Source – These sources further repackage the original information because they index, condense, or summarize the original.

Typically, by the time tertiary sources are developed, there have been many secondary sources prepared on their subjects, and you can think of tertiary sources as information that comes to us “third-hand.” Tertiary sources are usually publications that you are not intended to read from cover to cover but to dip in and out of for the information you need. You can think of them as a good place for background information to start your research but a bad place to end up. Here are some examples that are often used as tertiary sources:

  • Dictionaries.
  • Guide books, including the one you are now reading.
  • Survey articles.
  • Bibliographies.
  • Encyclopedias, including Wikipedia.
  • Most textbooks.

Tertiary sources are usually not acceptable as cited sources in college research projects because they are so far from firsthand information. That’s why most professors don’t want you to use Wikipedia as a citable source: the information in Wikipedia is far from the original information. Other people have considered it, decided what they think about it, rearranged it, and summarized it–all of which is actually what your professors want you , not another author, to do with the information in your research projects.

The Details Are Tricky — A few things about primary or secondary sources might surprise you:

  • Sources become primary rather than always exist as primary sources.

It’s easy to think that it is the format of primary sources that makes them primary. But that’s not all that matters. So when you see lists like the one above of sources that are often used as primary sources, it’s wise to remember that the ones listed are not automatically already   primary sources. Firsthand sources get that designation only when researchers actually find their information relevant and use it.

For instance: Records that could be relevant to those studying government are created every day by federal, state, county, and city governments as they operate. But until those raw data are actually used by a researcher, they cannot be considered primary sources.

Another example: A diary about his flying missions kept by an American helicopter pilot in the Viet Nam War is not a primary source until, say, a researcher uses it in her study of how the war was carried out. But it will never be a primary source for a researcher studying the U.S. public’s reaction to the war because it does not contain information relevant to that study.

  • Primary sources, even eyewitness accounts, are not necessarily accurate. Their accuracy has to be evaluated, just like that of all sources.
  • Something that is usually considered a secondary source can be considered a primary source, depending on the research project.

For instance, movie reviews are usually considered secondary sources. But if your research project is about the effect movie reviews have on ticket sales, the movie reviews you study would become primary sources.

  • Deciding whether to consider a journal article a primary or a secondary source can be complicated for at least two reasons.

First, journal articles that report new research for the first time are usually based on data. So some disciplines consider the data to be the primary source, and the journal article that describes and analyzes them is considered a secondary source.

However, particularly in the sciences, the original researcher might find it difficult or impossible (he or she might not be allowed) to share the data. So sometimes you have nothing more firsthand than the journal article, which argues for calling it the relevant primary source because it’s the closest thing that exists to the data.

Second, even journal articles that announce new research for the first time usually contain more than data. They also typically contain secondary source elements, such as a literature review, bibliography, and sections on data analysis and interpretation. So they can actually be a mix of primary and secondary elements. Even so, in some disciplines, a journal article that announces new research findings for the first time is considered to be, as a whole, a primary source for the researchers using it.

Under What Circumstances?

Consider the sources below and the potential circumstances under which each could become a primary source for you to use in your research.

Despite their trickiness, what primary sources usually offer is too good not to consider using because:

  • They are original. This unfiltered, firsthand information is not available anywhere else.
  • Their creator was a type of person unlike others in your research project, and you want to include that perspective.
  • Their creator was present at an event and shares an eyewitness account.
  • They are objects that existed at the particular time your project is studying.

Particularly in humanities courses, your professor may require you to use a certain number of primary sources for your project. In other courses, particularly in the sciences, you may be required to use only primary sources.

What sources are considered primary and secondary sources can vary from discipline to discipline. If you are required to use primary sources for your research project, before getting too deep into your project check with your professor to make sure he or she agrees with your choices. After all, it’s your professor who will be grading your project. A librarian, too, can verify your choices. Just remember to take a copy of your assignment with you when you ask because the librarian will want to see the original assignment. After all, that’s a primary source!

Critical Thinking in Academic Research Copyright © 2022 by Cindy Gruwell and Robin Ewing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Princeton Correspondents on Undergraduate Research

Design Thinking in Research

I remember it like it was just yesterday. The steps to the scientific method: Question. Research. Hypothesis. Experiment. Analysis. Conclusion. I can actually still hear the monotonous voices of my classmates reciting the six steps to the content of the middle school science fair judges.

Princeton student researchers working at the Lewis Thomas lab

For our middle school science fair, I had created a web-based calculator that could output the carbon footprint of an individual based on a variety of overlooked environmental factors like food consumption and public transportation usage. Having worked on the project for several months, I was quite content when I walked into our gym and stood proudly next to my display board. Moments later the first judge approached my table. Without even introducing himself, he glanced at my board and asked me, W here’s your hypothesis? Given the fact that my project involved creating a new tool rather than exploring a scientific cause-effect relationship, I told him that I didn’t think a hypothesis would make sense for my project. To my dismay, he told me that a lack of hypothesis was a clear violation of the scientific method, and consequently my project would not be considered.

This was quite disheartening to me, especially because I was a sixth grader taking on my very first attempt at scientific research. But at the same time, I was confident that the scientific method wasn’t this unadaptable set of principles that all of scientific research aligned to. A few years later, my suspicions were justified when my dad recommended I read a book called Design Thinking  by Peter Rowe. While the novel pertains primarily to building design, the ideas presented in the book are very applicable in the field of engineering research, where researchers don’t necessarily have hypotheses but rather have envisioned final products. Formally, design thinking is a 5-7 step process:

Steps to the Design Thinking Process

  • Empathize – observing the world, understanding the need for research in one’s field
  • Define – defining one particular way in which people’s lives could be improved by research
  • Ideate – relentless brainstorming of ideas without judgment or overanalysis
  • Prototype – sketching, modeling, and outlining the implementation of potential solutions
  • Choose – choosing the solutions that provide the highest level of impact without jeopardizing feasibility
  • Implement – creating reality out of an idea
  • Learn – reflecting on the results and rethinking the process for endless improvement

But more generally, advocates of design thinking call it a “method of creative action”. In design thinking, researchers are not concerned about solving a particular problem, but are looking more broadly at a general solution. In fact, design thinkers don’t even necessarily identify a problem or question (as outlined in the scientific method); they are more concerned about reaching a particular goal that improves society.

This view of research is particularly insightful especially in disciplines beyond the scientific realm. One aspect that particularly appeals to me is the relative importance placed on the solution’s impact. In design thinking, researchers empathize. They understand at a personal level the limitations of current solutions. And once they implement their solutions, they learn from the results and dive right back into the entire process. Societal impact is their overall goal – an idea that carries over into humanities and social science research.

The most important aspect, in my opinion, is the freedom of design thinking. In design thinking, the ‘brainstorming’ process and the solution are given the most attention. Design thinkers are primarily concerned with the overall effectiveness of potential solutions, worrying about the individual details afterwards. This inherently promotes a creative and entrepreneurial research process. Combined with the methodology and analysis components of the scientific method, the principles of design thinking help research ideas blossom into realities. In a sense, design thinking repackages the scientific method to create a general research process in non-scientific fields. Artists, fashion designers, and novelists all use design thinking when creating their products.

So while I certainly didn’t impress the judges that day at the science fair, I did learn something far more resourceful than a display board could teach. In order to complete a satisfying research project, one doesn’t need to rigorously follow a well-outlined protocol. Often, all one needs is the drive to design creative and impactful solutions.

— Kavi Jain, Engineering Correspondent

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Creation, Intelligent Design, & Evolution

  • Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources
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This guide introduces you to resources for this subject area. The resources listed here are a small number of those available. For more information, contact a librarian at 303-963-3250, through Chat, or  the  Book a Librarian  service.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources: definitions

When searching for information on a topic, it is important to understand the value of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

Primary sources  allow researchers to get as close as possible to original ideas, events, and empirical research as possible. Such sources may include creative works, first hand or contemporary accounts of events, and the publication of the results of empirical observations or research.

Secondary sources  analyze, review, or summarize information in primary resources or other secondary resources. Even sources presenting facts or descriptions about events are secondary unless they are based on direct participation or observation. Moreover, secondary sources often rely on other secondary sources and standard disciplinary methods to reach results, and they provide the principle sources of analysis about primary sources.

Tertiary sources  provide overviews of topics by synthesizing information gathered from other resources. Tertiary resources often provide data in a convenient form or provide information with context by which to interpret it.

The distinctions between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources can be ambiguous. An individual document may be a primary source in one context and a secondary source in another. Encyclopedias are typically considered tertiary sources, but a study of how encyclopedias have changed on the Internet would use them as primary sources. Time is a defining element. While these definitions are clear, the lines begin to blur in the different discipline areas.

Hard Sciences

In the sciences, primary sources are documents that provide full description of the original research. For example, a primary source would be a journal article where scientists describe their research on the genetics of tobacco plants. A secondary source would be an article commenting or analyzing the scientists' research on tobacco.

Primary sources

  • Conference proceedings
  • Lab notebooks
  • Technical reports
  • Theses and dissertations

These are where the results of original research are usually first published in the sciences. This makes them the best source of information on cutting edge topics. However the new ideas presented may not be fully refined or validated yet.

Secondary sources

These tend to summarize the existing state of knowledge in a field at the time of publication. Secondary sources are good to find comparisons of different ideas and theories and to see how they may have changed over time.

Tertiary sources

  • Compilations
  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias

These types of sources present condensed material, generally with references back to the primary and/or secondary literature. They can be a good place to look up data or to get an overview of a subject, but they rarely contain original material.

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Primary vs Secondary Research: Differences, Methods, Sources, and More

Two images representing primary vs secondary research: woman holding a phone taking an online survey (primary research), and a stack of books bound with string (secondary research).

Table of Contents

Primary vs Secondary Research – What’s the Difference?

In the search for knowledge and data to inform decisions, researchers and analysts rely on a blend of research sources. These sources are broadly categorized into primary and secondary research, each serving unique purposes and offering different insights into the subject matter at hand. But what exactly sets them apart?

Primary research is the process of gathering fresh data directly from its source. This approach offers real-time insights and specific information tailored to specific objectives set by stakeholders. Examples include surveys , interviews, and observational studies.

Secondary research , on the other hand, involves the analysis of existing data, most often collected and presented by others. This type of research is invaluable for understanding broader trends, providing context, or validating hypotheses. Common sources include scholarly articles, industry reports, and data compilations.

The crux of the difference lies in the origin of the information: primary research yields firsthand data which can be tailored to a specific business question, whilst secondary research synthesizes what's already out there. In essence, primary research listens directly to the voice of the subject, whereas secondary research hears it secondhand .

When to Use Primary and Secondary Research

Selecting the appropriate research method is pivotal and should be aligned with your research objectives. The choice between primary and secondary research is not merely procedural but strategic, influencing the depth and breadth of insights you can uncover.

Primary research shines when you need up-to-date, specific information directly relevant to your study. It's the go-to for fresh insights, understanding consumer behavior, or testing new theories. Its bespoke nature makes it indispensable for tailoring questions to get the exact answers you need.

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Secondary research is your first step into the research world. It helps set the stage by offering a broad understanding of the topic. Before diving into costly primary research, secondary research can validate the need for further investigation or provide a solid background to build upon. It's especially useful for identifying trends, benchmarking, and situating your research within the existing body of knowledge.

Combining both methods can significantly enhance your research. Starting with secondary research lays the groundwork and narrows the focus, whilst subsequent primary research delves deep into specific areas of interest, providing a well-rounded, comprehensive understanding of the topic.

Primary vs Secondary Research Methods

In the landscape of market research, the methodologies employed can significantly influence the insights and conclusions drawn. Let's delve deeper into the various methods underpinning both primary and secondary research, shedding light on their unique applications and the distinct insights they offer.

Two women interviewing at a table. Represents primary research interviews.

Primary Research Methods:

  • Surveys: Surveys are a cornerstone of primary research, offering a quantitative approach to gathering data directly from the target audience. By employing structured questionnaires, researchers can collect a vast array of data ranging from customer preferences to behavioral patterns. This method is particularly valuable for acquiring statistically significant data that can inform decision-making processes and strategy development. The application of statistical approaches for analysing this data, such as key drivers analysis, MaxDiff or conjoint analysis can also further enhance any collected data.
  • One on One Interviews: Interviews provide a qualitative depth to primary research, allowing for a nuanced exploration of participants' attitudes, experiences, and motivations. Conducted either face-to-face or remotely, interviews enable researchers to delve into the complexities of human behavior, offering rich insights that surveys alone may not uncover. This method is instrumental in exploring new areas of research or obtaining detailed information on specific topics.
  • Focus Groups: Focus groups bring together a small, diverse group of participants to discuss and provide feedback on a particular subject, product, or idea. This interactive setting fosters a dynamic exchange of ideas, revealing consumers' perceptions, experiences, and preferences. Focus groups are invaluable for testing concepts, exploring market trends, and understanding the factors that influence consumer decisions.
  • Ethnographic Studies: Ethnographic studies involve the systematic watching, recording, and analysis of behaviors and events in their natural setting. This method offers an unobtrusive way to gather authentic data on how people interact with products, services, or environments, providing insights that can lead to more user-centered design and marketing strategies.

The interior of a two story library with books lining the walls and study cubicles in the center of the room. Represents secondary research.

Secondary Research Methods:

  • Literature Reviews: Literature reviews involve the comprehensive examination of existing research and publications on a given topic. This method enables researchers to synthesize findings from a range of sources, providing a broad understanding of what is already known about a subject and identifying gaps in current knowledge.
  • Meta-Analysis: Meta-analysis is a statistical technique that combines the results of multiple studies to arrive at a comprehensive conclusion. This method is particularly useful in secondary research for aggregating findings across different studies, offering a more robust understanding of the evidence on a particular topic.
  • Content Analysis: Content analysis is a method for systematically analyzing texts, media, or other content to quantify patterns, themes, or biases . This approach allows researchers to assess the presence of certain words, concepts, or sentiments within a body of work, providing insights into trends, representations, and societal norms. This can be performed across a range of sources including social media, customer forums or review sites.
  • Historical Research: Historical research involves the study of past events, trends, and behaviors through the examination of relevant documents and records. This method can provide context and understanding of current trends and inform future predictions, offering a unique perspective that enriches secondary research.

Each of these methods, whether primary or secondary, plays a crucial role in the mosaic of market research, offering distinct pathways to uncovering the insights necessary to drive informed decisions and strategies.

Primary vs Secondary Sources in Research

Both primary and secondary sources of research form the backbone of the insight generation process, when both are utilized in tandem it can provide the perfect steppingstone for the generation of real insights. Let’s explore how each category serves its unique purpose in the research ecosystem.

Primary Research Data Sources

Primary research data sources are the lifeblood of firsthand research, providing raw, unfiltered insights directly from the source. These include:

  • Customer Satisfaction Survey Results: Direct feedback from customers about their satisfaction with a product or service. This data is invaluable for identifying strengths to build on and areas for improvement and typically renews each month or quarter so that metrics can be tracked over time.
  • NPS Rating Scores from Customers: Net Promoter Score (NPS) provides a straightforward metric to gauge customer loyalty and satisfaction. This quantitative data can reveal much about customer sentiment and the likelihood of referrals.
  • Ad-hoc Surveys: Ad-hoc surveys can be about any topic which requires investigation, they are typically one off surveys which zero in on one particular business objective. Ad-hoc projects are useful for situations such as investigating issues identified in other tracking surveys, new product development, ad testing, brand messaging, and many other kinds of projects.
  • A Field Researcher’s Notes: Detailed observations from fieldwork can offer nuanced insights into user behaviors, interactions, and environmental factors that influence those interactions. These notes are a goldmine for understanding the context and complexities of user experiences.
  • Recordings Made During Focus Groups: Audio or video recordings of focus group discussions capture the dynamics of conversation, including reactions, emotions, and the interplay of ideas. Analyzing these recordings can uncover nuanced consumer attitudes and perceptions that might not be evident in survey data alone.

These primary data sources are characterized by their immediacy and specificity, offering a direct line to the subject of study. They enable researchers to gather data that is specifically tailored to their research objectives, providing a solid foundation for insightful analysis and strategic decision-making.

Secondary Research Data Sources

In contrast, secondary research data sources offer a broader perspective, compiling and synthesizing information from various origins. These sources include:

  • Books, Magazines, Scholarly Journals: Published works provide comprehensive overviews, detailed analyses, and theoretical frameworks that can inform research topics, offering depth and context that enriches primary data.
  • Market Research Reports: These reports aggregate data and analyses on industry trends, consumer behavior, and market dynamics, providing a macro-level view that can guide primary research directions and validate findings.
  • Government Reports: Official statistics and reports from government agencies offer authoritative data on a wide range of topics, from economic indicators to demographic trends, providing a reliable basis for secondary analysis.
  • White Papers, Private Company Data: White papers and reports from businesses and consultancies offer insights into industry-specific research, best practices, and market analyses. These sources can be invaluable for understanding the competitive landscape and identifying emerging trends.

Secondary data sources serve as a compass, guiding researchers through the vast landscape of information to identify relevant trends, benchmark against existing data, and build upon the foundation of existing knowledge. They can significantly expedite the research process by leveraging the collective wisdom and research efforts of others.

By adeptly navigating both primary and secondary sources, researchers can construct a well-rounded research project that combines the depth of firsthand data with the breadth of existing knowledge. This holistic approach ensures a comprehensive understanding of the research topic, fostering informed decisions and strategic insights.

Examples of Primary and Secondary Research in Marketing

In the realm of marketing, both primary and secondary research methods play critical roles in understanding market dynamics, consumer behavior, and competitive landscapes. By comparing examples across both methodologies, we can appreciate their unique contributions to strategic decision-making.

Example 1: New Product Development

Primary Research: Direct Consumer Feedback through Surveys and Focus Groups

  • Objective: To gauge consumer interest in a new product concept and identify preferred features.
  • Process: Surveys distributed to a target demographic to collect quantitative data on consumer preferences, and focus groups conducted to dive deeper into consumer attitudes and desires.
  • Insights: Direct insights into consumer needs, preferences for specific features, and willingness to pay. These insights help in refining product design and developing a targeted marketing strategy.

Secondary Research: Market Analysis Reports

  • Objective: To understand the existing market landscape, including competitor products and market trends.
  • Process: Analyzing published market analysis reports and industry studies to gather data on market size, growth trends, and competitive offerings.
  • Insights: Provides a broader understanding of the market, helping to position the new product strategically against competitors and align it with current trends.

Example 2: Brand Positioning

Primary Research: Brand Perception Analysis through Surveys

  • Objective: To understand how the brand is perceived by consumers and identify potential areas for repositioning.
  • Process: Conducting surveys that ask consumers to describe the brand in their own words, rate it against various attributes, and compare it to competitors.
  • Insights: Direct feedback on brand strengths and weaknesses from the consumer's perspective, offering actionable data for adjusting brand messaging and positioning.

Secondary Research: Social Media Sentiment Analysis

  • Objective: To analyze public sentiment towards the brand and its competitors.
  • Process: Utilizing software tools to analyze mentions, hashtags, and discussions related to the brand and its competitors across social media platforms.
  • Insights: Offers an overview of public perception and emerging trends in consumer sentiment, which can validate findings from primary research or highlight areas needing further investigation.

Example 3: Market Expansion Strategy

Primary Research: Consumer Demand Studies in New Markets

  • Objective: To assess demand and consumer preferences in a new geographic market.
  • Process: Conducting surveys and interviews with potential consumers in the target market to understand their needs, preferences, and cultural nuances.
  • Insights: Provides specific insights into the new market’s consumer behavior, preferences, and potential barriers to entry, guiding market entry strategies.

Secondary Research: Economic and Demographic Analysis

  • Objective: To evaluate the economic viability and demographic appeal of the new market.
  • Process: Reviewing existing economic reports, demographic data, and industry trends relevant to the target market.
  • Insights: Offers a macro view of the market's potential, including economic conditions, demographic trends, and consumer spending patterns, which can complement insights gained from primary research.

By leveraging both primary and secondary research, marketers can form a comprehensive understanding of their market, consumers, and competitors, facilitating informed decision-making and strategic planning. Each method brings its strengths to the table, with primary research offering direct consumer insights and secondary research providing a broader context within which to interpret those insights.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Primary and Secondary Research?

When it comes to market research, both primary and secondary research offer unique advantages and face certain limitations. Understanding these can help researchers and businesses make informed decisions on which approach to utilize for their specific needs. Below is a comparative table highlighting the pros and cons of each research type.

Navigating the Pros and Cons

  • Balance Your Research Needs: Consider starting with secondary research to gain a broad understanding of the subject matter, then delve into primary research for specific, targeted insights that are tailored to your precise needs.
  • Resource Allocation: Evaluate your budget, time, and resource availability. Primary research can offer more specific and actionable data but requires more resources. Secondary research is more accessible but may lack the specificity or recency you need.
  • Quality and Relevance: Assess the quality and relevance of available secondary sources before deciding if primary research is necessary. Sometimes, the existing data might suffice, especially for preliminary market understanding or trend analysis.
  • Combining Both for Comprehensive Insights: Often, the most effective research strategy involves a combination of both primary and secondary research. This approach allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the market, leveraging the broad perspective provided by secondary sources and the depth and specificity of primary data.

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Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Search catalog, what are the differences.

Sources of information or evidence are often categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary material. These classifications are based on the originality of the material and the proximity of the source or origin. This informs the reader as to whether the author is reporting information that is first hand or is conveying the experiences and opinions of others which is considered second hand. Determining if a source is primary, secondary or tertiary can be tricky. Below you will find a description of the three categories of information and examples to help you make a determination.

Primary Sources

These sources are records of events or evidence as they are first described or actually happened without any interpretation or commentary. It is information that is shown for the first time or original materials on which other research is based.  Primary sources display original thinking, report on new discoveries, or share fresh information.

Secondary Sources

These sources offer an analysis or restatement of primary sources. They often try to describe or explain primary sources. They tend to be works which summarize, interpret, reorganize, or otherwise provide an added value to a primary source.

Tertiary Sources

These are sources that index, abstract, organize, compile, or digest other sources. Some reference materials and textbooks are considered tertiary sources when their chief purpose is to list, summarize or simply repackage ideas or other information. Tertiary sources are usually not credited to a particular author.

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7.4: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

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Another information category is publication mode and has to do with whether the information is

  • Firsthand information (information in its original form, not translated or published in another form).
  • Secondhand information (a restatement, analysis, or interpretation of original information).
  • Third-hand information (a summary or repackaging of original information, often based on secondary information that has been published).

The three labels for information sources in this category are, respectively, primary sources, secondary sources, and tertiary sources.

When you make distinctions between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, you are relating the information to the context in which it was created. Understanding this relationship is an important skill that you’ll need in college, as well as in the workplace. The relationship between creation and context helps us understand the “big picture” in which information operates and helps us figure out which information we can depend on. That’s a big part of thinking critically, a major benefit of actually becoming an educated person.

Primary Sources – Because it is in its original form, the information in primary sources has reached us from its creators without going through any filter. We get it firsthand. Here are some examples that are often used as primary sources:

  • Any literary work, including novels, plays, and poems.
  • Breaking news.
  • Advertisements.
  • Music and dance performances.
  • Eyewitness accounts, including photographs and recorded interviews.
  • Blog entries that are autobiographical.
  • Scholarly blogs that provide data or are highly theoretical, even though they contain no autobiography.
  • Artifacts such as tools, clothing, or other objects.
  • Original documents such as tax returns, marriage licenses, and transcripts of trials.
  • Websites, although many are secondary.
  • Correspondence, including email.
  • Records of organizations and government agencies.
  • Journal articles that report research for the first time (at least the parts about the new research, plus their data).

Secondary Source – These sources are translated, repackaged, restated, analyzed, or interpreted original information that is a primary source. Thus, the information comes to us secondhand, or through at least one filter. Here are some examples that are often used as secondary sources:

  • All nonfiction books and magazine articles except autobiography.
  • An article or website that critiques a novel, play, painting, or piece of music.
  • An article or web site that synthesizes expert opinion and several eyewitness accounts for a new understanding of an event.
  • The literature review portion of a journal article.

Tertiary Source – These sources further repackage the original information because they index, condense, or summarize the original.

Typically, by the time tertiary sources are developed, there have been many secondary sources prepared on their subjects, and you can think of tertiary sources as information that comes to us “third-hand.” Tertiary sources are usually publications that you are not intended to read from cover to cover but to dip in and out of for the information you need. You can think of them as a good place for background information to start your research but a bad place to end up. Here are some examples that are often used as tertiary sources:

  • Dictionaries.
  • Guide books, including the one you are now reading.
  • Survey articles.
  • Bibliographies.
  • Encyclopedias, including Wikipedia.
  • Most textbooks.

Tertiary sources are usually not acceptable as cited sources in college research projects because they are so far from firsthand information. That’s why most professors don’t want you to use Wikipedia as a citable source: the information in Wikipedia is far from the original information. Other people have considered it, decided what they think about it, rearranged it, and summarized it–all of which is actually what your professors want you , not another author, to do with the information in your research projects.

The Details Are Tricky — A few things about primary or secondary sources might surprise you:

  • Sources become primary rather than always exist as primary sources.

It’s easy to think that it is the format of primary sources that makes them primary. But that’s not all that matters. So when you see lists like the one above of sources that are often used as primary sources, it’s wise to remember that the ones listed are not automatically already primary sources. Firsthand sources get that designation only when researchers actually find their information relevant and use it.

For instance: Records that could be relevant to those studying government are created every day by federal, state, county, and city governments as they operate. But until those raw data are actually used by a researcher, they cannot be considered primary sources.

Another example: A diary about his flying missions kept by an American helicopter pilot in the Viet Nam War is not a primary source until, say, a researcher uses it in her study of how the war was carried out. But it will never be a primary source for a researcher studying the U.S. public’s reaction to the war because it does not contain information relevant to that study.

  • Primary sources, even eyewitness accounts, are not necessarily accurate. Their accuracy has to be evaluated, just like that of all sources.
  • Something that is usually considered a secondary source can be considered a primary source, depending on the research project.

For instance, movie reviews are usually considered secondary sources. But if your research project is about the effect movie reviews have on ticket sales, the movie reviews you study would become primary sources.

  • Deciding whether to consider a journal article a primary or a secondary source can be complicated for at least two reasons.

First, journal articles that report new research for the first time are usually based on data. So some disciplines consider the data to be the primary source, and the journal article that describes and analyzes them is considered a secondary source.

However, particularly in the sciences, the original researcher might find it difficult or impossible (he or she might not be allowed) to share the data. So sometimes you have nothing more firsthand than the journal article, which argues for calling it the relevant primary source because it’s the closest thing that exists to the data.

Second, even journal articles that announce new research for the first time usually contain more than data. They also typically contain secondary source elements, such as a literature review, bibliography, and sections on data analysis and interpretation. So they can actually be a mix of primary and secondary elements. Even so, in some disciplines, a journal article that announces new research findings for the first time is considered to be, as a whole, a primary source for the researchers using it.

Under What Circumstances?

Consider the sources below and the potential circumstances under which each could become a primary source for you to use in your research.

Despite their trickiness, what primary sources usually offer is too good not to consider using because:

  • They are original. This unfiltered, firsthand information is not available anywhere else.
  • Their creator was a type of person unlike others in your research project, and you want to include that perspective.
  • Their creator was present at an event and shares an eyewitness account.
  • They are objects that existed at the particular time your project is studying.

Particularly in humanities courses, your professor may require you to use a certain number of primary sources for your project. In other courses, particularly in the sciences, you may be required to use only primary sources.

What sources are considered primary and secondary sources can vary from discipline to discipline. If you are required to use primary sources for your research project, before getting too deep into your project check with your professor to make sure he or she agrees with your choices. After all, it’s your professor who will be grading your project. A librarian, too, can verify your choices. Just remember to take a copy of your assignment with you when you ask because the librarian will want to see the original assignment. After all, that’s a primary source!

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here: https://minnstate.pressbooks.pub/ctar/?p=115#h5p-17

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here: https://minnstate.pressbooks.pub/ctar/?p=115#h5p-18

An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here: https://minnstate.pressbooks.pub/ctar/?p=115#h5p-19

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Industrial Design education in Australia: a competence analysis across primary, secondary and tertiary education levels

  • Open access
  • Published: 21 March 2023
  • Volume 34 , pages 427–460, ( 2024 )

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primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

  • Kathryn Deighton 1 ,
  • Blair Kuys   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-9857-0439 2 &
  • Shivani Tyagi 2  

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Industrial Design education is poorly understood by laypeople but is present in Australian curricula from primary through to tertiary education levels. Designers and design researchers have long recognised the value of the broad-ranging skills, knowledge fields, and personal qualities design education imparts, but this understanding is generally not shared by the wider community who may see design as surface decoration. This research identifies indicators of value and relevance taken from the twenty-first century competences literature, then measures their presence in four different Industrial Design education settings. Two studies were undertaken. First, Industrial Design educators from primary, secondary, and tertiary levels were surveyed. Then diverse Industrial Design education stakeholders from education and non-education settings were interviewed. The studies gathered both quantitative and qualitative data on the value and relevance of current Industrial Design education in Australia. The result is a comprehensive analysis of the twenty-first century competences present in Australian Industrial Design education, which concludes with recommendations for ways Industrial Design education can benefit twenty-first century learners, as well as ways it should evolve to remain relevant.

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Introduction

Industrial Design education is poorly understood by policy makers and the general public (Australian Government, 2018 ; Driver et al., 2011 ; Goatman & Moodie, 2014 ) but exists in Australian curricula from primary through to tertiary education levels.

Designers and design researchers see Industrial Design as an intellectual undertaking that is complex, future focussed (Jonas, 1999 ; WDO, 2018 ); and inseparable from ethical (Nelson & Stolterman, 2012 ), environmental (Papanek, 1985 ), and cultural contexts. They see that it has a broad knowledge base (Buchanan, 1990 ; Papanek, 1985 ), and a powerful capacity for creative problem solving (Archer, 1964 /1984; Buchanan, 1990 ; WDO, 2018 ). Whereas members of the public and policy makers may see it as surface decoration (Driver et al., 2011 ; Norman, 2017 ). This research seeks to understand the true value of Industrial Design education.

Wright et al. ( 2013 ) identify a paucity of research measuring the value of design and communicating this value to policy makers. While the extensive twenty-first century competences literature describes skills, knowledge, and personal qualities that will be most valuable in upcoming decades (Anderson, et al., 2017 ; Hajkowicz et al., 2016 ; ISA, 2017 ; Leadbeater, 2016 ; OECD, 2019 ; Voogt & Roblin, 2012 ; WEF, 2018 ). This research used the skills, knowledge, and personal qualities from the established twenty-first century competences literature to measure the value and relevance of current Industrial Design education in Australia. The aim was to develop a resource for policy makers and researchers which could influence important decisions about Industrial Design education and public projects over coming decades. This research aimed to enable decision makers in the community to better understand what Industrial Design education has to offer. It also aimed to enable current Industrial Design stakeholders to understand ways Industrial Design education could be improved.

The research measured the presence of key twenty-first century competences in current Australian Industrial Design education settings using both a rating survey and semi-structured interviews. The rating survey was completed by 46 Industrial Design educators from primary, secondary, vocational, and undergraduate university education levels. Then semi-structured interviews were conducted with 23 Industrial Design education stakeholders. Four specific education levels were studied for two reasons. Firstly, Industrial Design education has not been examined across such broad education levels before; even though foundational impacts on later education outcomes are well known in other fields (DET, 2016 ; Education Council, 2019 ). Secondly, the developmental and structural contrasts between these four education levels would likely foster different types of value and relevance. Therefore, research results were likely to suggest structural adjustments that could improve Industrial Design education across many levels.

The scope of the research was limited to Australian data sources. However, the findings are relevant to other regions, particularly those with a similar design culture and economic climate to Australia. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that relevance to some regions may be unknown and unknowable (Sen & Sharma, 2011 ).

This research finds that Industrial Design education is likely to impart strong capabilities in a range of key twenty-first century competences. It finds that Industrial Design education may be improved through more overt teaching of collaboration skills, the nurturing of further entrepreneurial skills, and further inclusion of emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT), and generative design software. This research finds that Industrial Design education can be used to deliver vital twenty-first century competences from primary school level through to university level, and that its value be recognised through grants and public funding.

Literature review

This literature review first defines the terms competence and personal qualities , as used in this research. The purpose of Industrial Design education is then examined using selected historical and current sources. Next, significant projections about mid-late twenty-first century life are summarised and used to predict activities that Industrial Designers may be involved in over coming decades. Finally, the most in-demand twenty-first century competences and the top Industrial Design competences are identified and compared.

The terms “Competence” and “Personal Qualities”

The established twenty-first century competences literature is used in this research to benchmark the value and the twenty-first century relevance of current Industrial Design education in Australia. Voogt and Roblin ( 2012 ), use the term twenty-first century competences to refer to twenty-first century-relevant skills, knowledge, and attitudes applicable to many fields, on the basis that it is used in many academic papers and government reports (Voogt & Roblin, 2012 ). The term has also been adopted by the European Parliament (European Union, 2018 ). The term twenty-first century competences is therefore adopted for this research, except that in this research it refers to skills, knowledge, and personal qualities . The term personal qualities is used in this research to refer to “non-cognitive” characteristics such as, commitment, motivation, confidence, curiosity, perseverance, self-awareness, resilience, self-esteem, adaptability, and empathy, in line with Duckworth and Yeager ( 2015 ).

The purpose of industrial design education

As with all fields of education, Industrial Design education should support the development and wellbeing of the whole person for work and for life (Education Council, 2019 ; OECD, 2018 ), for the benefit of individuals ( Basic Education Act (Fin); Education Council, 2019 ; Plutarch, 1st Century AD-a; United Nations, 1948 ), and for the enrichment of their local and global communities (Education Council, 2019 ; World Bank, 2018 ). Industrial Design education should produce capable, passionate, lifelong learners (Durrant-Whyte, 2015 ; Education Council, 2019 ; Hajkowicz et al., 2016 ; World Bank, 2018 ) who can think and act for themselves (Duckworth, 1964 ; Plutarch, 1st Century AD-b). Industrial Design education has expanded from the art, science, and technology of the Bauhaus (Bauhaus, 2021 ; Findeli, 2001 ) into a discipline that must also manage “complex and innovative processes involving science, technology, society, business models, marketing, and political issues” (Collina et al., 2017 , p. S1002).

Impacts of upcoming global conditions on the industrial design profession

Global conditions in the next decades will influence which Industrial Design competences are the most valuable and relevant. Projected conditions include the likelihood of extreme technological development (Frey & Osborne, 2017 ; Hajkowicz et al., 2016 ; Kurzweil, 2001 ; WEF, 2017 ), pressing environmental sustainability concerns (EEA, 2015 ; Meadows et al., 1972 ; Turner, 2008 ; WWF, 2016 ), and evolving, complex interactions between social, political, environmental, economic, and technological factors (Davidson, 2005 ; Daly, 2012 ; Meadows et al., 1972 ; Steward Redqueen, 2016 ; Turner, 2008 ; WWF, 2016 ).

As a result of global conditions of upcoming decades, future Industrial Designers will need to be lifelong learners (Hajkowicz et al., 2016 ; Scott, 2015 ; WEF, 2016a ; World Bank, 2018 ) who must keep abreast of changing conditions, especially in relation to emerging technologies, including green technologies. Future Industrial Designers will need to be mindful of resource and energy use when designing for the rising global middle classes (WEF, 2016a ; WEF 2018 ). They will need to do more with less, and even try to design commercial goods that have an overall regenerative effect on the biosphere (Ellen Macarthur Foundation, 2021 ). It is likely future Industrial Designers will help develop innovative ways to feed the world’s growing population (EUFIC, 2018 ) through involvement in the design of 3D printed foodstuffs, more efficient packaging, influence over food trends, and more efficient production and transport systems (EUFIC, 2018 ; Hunter et al., 2017 ). Furthermore, they will need to be systems thinkers (Willis, 2012 ), and apply designerly ways of thinking (Cross, 1982 ) to the management of rising complexity and uncertainty (Rittel & Webber, 1973 /1984; Schön, 1983 ; Simon, 1973 /1984).

Appraisal of twenty-first century employment forecasts suggests that Industrial Designers of coming decades will need to work in more flexible ways and will need to compete globally in their work (Hajkowicz et al., 2016 ). Industrial Designers of coming decades will have to consider the needs of ageing users (UN, 2019 ), and will work with ageing colleagues (Hajkowicz et al., 2016 ). They will need to be educated about Industry 4.0, and emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, digital trade, augmented and virtual reality, advanced manufacturing, new materials, wearable electronics, 3D printing, autonomous transport, robotics, and biotechnology (CEDA, 2015 ; WEF, 2018 ). This knowledge will need to be applied to the design of both physical and virtual products. Industrial Designers of coming decades will also need to have a sound understanding of the privacy, security, intellectual property, and health and safety implications of all design outcomes (Atzori et al., 2014 ). These knowledge requirements suggest that Industrial Designers of coming decades will need increased levels of scientific understanding. They will also need to be resourceful in the face of geopolitical disturbances such as the COVID-19 pandemic, because of the low resilience of design professions to adverse conditions (ABS, 2018 ; NSC, 2020 ). However, more manufacturing may move back to Australia post-pandemic (Australian Government, 2020 ) and this may have a positive effect on Industrial Design work prospects. Industrial Designers of coming decades are also likely to need to reskill often as their jobs evolve (WEF, 2020 ) or they may need to move their skillsets to related or even unrelated disciplines (WEF, 2020 ).

To better understand what is required, we provide a comparison between the top competences from the twenty-first century competences literature mapped alongside the top competences from the Industrial Design competences literature as summarised in Table 1 . Table 1 was generated through analysis of the literature on twenty-first century competences and the literature on competences required in Industrial Design learning. These bodies of literature were identified by selecting relevant articles obtained from the search terms of “twenty-first century education”, “twenty-first century competences”, “twenty-first century skills”, “industrial design competences”, “industrial design education”, and similar. Grey literature, including government reports and reports from international organisations on these same topics was also reviewed.

The references used to generate Table 1 can be viewed in Appendix 1 and Appendix 2. Competences at the top of the table were endorsed by a large proportion of authors, and competences close to the bottom of the tables were endorsed by a smaller yet still substantial proportion of authors.

Comparison of the twenty-first century competences and Industrial Design competences reveals that many of the same competences are valued by twenty-first century competences authors and Industrial Design competences authors. There are four exceptions to this generalisation. These are that empathy , technological knowledge , environmental sustainability knowledge , ethical understanding , organisation skills/project management, and research skills , are endorsed more by the Industrial Design competences authors. This suggests a higher than required tendency towards technology, efficiency, environmentalism, investigation, and social conscience in Industrial Design learning. Adaptability & flexibility is endorsed less by the Industrial Design competences authors despite its prevalence in conventional design approaches. Leadership is endorsed far more by the twenty-first century competences authors than the Industrial Design competences authors, suggesting that Industrial Designers are not necessarily expected to be leaders. Finally, surprisingly, global outlook is mentioned by a higher percentage of twenty-first century authors than Industrial Design competences authors, despite much reliance on offshore manufacturing by many Industrial Designers globally. Two final observations from the literature are firstly, that the top Industrial Design competences are moderately more likely to be hard skills or hard knowledge fields. Hard skills are codifiable and measurable skills that can be taught explicitly (Oxford Reference, 2021 ) such as language learning, arithmetic and machine operation. This suggests that technical, scientific, and practical competences are important aspects of Industrial Design.

Secondly, the Industrial Design competences authors place a somewhat higher emphasis on entrepreneurial capability than the twenty-first century competences authors. This may result from Industrial Design being so closely affiliated with the manufacturing of saleable goods. This comparative analysis of the twenty-first century competences literature and the Industrial Design competences literature will be compared with the final results of this research.

In summary, the literature indicated that the top twenty-first century competences are a broad and variable range of skills, knowledge, and personal qualities, and that there is a substantial crossover between these competences and those valued within the Industrial Design competences literature. Industrial Designers of coming decades will need to adapt to extreme technological changes, pressing environmental concerns, and complex, evolving systems involving social, political, environmental, economic, and technological factors. Industrial Designers of coming decades are likely to need to tackle problems related to food security, the ageing population, increasing global populations, privacy, security, health, and safety. There are likely to be both positive and negative impacts on Industrial Designers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and other potential geopolitical disturbances. Gaps identified in the literature were that: no studies followed the progression of Industrial Design education from school level through to tertiary level; and no studies had quantified the value of Industrial Design education in holistic ways. This research therefore aimed to analyse different levels of Industrial Design education and to quantify the value of Industrial Design education in ways that did not rely on economic measures. The research questions addressed in this research were, What is the value and twenty-first century relevance of current Industrial Design education practice across primary, secondary, vocational, and undergraduate university education levels in Australia? and, How can these Industrial Design education levels improve their twenty-first century value and relevance?

Two research methods were used to investigate the research questions. Firstly, a cross-sectional rating survey was completed by educators. The rating survey was designed to quantitatively measure the value and twenty-first century relevance of students’ Industrial Design projects. Secondly, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a broad range of Industrial Design stakeholders. The interviews were designed to collect data that could be easily compared with the survey data and to provide qualitative insights into the value and relevance of Industrial Design education in Australia. These methods are further described shortly.

Compliance with ethical standards

The survey and interviews were conducted in line with the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, and were approved in August, 2019 (SHR Project 20,211,215-6629). A separate ethics application was also approved by the Victorian Government Department of Education and Training (DET Project 2019_004141). We acknowledge the support provided by the Victorian Government Department of Education and Training. All participants’ data in the survey and interviews were anonymised or were anonymous from the beginning, since no signifiers were used. The participants agreed to undertake the study based on the informed consent statement at the commencement of the survey and interview. As such, they gave consent for the data to be used for this research.

Participants across both studies

Participants in the two studies were Australian Industrial Design education stakeholders and one Indonesian international student studying Industrial Design in Australia.

Survey study participants

Forty-six survey responses were gathered from 19 university lecturers, six vocational education educators, 15 secondary school teachers, and six primary school teachers. They were all teaching project-based Industrial Design projects (or 3D design projects at primary level) in their classes. Focusing on educators in the survey study allowed a comparison of the actual class contents across these four education levels.

Specific education levels were targeted in order to understand variations arising from developmental differences, from structural aspects of the education settings, and from the differing purposes of the education levels. At primary school level, grade 5 and/or 6 was selected as a group that could understand the purpose of design and design processes in some depth, may lack abstract thinking skills (Piaget, 2016 ), and would have comparatively low assessment pressures. At secondary school level, year 11 and/or 12 was selected as a group that was able to specialise in design, possessed abstract thinking skills (Piaget, 2016 ) and adult-level psychomotor skills (Cratty & Noble, 2016 ), and was affected by high-pressure assessment systems. At the vocational education level, 1st or 2nd year level was targeted as a group where a high degree of specialisation applied, workplace and hands-on skills were emphasised (Norton et al., 2018 ), strong government regulation affected assessment structures (Parliament of Australia, 2018 ), and students were of an age likely to be interested in questions of responsibility and challenging the status quo (Kohlberg, 2010 ; Loevinger, 1973 ). While at university level, 3rd and/or 4th year was targeted as a group where a very high degree of specialisation was possible, and where students were likely to have comparatively higher theoretical and academic aptitudes (Norton et al., 2018 ). This university level was also seen as a level where students would be affected by the autonomy brought about by self-regulation of university courses (Norton et al., 2018 ), and where students would have an even higher interest in questions of responsibility and challenging the status quo than the vocational education students due to their slightly higher age range (Kohlberg, 2010 ; Loevinger, 1973 ).

Survey materials

The research instrument used for the survey was a rubric-style rating tool hosted on the Qualtrics online survey platform. The survey was structured as a series of five-point rating scales measuring the presence of the top twenty-first century competences. Basic demographic information was collected, and two text entry questions asked for the “project title [of the student project educators chose to respond to the survey about]”, and “any further comments”.

In the survey, ten of the thirteen top twenty-first century competences from the literature were rated by educators according to their level of presence in their students’ class projects. These ten twenty-first century competences were: creativity, problem solving, collaboration, innovation, digital skills/connectivity, entrepreneurial capability, critical thinking, adaptability/flexibility, STEM or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, [Art], Mathematics), and cultural literacy. The top twenty-first century competences of communication skills and interpersonal skills were excluded from the survey because retrospective rating of these two competences would have been too unreliable. Finally, the competence of environmental sustainability knowledge was added to the rating list because it had been so prevalent in the literature on twenty-first century life (EEA, 2015 ; Meadows et al., 1972 ; Turner, 2008 ; WWF, 2016 ). Consequently, the final list of 11 competences rated in the survey were:

problem solving

collaboration

digital skills/connectivity

entrepreneurial capability

critical thinking

adaptability/flexibility

STEM or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, [Art], Mathematics)

cultural literacy

environmental sustainability knowledge

Competences were sometimes rated individually but were often split into between two and five sub-competences that were easier for respondents to identify. For example, the competence of collaboration was divided into the sub-competences of idea &/or resource sharing in a student group or student partnership , role/responsibility taking in a student group or student partnership, and co-design &/or co-decision making amongst students . Table 2 . shows an example rating question from the survey. It shows the question used to rate one of the three collaboration sub-competences, idea &/or resource sharing in a student group or student partnership .

Survey procedure

The survey procedure was as follows. The authors used publicly available contact information to get in touch with school principals and tertiary education leaders, then asked them to forward survey links to relevant educators in their institutions. After surveys were completed, data were downloaded from the Qualtrics platform to a password protected laptop. The data were next graphically represented and then analysed by comparing the patterns of high ratings, moderate ratings, and low ratings across the different competences and across the different education levels. The surveys were completed between November 2019 and March 2020 before the first pandemic lockdowns affected education delivery in Australia. Survey results will be reported shortly.

Interview study participants

Twenty-three Industrial Design education stakeholders were interviewed. Because the survey was limited to educator viewpoints, the interviews were designed to complement the survey data by capturing the viewpoints of a broad range of Industrial Design education stakeholders. The stakeholders included educators, students, education leaders, curriculum and assessment professionals, design teacher association representatives, professional Industrial Designers, and a makerspace librarian. Where interviewees were associated with education institutions, the education levels they came from were identical to those used in the survey study, namely grade 5 and/or 6, year 11 and/or 12, 1st or 2nd year vocational education, or 3rd or 4th year undergraduate university. This was done to facilitate comparison between the two studies.

Sampling strategy

A combination of cluster sampling and judgemental sampling was used to recruit interviewees. Judgemental sampling was used to identify a diverse set of Industrial Design education stakeholders likely to provide rich information or interesting viewpoints. The non-random technique of judgemental sampling was justified by the fact that the intention of the interview study was to collect a snapshot of diverse views from a particular set of Industrial Design education stakeholders at a particular point in time. Clusters of participants were recruited from schools and tertiary institutions, both for the sake of efficiency, and as a way of comparing different viewpoints about the same system.

Interview questions

A set of two leading questions was used in the semi-structured interviews. These were designed to elicit authentic opinions that could answer the research questions. The interview questions were,

What knowledge, skills and personal qualities do you think Industrial Design education gives or should give to a student?,
What do you think Industrial Designers and Industrial Design education can contribute to a community or society both now and in the future?

Both questions were designed to discover respondents’ authentic thoughts about what competences are inherent in Industrial Design learning, as well as what Industrial Design-related competences are most relevant for the twenty-first century. The interviewer only asked further questions to draw out details and explanations from interviewees.

Interview procedure

All interviewees consented to have their interviews recorded except for one, whose interview was documented through notetaking and whose final interview document was emailed to them for verification. Notes were also taken during all other interviews. Consent documents for the interviews were used to collect a small amount of demographic data about the interviewees. Interview recordings were transcribed and analysed quantitatively and qualitatively with the help of NVivo software.

Mixed methods analysis was used. Both the rating survey and the semi-structured interviews were analysed quantitatively so that they could produce clear and comparable data sets. The semi-structured interviews were also analysed qualitatively in order to deepen understanding of the reasons behind the quantitative results and to uncover emergent new knowledge. Two text entry questions from the survey were also analysed qualitatively.

Survey analysis

The survey results were analysed as follows. Five-point scale rating data from the online survey platform were exported into spreadsheet software. The data were simplified into high ratings ( extensively present or strongly present ratings), moderate ratings ( moderately present ratings), and low ratings ( slightly present, not present or not applicable ratings) across the different competences and across the different education levels. They were then arranged into a series of 100% stacked bar charts. One hundred percent stacked bar charts were chosen as the main analysis and communication tools for this research because they had been successfully used to communicate to a broad audience in a comparable report (WEF, 2018 ).

A formative model was used to interpret the survey data. For example, where general competences such as creativity , were divided into several sub-competences, such as, fluency of idea generation , uncommon & original ideas , and flexibility in idea generation , a contribution from each sub-competence was taken to establish an overall value for the main competence.

Demographic data were tabulated and interpreted. Furthermore, the “project title” and “any further comments” data from the rating survey were analysed qualitatively by thematic analysis in order to identify unexpected insights and learn more about likely levels of error in the data.

Survey results

The university lecturer survey cohort was the only survey cohort to produce somewhat representative and generalisable data without unexpected demographic biases. There were 19 university lecturer respondents. This was estimated to be around 50% of that target population. The remainder of the survey study was described as exploratory. The 15 secondary teacher responses were given some weight in analysis because an SPSS mock MANOVA analysis had indicated that this number was only one short of being statistically meaningful. Values entered into the mock MANOVA analysis were for 11 outcome measures and four groups. G-Power was used assuming a significance of 5%, power of 80% and a large effect size (eta-squared = 0.14). However, it was noted that the secondary cohort was biased towards certain respondent types as seen in Table 3 . The vocational education and primary teacher cohorts could only be analysed superficially because these cohorts returned just six responses each. Therefore, the vocational education and primary teacher survey data will not be discussed in this paper. Table 3 . summarises the university and secondary survey respondent demographics and Fig.  1 and Fig.  2 show the 100% stacked bar charts that were used to analyse and communicate the university and secondary educator survey data.

figure 1

Overview of survey results from university cohort, showing high, low, and moderate responses for each sub-competence

figure 2

Overview of survey results from secondary cohorts, showing high, low, and moderate responses for each sub-competence

Overall, the survey results suggested substantial value and twenty-first century relevance in university level Industrial Design learning in Australia. They suggested relatively high value and twenty-first century relevance in the secondary-level Industrial Design settings studied. The university respondents had the strongest alignment with the twenty-first century competences in all cases except in the collaboration competence, where alignment was similar in the university and secondary cohorts. In the university survey cohort, the competences demonstrating particularly strong alignment with the top twenty-first century competences were problem solving, innovation capability, adaptability/flexibility, critical thinking, creativity , and environmental sustainability knowledge . Strong alignment was defined as a competence where 60% or more of respondents reported strong or extensive use, and/or fewer than 20% reported low or non-existent use. Sub-competences that showed strong alignment with the top twenty-first century competences in the university lecturer cohort were the digital skills sub-competences, technical and cognitive [digital] skills , and information networks , and the Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics (STEAM) sub-competences of Technology skills and knowledge , and Art skills & knowledge .

The sub-competences demonstrating low alignment with twenty-first century competences in the university cohort, defined as sub-competences where more than 50% of the university lecturer respondents reported low or non-existent use, and/or fewer than 33% reported high or extensive use, were [digital] communication networks ; the Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) sub-competences of Science skills & knowledge , Engineering skills & knowledge , Mathematical skills & knowledge ; and the entrepreneurial capability sub-competence, trade activities and/or being paid to design . Additionally, collaboration and Mathematics skills were evident at varied levels across the cohort, and cultural literacy seemed to be important only at a basic level.

In the secondary teacher data set, competences demonstrating strong alignment with twenty-first century competences, according to the definitions used above, were problem solving, and critical thinking. Sub-competences showing strong alignment with the top twenty-first century competences were adaptability ; the creativity sub-competences, fluent idea generation, and uncommon & original ideas ; the collaboration sub-competence of idea &/or resource sharing ; and the digital skills sub-competences, technical & cognitive [digital] skills , and use of information networks . The competences showing low alignment with the top twenty-first century competences in the secondary cohort were cultural literacy and entrepreneurial capability. Sub-competences with similarly low alignment in the secondary teacher cohort were the collaboration sub-competence of role/responsibility taking in a group or partnership ; the digital skills sub-competence of communication networks ; and the STEM sub-competences, Science skills & knowledge , Technology skills & knowledge , and Engineering skills & knowledge . Additionally, cultural literacy , environmental sustainability knowledge , collaboration , technology skills , Engineering skills , and entrepreneurial capability were found at very variable levels across the cohort, suggesting they were used very differently by different secondary teachers.

Text entry questions

The “project title” question asked educators to specify the title of the student project they were responding to the survey in relation to. Analysis of responses revealed that functional and technological projects with specified project outcomes were more prevalent in the secondary school cohorts, and open-ended and socially themed projects were more prevalent in the university cohorts. This may have resulted from different levels of psychosocial, psychomotor, and moral development between levels. Higher education levels would be expected to be drawn towards social and political projects (Kohlberg, 2016 ), and younger education levels may have needed to develop technical skills before applying them in creative ways (Cratty & Noble, 2016 ).

Differences between the cohorts

The reason the university cohort aligned more strongly with the top twenty-first century competences than the secondary cohort was not clear, as the survey had been designed to apply equally to all education levels studied. One possible explanation is that more complex projects are able to be run with older students than with younger students (Girgis et al., 2018 ). However, at senior secondary level, many Australian Design curricula run for a whole semester (Board of Studies NSW, 2013 ; QCAA, 2018 ; VCAA, 2017a ; VCAA, 2017b ) and senior secondary students should be capable of using many competences in that time. Further explanations for this finding were sought in the interview study.

Effects of biases and sources of error

There were a number of known biases affecting the rating data. The most obvious one arose from differences between the priorities of different secondary curricula and the different backgrounds of people teaching the secondary subjects. For example, secondary education results were skewed towards the “technical” and “making” priorities of Design Technology teachers and away from the more artistic priorities of Design teachers. Related but unknown biases would have arisen from the tertiary Industrial Design curricula represented in the study. This is because university respondents would have been following diverse curricula as a result of the self-regulation of Australian universities (Norton et al., 2018 ) and as a result of the inclusion of lecturers’ specialist knowledge in their own curricula.

Additionally, all the survey responses were biased towards the views of male respondents, city-based respondents, respondents based in NSW or Victoria, and Industrial Design and Design trained respondents. (Although many of these biases are likely to be representative of these cohorts.) Errors also resulted from inaccurate reading of survey instructions, variations in rating leniency amongst respondents, question order effects, demand biases, and social desirability biases.

It was anticipated that the interview study would provide triangulating data to validate the survey results. It was also anticipated that the interview data would provide insights into the relationship between what was physically produced in classes (as expressed in the surveys), and what was theoretically valued by stakeholders (as expressed in the interviews).

Interview analysis

Analysis of the interview data was primarily conducted using quantitative content analysis. This was done to ensure comparability between the survey study and the interview study. Some qualitative thematic analysis was also undertaken. Analysis was grounded in comparison with the existing twenty-first century competences literature, the existing Industrial Design competences literature, and the survey study. A hierarchical coding structure was developed in NVivo. This involved the creation of up to four hierarchical levels of grouped codes. Analysis of the final coding structure also involved cross referencing with the demographic data.

Interview results

The duration of interviews ranged from 11 to 66 min, with the majority of interviews going for between 18 and 44 min. As can be seen in Table 4 , opinions expressed in the interviews were more likely to come from females in the young adult or 45–54 age ranges. They were moderately more likely to relate to the secondary schooling context, and were much more likely come from a Victorian, city-based location. These biases resulted by chance, as interviewee recruitment was based partly upon who held the job roles targeted for the study, who agreed to be interviewed, who was able to be contacted, and which students were put forward by institutions as possible interviewees. Table 4 shows the demographic attributes of the interviewees.

The interview content analysis measured the number of interviewees mentioning each survey-related competence in combination with the number of times they mentioned them. It also identified any competences that were discussed as frequently as the survey competences. Figure  3 summarises the 14 most discussed survey-related competences in the interview study, as well as five competences that were discussed at least as frequently as the survey-related competences.

figure 3

Summary of key interview data

Personal qualities , despite not having been identified as a top twenty-first century competence, was the most discussed competence in the interviews. Discussion incorporated sub-competences such as curiosity , experimental approach , confidence , resilience , perseverance , reflection , attention to detail , playfulness with materials & products, and ability to think on one’s feet . For example, Industrial Designer, ID1, spoke of the way resilience and perseverance, learned through Industrial Design education, had benefitted many areas of their life. They said,

[You learn] a way of sort of not becoming despondent or discouraged by little failures, which I think is really important because I think that’s one of the things that I learnt through Industrial Design that sort of, [pause] has run through the rest of my life.

And university lecturer, UT1, suggested that in order to encourage an experimental approach , students could be graded on how many genuine experiments they undertook in their projects, rather than on the production of high-quality presentation images or models.

The competences of problem solving , STEM, creativity, interpersonal skills , A rt, and environmental sustainability knowledge were also all discussed at length by the majority of interviewees. Additionally, their important sub-competences of real-life problems , empathy , understanding of product function , manufacturing knowledge , materials knowledge , drawing , and beauty and aesthetics were also all discussed at length. Comments included the following. Vocational education student, TS1, prioritised environmental sustainability knowledge over all else. They said, “I’ll mention the sustainability again because I think that’s what should be primarily focussed on”. Design teacher association representative, A1, spoke of Industrial Design education as a way of providing students with the agency and ability to tackle real life problems . They said, “We are hopefully empowering and supporting a load of young people who feel like they can come up with solutions or do something, just to make the world better”. While university student, US1, expressed a passion for materials and manufacturing knowledge . They stated, “a huge area which I’m really interested in, which is amazing, that’s super important, would be materials sciences and understanding different materials and their properties and how to use them in manufacturing”.

Critical thinking , digital skills , entrepreneurial capability , and communication skills were also discussed at substantial levels in the interviews. Particular attention was given to the sub-competence of design software including 3D modelling software . For example, vocational education student, TS1, described their acquisition of entrepreneurial skills when they said, “you learn how to operate a business, you learn how to contact people in industry, you learn how to make things, sell things”.

While Industrial Designer ID1 valued the communication skill of listening , stating, “you’ll do well if you’re able to listen very deeply and closely, and quickly synthesise information”. Over two thirds of interviewees discussed entrepreneurial capability and communication skills in detail and made an average of 3–4 mentions of adaptability/flexibility .

Ethical understanding was not included in the list of top twenty-first century competences used in this study, yet it was discussed more frequently by these interviewees than several of the top twenty-first century competences. For example, university leader, UL2, identified Industrial Design as a setting of strong tensions between actively ethical and actively unethical practice when they said, “I think Industrial Designers often struggle within their own minds about the ethics of Industrial Design, full-stop, because we kind of all know that we don’t need more consumer products”, but later reflected, “hopefully Industrial Design education produces graduates... as socially responsible problem solvers.... I think it is a trait of most graduates, I really do”.

Over half of the interviewees discussed each of the top twenty-first century competences of collaboration and cultural literacy. The final competence from the top twenty-first century competences list, innovation capability, was discussed moderately in the interviews, and at a lower rate than the three competences of organisation skills, spatial imagination , and research/investigation .

Several competences were identified at high levels in Industrial Design education. The personal qualities of curiosity , experimental approach , confidence , resilience , perseverance , reflection , and attention to detail were all present in these Industrial Design stakeholder interviews. They were also valued by the twenty-first century competences authors. The Industrial Design competences authors had not identified personal qualities at levels found in this study. This finding is, therefore, an original contribution to new knowledge. It suggests that Industrial Design education has a previously unpromoted potential for imparting valuable twenty-first century personal qualities to students.

Both the interviewees and the survey respondents saw problem solving as a key defining feature of Industrial Design education. This is consistent with the views of many Industrial Design competences authors (Erkarslan et al., 2011 ; O*Net, 2021 ; Tatlisu & Kaya, 2017 ; WDO, 2018 ; Yang, et al., 2005 ). Problem solving is also one of the most important twenty-first century competences (Adesida & Karuri-Sebina, 2013 ; Ananiadou & Claro, 2009 ; Donnelly & Wiltshire, 2014 ), so this finding suggests that problem solving is an important component of the value and twenty-first century relevance of Industrial Design education.

The combined analysis of the interviews and surveys suggested that STEM skills are vital to Industrial Design education but that the ideal Industrial Designer needs a broad but shallow knowledge of STEM. For example, interviewee ID1 spoke about designers having broad knowledge of many areas but being a “master of nothing”. They also said, “if you need to get something done you can draw on that little background you’ve got... little bit of understanding to talk the same language as the specialists”.

This idea is reminiscent of Brown and Wyatt’s ( 2010 ) concept of the “T-shaped person”.

Despite the fact that Art was extracted from STEAM for analysis and reporting, many interviewees mentioned STEM and Art skills in the same sentence, suggesting that Industrial Design education is a blend of Art and STEM (a STEAM discipline). For example, secondary teacher and design teacher association representative, A2, explained,

[Students] are thinking through more than the surface aesthetics of a product, they’re actually looking to how it functions. And that’s a very complex brain activity but it’s one that gives the mathematical student with a bent to creativity, a career path, and a really exciting one because of the breadth of Industrial Design.

Rhode Island School of Design ( 2018 ), and Taylor ( 2016 ) find that STEM is made more relevant when combined with Art to become STEAM. This suggests that Industrial Design education is a valuable vehicle for making the STEM education prioritised by governments, more relevant and engaging to students.

The vast majority of interviewees believed creativity was a crucial Industrial Design education competence. Creativity was similarly endorsed by the university survey cohort but less so by the secondary survey cohort. This was thought to be related to the “technical” and “making” priorities of the many secondary Design Technology teachers who responded to the survey. Creativity was the top twenty-first century competence identified in the literature (Education Council, 2019 ; EU, 2019 ; Frey & Osborne, 2017 ; Hajkowicz et al., 2016 ) and it was highly valued by the Industrial Design competences authors (Erkarslan, et al., 2011 ; Gunes, 2012 ; Lewis & Bonollo, 2002 ; O*Net, 2021 ; WDO, 2018 ; Yang et al., 2005 ). This suggests that the provision of creativity education is an important way that Industrial Design education provides value and relevance to twenty-first century students.

The top twenty-first century competence of interpersonal skills was not a surveyed competence. However, interviewees saw interpersonal skills as crucial in enabling Industrial Designers to connect with and manage relationships with peers, allied specialists, clients and end users. Interpersonal skills was also firmly prioritised by the twenty-first century competences authors (OECD, 2019 ; RAI & NBN, 2016 ; Voogt & Roblin, 2012 ). This suggests that Industrial Design education provides extensive twenty-first century value in this area. The sub-competence of empathy was of paramount importance to the interviewees. For example, vocational education student, TS2, explained the importance of Industrial Designers connecting with product end users. They said, “Like engineering, I reckon you probably get taught a bit, but they mainly make things work, whereas we connect more with the person who uses it, so we’re like the bridging gap between the user and the existing product”. This emphasis on empathy aligns with the views of many Industrial Design education theorists (Erkarslan et al., 2011 ; Lewis & Bonollo, 2002 ; NASAD, 2020 ; Tatlisu & Kaya, 2017 ; Yang et al., 2005 ) and twenty-first century authors (Bradlow, 2015 ; EU, 2019 ; Hajkowicz et al., 2016 ; Leadbeater, 2016 ).

Environmental sustainability knowledge was highly valued by participants. It was represented at broadly equivalent levels in the interviews, the survey study and the twenty-first century life literature. However, it was rarely mentioned in the twenty-first century competences literature and was mentioned moderately in the Industrial Design competences literature. This lower presence in the twenty-first century competences literature might reflect the input of corporations and governments in much of this literature (Voogt & Roblin, 2012 ; WEF, 2016a ; 2018 ) and might result from these organisations prioritising economic measures of value over social and environmental wellbeing. Interviewees often spoke of environmental problem solving, thus linking the competence of environmental sustainability knowledge with the valuable twenty-first century competence of problem solving . Some interviewees also valued the competence of environmental sustainability knowledge for its potential to teach students about the environmental stories behind consumer products used in their daily lives. For example, interviewee A2 said,

[Environmental sustainability knowledge]’s not taught anywhere else and without that understanding . . . they won’t think about the pros and cons of what they’re consuming, and I think it’s important to have it as part of education considering its social, cultural, environmental, financial, legal, ethical impact on everybody’s life. I mean yes, we’re a visual society but we’re also a consumer society and Industrial Design plays a major role in that.

This is likely to be a key way that Industrial Design education provides value and twenty-first century relevance to students who do not go on to become Industrial Designers.

Critical thinking was of relatively high importance to the interviewees, survey respondents and twenty-first century competences authors. It was slightly less valued in the Industrial Design competences literature. However, it is possible that critical thinking was somewhat overrepresented in the interviews because of its prominence in various Australian school curricula (ACARA, 2021 ; Board of Studies NSW, 2013 ; VCAA, 2017a , VCAA, 2017b ). Nevertheless, professional Industrial Designers were one of the groups most likely to discuss critical thinking, suggesting it belongs firmly in the Industrial Design curriculum.

The competence of digital skills was measured at roughly equivalent levels in the interviews, the surveys, the twenty-first century competences literature, and the Industrial Design competences literature. This suggests that Industrial Design education teaches digital skills at a relevant and appropriate level. However, the digital skills learning measured in the two studies did not entirely align with projections from the twenty-first century competences literature. The twenty-first century competences literature mentioned virtual reality (Gartner, 2017 ; Higgins, 2017 ) , artificial intelligence (Hajkowicz, 2016 ; WEF, 2020 ), the Internet of Things (Cerwall et al., 2018 ; Gartner, 2017 ; Lueth, 2018 ), the use of generative software (Autodesk, 2018 ), and programming capability (NBN & RIA, 2016 ; WEF, 2020 ) frequently but these topics were discussed very infrequently or not at all by the interviewees. This suggests they are areas that may need to be expanded in Australian Industrial Design education.

Entrepreneurial capability was valued more strongly by the interviewees than by the survey respondents. This might have been due to infrequent but regular programming of entrepreneurial learning at the university level and very infrequent but still regular programming of entrepreneurial learning at secondary level. Entrepreneurial capability was moderately less emphasised by the interviewees than by the twenty-first century competences authors. This suggests that Industrial Design learning would benefit from increased entrepreneurial training as promoted by Zhao ( 2012 ), Gunes ( 2012 ), and the European Union ( 2019 ). Because Industrial Design education is intimately entwined with commercialism, it is an ideal curriculum for imparting valuable entrepreneurial capabilities to twenty-first century students.

The top twenty-first century competence of communication skills was not included in the survey, but the interviewees discussed communication skills at broadly similar levels to the twenty-first century competences authors and the Industrial Design competences authors. Professional Industrial Designers, Industrial Design experts, and university staff and students were the most likely interviewees to discuss the importance of communication skills . This suggests that communication skills are crucial to the discipline of Industrial Design but that this fact is less well-known to non-experts. The types of communication skills discussed by interviewees included cross-cultural communication skills , presentation skills , persuasion skills , negotiation skills , listening skills, and visual communication skills . For example, Industrial Designer, ID2, explained the relevance of cross-cultural communication to many Australian Industrial Designers when they said, “we’re in Australia and a lot of suppliers are in China, so cultural differences and proximity challenges, all that sort of thing, so yeah, communication is an absolutely huge one”. Industrial Designer, ID1, echoed the views of Buchanan ( 1990 ), when they said, “I think it’s something that designers bring to a lot of projects is as the negotiator”.

The competence of adaptability/flexibility was measured at much higher levels in the surveys than the interviews. It was also much more valued by the twenty-first century competences authors than the Industrial Design competences authors. Explanations were not found for these disparities although it’s possible that the competence of adaptability/flexibility is present in Industrial Design education without it being something that readily comes to mind during discussions.

Although ethical understanding was not one of the very top twenty-first century competences, it was present in many classrooms and curricula and was prominent in many interviewee’s thoughts about Industrial Design education. For example, secondary teacher and Design association representative, A2, felt strongly about providing ethical Industrial Design education. They said, “[Students] need to be cognizant of how these things are made and what resources they’re using, and what personnel they’re using, in what country and culture they’re being made.” The high importance of ethical understanding in the interviews may have partly resulted from the imperative for education settings to deliver morality education (Education Council, 2019 ; EU, 2018 ), however ethical understanding is also recognised as an important component of Industrial Design education by the Industrial Design competences authors (Lewis & Bonollo, 2002 ; NASAD, 2020 ; Tatlisu & Kaya, 2017 ; Yang et al., 2005 ).

Collaboration was raised at approximately the same level in these interviews as in the survey study and the Industrial Design competences literature. However, the research participants endorsed collaboration far less than the twenty-first century competences authors did. Several interviewees mentioned the challenges of working collaboratively in education, saying things like, “The main problem at uni, is you always had the people that did all the work and the people that did none of the work.” (interviewee ID2), and, “this year I had a group project with someone who was very difficult, and you know, I’m difficult in ways, but I found that we really clashed” (interviewee US2). Combined analysis of the interviews and surveys indicated that collaboration must be taught in balance with independent work skills, so this partially accounts for the discrepancy. Interviewees classified as Industrial Design experts were most likely to discuss collaboration, and interviewees from education institutions were least likely to discuss it. This suggests the high importance of collaboration to the profession, as well as the difficulty of delivering collaboration skills within individualistic assessment systems.

Cultural literacy was observed at similarly moderate levels in the interviews, the surveys, the twenty-first century competences literature, and the Industrial Design competences literature. This suggests that it is taught at relevant levels in Industrial Design learning settings. Interviewees discussed cultural literacy in relation to understanding of one’s own and other cultures, as well as in relation to design history. Industrial Designer, ID2, spoke of the importance of, “trends, and themes, and... fashion or what people are drawn to and what’s coming up next, to imagine those things that don’t yet exist... and being aware of things, like outside your bubble, outside your existence”. However, university lecturer, UT1, expressed regret that design history seemed less prominent in Industrial Design education now than it once was. The non-surveyed competences of organisation skills, spatial imagination, and research & investigation were all spoken of at a similar level to cultural literacy.

Innovation capability was raised at much lower levels in the interviews than was seen in the survey responses, and at moderately lower levels than was seen in the twenty-first century competences literature. The reasons for this were unclear. However, results suggest that Industrial Design education is well equipped to impart the valuable twenty-first century competence of innovation capability, but that innovation capability is not the most important aspect of Industrial Design learning.

Recommendations

Synthesis of the research findings elicited the following recommendations. Recommendations relating to ways that Industrial Design education could be used to impart valuable twenty-first century competences to students at a range of levels are described as follows. Industrial Design education should be recognised by policy makers and education leaders as a valuable way of delivering twenty-first century competences, and of educating students about the products that surround them; whether students go on to become Industrial Designers or not. Industrial Design education should be recognised for its ability to impart valuable personal qualities to students. It should also be recognised as one of the most important vehicles used for delivering crucial entrepreneurial capabilities to students at a range of levels. Industrial Design education is an ideal format for entrepreneurial learning given that it provides a structure for identifying problems, opportunities, and needs, and eventually producing valuable outcomes. Further to this, Industrial Design education should be one of the top means of delivering STEAM education. STEAM education is likely a more engaging model for delivering valuable STEM skills and knowledge (RISD, 2018 ; Taylor, 2016 ).

Recommendations relating to ways that Industrial Design education should be amended to better impart valuable twenty-first century competences to students are as follows. Firstly, Industrial Design assessment structures at all levels should be reviewed to ensure they reward acquisition of the most important competences. A good example of this approach is university lecturer, UT1’s, suggestion that in order to encourage an experimental approach, students be graded on how many genuine experiments they undertake, rather than on the production of high-quality presentation images and models. Secondly, collaboration skills should be overtly taught within Industrial Design education. Frameworks that support fairness, process, and interpersonal relationships in relation to collaboration should be provided to students to support the acquisition of this challenging but important competence. Finally, although there is anecdotal evidence of many tertiary Industrial Design courses already incorporating programming, IoT, AR, VR, and emerging technologies, the results of this study suggest that some tertiary courses may not be including these areas very often. Therefore, it is recommended that tertiary, and possibly secondary, courses are reviewed to assess for the presence of sufficient programming, IoT, AR, VR, and emerging technologies content.

One general recommendation relating to environmental sustainability knowledge was also derived from this research. We recommend that environmental sustainability knowledge be recognised as an important twenty-first century competence in the literature. The twenty-first century life authors refer to it repeatedly (Davidson, 2005 ; Meadows et al., 1972 ; Randers, 2012 ; Turner, 2008 ) and the majority of participants in this research considered it as a crucial knowledge area. Environmental protection will be crucial across the globe over coming decades (Davidson, 2005 ; Meadows et al., 1972 ; Randers, 2012 , Turner, 2008 ) so all twenty-first century students should study it extensively in order to be able to problem solve in this area as they progress into the workforce. Environmental sustainability knowledge needs to be listed alongside creativity , problem solving , critical thinking, and all the other top twenty-first century competences.

Potential future research

The rating tool developed for this study could be adapted for a range of related purposes. For example, Artefact Analysis or Document Analysis could be conducted on student Industrial Design outcomes or assessment materials. Alternatively, the survey structure could be adapted for use by educators and education leaders to assess the twenty-first century relevance of different Design or non-Design curricula in their institutions. It is noted that the synthesis of knowledge coming from multidisciplinary areas continues to be a challenge, however if design education is to continue to be relevant to current public and political debates, it must actively readjust its focus to give students opportunities to learn more about both their discipline and themselves (Bernardi & Kowaltowski, 2010 ). This is relevant for all design disciplines and links to Ergenoglu ( 2015 ) highlighting key competences for universal design education; namely, building empathy, social and legal awareness, awareness regarding the physical environment, universal design knowledge, inclusive and universal design settings, best practices, typological studies and developing new approaches and design solutions (Ergenoglu, 2015 ); all of which could be studied in further detail mapped against other design disciplines besides Industrial Design. Additionally, as a substantial amount of design research explores the views and status of design educators, design students, and designers (Dorst, 2015 ; Findeli, 2001 ; Kimbell, 2012 ; Nichols, 2013 ; van Diggelen & Bruns Alonso, 2015 ), further research is recommended in the area of non-designer views on what design is and what it should be. This would be very instructive in relation to what design audiences want from designers.

Combined analysis of the interviews and surveys portrayed Industrial Design as a discipline that uses intellectual, interpersonal, and physical capabilities; and that can deliver value and twenty-first century relevance through a broad competence base including creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, communication, digital skills, STEM skills , and innovation capability .

Industrial Design education in Australia appears to deliver some twenty-first century competences at particularly high levels and these are, interpersonal skills, ethical understanding , and organisation skills, as known by the Industrial Design competences authors; as well as environmental sustainability knowledge; adaptability/flexibility ; and personal qualities such as curiosity, resilience, confidence, perseverance , and reflection ; a fact not widely documented in the existing Industrial Design competences literature. Industrial Design education is therefore likely to be an important vehicle for delivering these increasingly important soft skills and educating future students about increasingly urgent environmental sustainability principles.

This research has measured specific items of value and relevance in Industrial Design education, and it has covered a range of Industrial Design education levels not previously investigated as a whole. This research characterised Industrial Design education as imparting a very broad skills and knowledge base and a large number of crucial twenty-first century competences. Industrial Design education is likely to deliver particularly strong capabilities in the twenty-first century competences of personal qualities (including sub-competences such as curiosity, resilience, confidence, perseverance, and reflection ); interpersonal skills (especially empathy ); environmental sustainability knowledge ; organisation skills ; and ethical understanding . Industrial Design education may benefit from more overt teaching of collaboration skills, the nurturing of further entrepreneurial skills, and further inclusion of IoT, VR, AR, software development, and other emerging technologies. Environmental sustainability knowledge appears to be becoming increasingly important to Industrial Design students; and Industrial Design education appears to impart many important general life skills. It is recommended that Industrial Design education be used to deliver important twenty-first century competences from primary school level through to university level, and that its value be recognised through grants, public funding, and policy reform.

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Deighton, K., Kuys, B. & Tyagi, S. Industrial Design education in Australia: a competence analysis across primary, secondary and tertiary education levels. Int J Technol Des Educ 34 , 427–460 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10798-023-09822-0

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  • Volume 3, Issue 1
  • Regular use of fish oil supplements and course of cardiovascular diseases: prospective cohort study
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  • Ge Chen 1 ,
  • Zhengmin (Min) Qian 2 ,
  • Junguo Zhang 1 ,
  • Shiyu Zhang 1 ,
  • http://orcid.org/0000-0002-7003-6565 Zilong Zhang 1 ,
  • Michael G Vaughn 3 ,
  • Hannah E Aaron 2 ,
  • Chuangshi Wang 4 ,
  • Gregory YH Lip 5 , 6 and
  • http://orcid.org/0000-0002-3643-9408 Hualiang Lin 1
  • 1 Department of Epidemiology , Sun Yat-Sen University , Guangzhou , China
  • 2 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, College for Public Health and Social Justice , Saint Louis University , Saint Louis , Missouri , USA
  • 3 School of Social Work, College for Public Health and Social Justice , Saint Louis University , Saint Louis , Missouri , USA
  • 4 Medical Research and Biometrics Centre , Fuwai Hospital, National Centre for Cardiovascular Diseases, Peking Union Medical College , Beijing , China
  • 5 Liverpool Centre for Cardiovascular Science , University of Liverpool and Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital , Liverpool , UK
  • 6 Department of Clinical Medicine , Aalborg University , Aalborg , Denmark
  • Correspondence to Dr Hualiang Lin, Department of Epidemiology, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, Guangdong 510080, China; linhualiang{at}mail.sysu.edu.cn

Objective To examine the effects of fish oil supplements on the clinical course of cardiovascular disease, from a healthy state to atrial fibrillation, major adverse cardiovascular events, and subsequently death.

Design Prospective cohort study.

Setting UK Biobank study, 1 January 2006 to 31 December 2010, with follow-up to 31 March 2021 (median follow-up 11.9 years).

Participants 415 737 participants, aged 40-69 years, enrolled in the UK Biobank study.

Main outcome measures Incident cases of atrial fibrillation, major adverse cardiovascular events, and death, identified by linkage to hospital inpatient records and death registries. Role of fish oil supplements in different progressive stages of cardiovascular diseases, from healthy status (primary stage), to atrial fibrillation (secondary stage), major adverse cardiovascular events (tertiary stage), and death (end stage).

Results Among 415 737 participants free of cardiovascular diseases, 18 367 patients with incident atrial fibrillation, 22 636 with major adverse cardiovascular events, and 22 140 deaths during follow-up were identified. Regular use of fish oil supplements had different roles in the transitions from healthy status to atrial fibrillation, to major adverse cardiovascular events, and then to death. For people without cardiovascular disease, hazard ratios were 1.13 (95% confidence interval 1.10 to 1.17) for the transition from healthy status to atrial fibrillation and 1.05 (1.00 to 1.11) from healthy status to stroke. For participants with a diagnosis of a known cardiovascular disease, regular use of fish oil supplements was beneficial for transitions from atrial fibrillation to major adverse cardiovascular events (hazard ratio 0.92, 0.87 to 0.98), atrial fibrillation to myocardial infarction (0.85, 0.76 to 0.96), and heart failure to death (0.91, 0.84 to 0.99).

Conclusions Regular use of fish oil supplements might be a risk factor for atrial fibrillation and stroke among the general population but could be beneficial for progression of cardiovascular disease from atrial fibrillation to major adverse cardiovascular events, and from atrial fibrillation to death. Further studies are needed to determine the precise mechanisms for the development and prognosis of cardiovascular disease events with regular use of fish oil supplements.

  • Health policy
  • Nutritional sciences
  • Public health

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. UK Biobank is an open access resource. Bona fide researchers can apply to use the UK Biobank dataset by registering and applying at http://ukbiobank.ac.uk/register-apply/ .

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ .

https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjmed-2022-000451

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WHAT IS ALREADY KNOWN ON THIS TOPIC

Findings of the effects of omega 3 fatty acids or fish oil on the risk of cardiovascular disease are controversial

Most previous studies focused on one health outcome and did not characterise specific cardiovascular disease outcomes (eg, atrial fibrillation, myocardial infarction, stroke, heart failure, and major adverse cardiovascular events)

Whether fish oil could differentially affect the dynamic course of cardiovascular diseases, from atrial fibrillation to major adverse cardiovascular events, to other specific cardiovascular disease outcomes, or even to death, is unclear

WHAT THIS STUDY ADDS

In people with no known cardiovascular disease, regular use of fish oil supplements was associated with an increased relative risk of atrial fibrillation and stroke

In people with known cardiovascular disease, the beneficial effects of fish oil supplements were seen on transitions from atrial fibrillation to major adverse cardiovascular events, atrial fibrillation to myocardial infarction, and heart failure to death

HOW THIS STUDY MIGHT AFFECT RESEARCH, PRACTICE, OR POLICY

Regular use of fish oil supplements might have different roles in the progression of cardiovascular disease

Further studies are needed to determine the precise mechanisms for the development and prognosis of cardiovascular disease events with regular use of fish oil supplements

Introduction

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for about one sixth of overall mortality in the UK. 1 2 Fish oil, a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids, containing eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, has been recommended as a dietary measure to prevent cardiovascular disease. 3 The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that people with or at high risk of cardiovascular disease consume at least one portion of oily fish a week, and the use of fish oil supplements has become popular in the UK and other western countries in recent years. 4 5

Although some epidemiological and clinical studies have assessed the effect of omega 3 fatty acids or fish oil on cardiovascular disease and its risk factors, the findings are controversial. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality systematically reviewed 37 observational studies and 61 randomised controlled trials, and found evidence indicating the beneficial effects of higher consumption of fish oil supplements on ischaemic stroke, whereas no beneficial effect was found for atrial fibrillation, major adverse cardiovascular events, myocardial infarction, total stroke, or all cause death. 6 In contrast, the Reduction of Cardiovascular Events with Icosapent Ethyl-Intervention Trial (REDUCE-IT) reported a decreased risk of major adverse cardiovascular events with icosapent ethyl in patients with raised levels of triglycerides, regardless of the use of statins. 7 Most of these findings, however, tended to assess the role of fish oil at a certain stage of cardiovascular disease. For example, some studies restricted the study population to people with a specific cardiovascular disease or at a high risk of cardiovascular disease, 8 9 whereas others evaluated databases of generally healthy populations. 10 All of these factors might preclude direct comparison of the effects of omega 3 fatty acids on atrial fibrillation events or on further deterioration of cardiovascular disease. Few studies have fully characterised specific cardiovascular disease outcomes or accounted for differential effects based on the complex disease characteristics of participants. Hence, in this study, we hypothesised that fish oil supplements might have harmful, beneficial, or no effect on different cardiovascular disease events in patients with varying health conditions.

Most previous studies on the association between fish oil and cardiovascular diseases generally focused on one health outcome. Also, no study highlighted the dynamic progressive course of cardiovascular diseases, from healthy status (primary stage), to atrial fibrillation (secondary stage), major adverse cardiovascular events (tertiary stage), and death (end stage). Clarifying this complex pathway in relation to the detailed progression of cardiovascular diseases would provide substantial insights into the prevention or treatment of future disease at critical stages. Whether fish oil could differentially affect the dynamic course of cardiovascular disease (ie, from atrial fibrillation to major adverse cardiovascular events, to other specific cardiovascular disease outcomes, or even to death) is unclear.

To deal with this evidence gap, we conducted a longitudinal cohort study to estimate the associations between fish oil supplements and specific clinical cardiovascular disease outcomes, including atrial fibrillation, major adverse cardiovascular events, and all cause death in people with no known cardiovascular disease or at high risk of cardiovascular disease for the purpose of primary prevention. We also assessed the modifying effects of fish oil supplements on the disease process, from atrial fibrillation to other outcomes, in people with known cardiovascular disease for the purpose of secondary prevention.

The UK Biobank is a community based cohort study with more than half a million UK inhabitants aged 40-69 years at recruitment. 11–13 Participants were invited to participate in this study if they were registered with the NHS and lived within 35 km of one of 22 Biobank assessment centres. Between 1 March 2006 and 31 July 2010, a baseline survey was conducted, based on a touch screen questionnaire and face-to-face interviews, to collect detailed personal, socioeconomic, and lifestyle characteristics, and information on diseases. 11–13

We excluded patients who had a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation (n=8326), heart failure (n=2748), myocardial infarction (n=11 949), stroke (n=7943), or cancer (n=48 624) at baseline; who withdrew from the study during follow-up (n=1299); or who had incomplete or outlier data for the main information (n=11 748). Because we focused only on a specific sequence of progression of cardiovascular disease (ie, from healthy status to atrial fibrillation, to major adverse cardiovascular events, and then to death), we excluded 1983 participants with other transition patterns. The remaining 415 737 participants were included in this analysis ( figure 1 ).

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Flowchart of selection of participants in study. The count of diagnosed diseases does not equate to the total number of individuals, because each person could have multiple diagnoses

Determining use of fish oil supplements

Information on regular use of fish oil supplements was collected from a self-reported touchscreen questionnaire during the baseline survey. 14 15 Each participant was asked whether they regularly used any fish oil supplement. Trained staff conducted a verbal interview with participants, asking if they were currently receiving treatments or taking any medicines, including omega 3 or fish oil supplements. Based on this information, we classified participants as regular users of fish oil supplements and non-users.

Follow-up and outcomes

Participants were followed up from the time of recruitment to death, loss to follow-up, or the end date of follow-up (31 March 2021), whichever came first. Incident cases of interest, including atrial fibrillation, heart failure, stroke, and myocardial infarction, were identified by linkage to death registries, primary care records, and hospital inpatient records. 11 Information on deaths was obtained from death registries of the NHS Information Centre, for participants in England and Wales, and from the NHS Central Register Scotland, for participants in Scotland. 11 Outcomes were defined by a three character ICD-10 (international classification of diseases, 10th revision) code. In this study, atrial fibrillation was defined by ICD-10 code I48, and major adverse cardiovascular events was determined by a combination of heart failure (I50, I11.0, I13.0, and I13.2), stroke (I60-I64), and myocardial infarction (I21, I22, I23, I24.1, and I25.2) codes.

We collected baseline data on age (<65 years and ≥65 years), sex (men and women), ethnic group (white and non-white), Townsend deprivation index (with a higher score indicating higher levels of deprivation), smoking status (never, previous, and current smokers), and alcohol consumption (never, previous, and current drinkers). Data for sex were taken from information in UK Biobank rather than from patient reported gender. Baseline dietary data were obtained from a dietary questionnaire completed by the patient or by an interviewer. The questionnaire was established for each nation (ie, England, Scotland, and Wales) to assess an individual's usual food intake (oily fish, non-oily fish, vegetables, fruit, and red meat). Diabetes mellitus was defined by ICD-10 codes E10-E14, self-reported physician's diagnosis, self-reported use of antidiabetic drugs, or haemoglobin A1c level ≥6.5% at baseline. Hypertension was defined by ICD-10 code I10 or I15, self-reported physician's diagnosis, self-reported use of antihypertensive drugs, or measured systolic and diastolic blood pressure ≥130/85 mm Hg at baseline. Information on other comorbidities (obesity (ICD-10 code E66), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (J44), and chronic renal failure (N18)) was extracted from the first occurrence (UKB category ID 1712). Information on the use of drugs, including antihypertensive drugs, antidiabetic drug, and statins, was extracted from treatment and drug use records. Biochemistry markers were measured immediately at the central laboratory from serum samples collected at baseline. Binge drinking was defined as consumption of ≥6 standard drinks/day for women or ≥8 standard drinks/day for men. Detailed information on alcohol consumption and binge drinking in the UK Biobank was reported previously. 16

Statistical analysis

Characteristics of participants are summarised as number (percentages) for categorical variables and mean (standard deviation (SD)) for continuous variables. Comparisons between regular users of fish oil supplements and non-users were made with the χ 2 test or Student's t test.

We used a multi-state regression model to assess the role of regular use of fish oil supplements in the temporal disease progression from healthy status to atrial fibrillation, to major adverse cardiovascular events, and subsequently to death. The multi-state model is an extension of competing risks survival analysis. 17–19 The model allows simultaneous estimation of the role of risk factors in transitions from a healthy state to atrial fibrillation (transition A), healthy state to major adverse cardiovascular events (transition B), healthy state to death (transition C), atrial fibrillation to major adverse cardiovascular events (transition D), atrial fibrillation to death (transition E), and major adverse cardiovascular events to death (transition F) (transition pattern I, figure 2 ). The focus on these six transitions rather than on all possible health state transitions was preplanned and evidence based. If participants entered different states on the same date, we used the date of the theoretically previous state as the entry date of the latter state minus 0.5 days.

Numbers of participants in transition pattern I, from baseline to atrial fibrillation, major adverse cardiovascular events, and death

We further examined the effects of regular use of fish oil supplements on other pathways. For example, we divided major adverse cardiovascular events into three individual diseases (heart failure, stroke, and myocardial infarction), resulting in three independent pathways (transition patterns II, III, and IV, online supplemental figures S1–S3 ). All models were adjusted for age, sex, ethnic group, Townsend deprivation index, consumption of oily fish, consumption of non-oily fish, smoking status, alcohol consumption, obesity, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic renal failure, and use of statins, antidiabetic drugs, and antihypertensive drugs.

Supplemental material

We conducted several sensitivity analyses for the multi-state analyses of transition pattern A: additionally adjusting for setting (urban and rural), body mass index (underweight, normal, overweight, and obese), and physical activity (low, moderate, and high) in the model; adjusting for binge drinking rather than alcohol consumption; additionally adjusting for other variables of dietary intake (consumption of vegetables, fruit, and red meat); calculating participants' entry date into the previous state with different time intervals (0.5 years, one year, and two years); excluding participants who entered different states on the same date; excluding events occurring in the first two years of follow-up; restricting the follow-up date to 31 March 2020 to evaluate the influence of the covid-19 pandemic; and the use of the inverse probability weighted method to deal with biases between the regular users and non-users of fish oil supplements. Also, we conducted grouped analyses for sex, age group, ethnic group, smoking status, consumption of oily fish, consumption of non-oily fish, hypertension, and drug use, to examine effect modification. The interactions were tested with the likelihood ratio test. All analyses were carried out with R software (version 4.0.3), and the multi-model analysis was performed with the mstate package. A two tailed P value <0.05 was considered significant.

Patient and public involvement

Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research. Participants were involved in developing the ethics and governance framework for UK Biobank and have been engaged in the progress of UK Biobank through follow-up questionnaires and additional assessment visits. UK Biobank keeps participants informed of all research output through the study website ( https://www.ukbiobank.ac.uk/explore-your-participation ), participant events, and newsletters.

A total of 415 737 participants (mean age 55.9 (SD 8.1) years; 55% women), aged 40-69 years, were analysed, and 31.4% (n=1 30 365) of participants reported regular use of fish oil supplements at baseline ( figure 1 ). Table 1 shows the characteristics of regular users (n=130 365) and non-users (n=285 372) of fish oil supplements. In the group of regular users of fish oil supplements, we found higher proportions of elderly people (22.6% v 13.9%), white people (95.1% v 94.2%), and women (57.6% v 53.9%), and higher consumption of alcohol (93.1% v 92.0%), oily fish (22.1% v 15.4%), and non-oily fish (18.0% v 15.4%) than non-users. The Townsend deprivation index (mean −1.5 (SD 3.0) v −1.3 (3.0)) and the proportion of current smokers (8.1% v 11.4%) were lower in regular users of fish oil supplements. Online supplemental table S1 provides more details on patient characteristics and online supplemental table S2 compares the basic characteristics of included and excluded people.

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Baseline characteristics of study participants grouped by use of fish oil supplements

Over a median follow-up time of of 11.9 years, 18 367 participants had atrial fibrillation (transition A) and 17 826 participants had major adverse cardiovascular events (transition B); 14 902 participants died without having atrial fibrillation or major adverse cardiovascular events (transition C). Among patients with incident atrial fibrillation, 4810 developed major adverse cardiovascular events (transition D) and 1653 died (transition E). Among patients with incident major adverse cardiovascular events, 5585 died during follow-up (transition F, figure 2 ). In separate analyses for individual diseases (transition patterns II, III, and IV, online supplemental figures S1–S3 ), in patients with atrial fibrillation, 3085 developed heart failure, 1180 had a stroke, and 1415 had a myocardial infarction. During follow-up, 2436, 2088, and 2098 deaths occurred in patients with heart failure, stroke, and myocardial infarction, respectively.

Multi-state regression results

Table 2 shows the different roles of regular use of fish oil supplements in transitions from healthy status to atrial fibrillation, to major adverse cardiovascular events, and then to death. For individuals in the primary stage (healthy status), we found that the use of fish oil supplements had a harmful effect on the transition from health to atrial fibrillation, with an adjusted hazard ratio of 1.13 (95% CI 1.10 to 1.17, transition A). The hazard ratio for transition B (from health to major adverse cardiovascular events) was 1.00 (95% CI 0.97 to 1.04) and for transition C (from health to death) was 0.98 (0.95 to 1.02).

Hazard ratios (95% confidence intervals) for each transition, for different transition patterns for progressive cardiovascular disease by regular use of fish oil supplements

For individuals in the secondary stage (atrial fibrillation) at the beginning of the study, regular use of fish oil supplements decreased the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events (transition D, hazard ratio 0.92, 95% CI 0.87 to 0.98), and had a borderline protective effect on the transition from atrial fibrillation to death (transition E, 0.91, 0.82 to 1.01). For transition F, from major adverse cardiovascular events to death, after adjusting for covariates, the hazard ratio was 0.99 (0.94 to 1.06, transition pattern I, table 2 ).

We divided major adverse cardiovascular events into three individual diseases (ie, heart failure, stroke, and myocardial infarction) and found that regular use of fish oil supplements was marginally associated with an increased risk of stroke in people with a healthy cardiovascular state (hazard ratio 1.05, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.11), whereas a protective effect was found in transitions from healthy cardiovascular states to heart failure (0.92, 0.86 to 0.98). For patients with atrial fibrillation, we found that the beneficial effects of regular use of fish oil supplements were for transitions from atrial fibrillation to myocardial infarction (0.85, 0.76 to 0.96), and from atrial fibrillation to death (0.88, 0.81 to 0.95) for transition pattern IV. For patients with heart failure, we found a protective effect of regular use of fish oil supplements on the risk of mortality (0.91, 0.84 to 0.99) (transition patterns II, III, and IV, table 2 ).

Stratified and sensitivity analyses

We found that age, sex, smoking, consumption of non-oily fish, prevalent hypertension, and use of statins and antihypertensive drugs modified the associations between regular use of fish oil supplements and the transition from healthy states to atrial fibrillation ( online supplemental figure S4 ). We found that the association between regular use of fish oil supplements and risk of transition from healthy states to major adverse cardiovascular events was greater in women (hazard ratio 1.06, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.11, P value for interaction=0.005) and non-smoking participants (1.06, 1.06 to 1.11, P value for interaction=0.001) ( online supplemental figure S4 ). The protective effect of regular use of fish oil supplements on the transition from healthy states to death was greater in men (hazard ratio 0.93, 95% CI 0.89 to 0.98, P value for interaction=0.003) and older participants (0.91, 0.86 to o 0.96, P value for interaction=0.002) ( online supplemental figures S5 and S6 ). The results were not substantially changed in the sensitivity analyses ( online supplemental table S3 ).

Principal findings

Our study characterised the regular use of fish oil supplements on the progressive course of cardiovascular disease, from a healthy state (primary stage), to atrial fibrillation (secondary stage), major adverse cardiovascular events (tertiary stage), and death (end stage). In this prospective analysis of more than 400 000 UK adults, we found that regular use of fish oil supplements could have a differential role in the progression of cardiovascular disease. For people with a healthy cardiovascular profile, regular use of fish oil supplements, a choice of primary prevention, was associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation. For participants with a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, however, regular use of fish oil supplements, as secondary prevention, had a protective effect or no effect on transitions from atrial fibrillation to major adverse cardiovascular events, atrial fibrillation to death, and major adverse cardiovascular events to death. When we divided major adverse cardiovascular events into three individual diseases (ie, heart failure, stroke, and myocardial infarction), we found associations that could suggest a mildly harmful effect between regular use of fish oil supplements and transitions from a healthy cardiovascular state to stroke, whereas potential beneficial associations were found between regular use of fish oil supplements and transitions from atrial fibrillation to myocardial infarction, atrial fibrillation to death, and heart failure to death.

Comparison with other studies

Primary prevention.

The cardiovascular benefits of regular use of fish oil supplements have been examined in numerous studies but the results are controversial. Extending previous reports, our study estimated the associations between regular use of fish oil supplements and specific clinical cardiovascular disease outcomes in people with no known cardiovascular disease. Our findings are in agreement with the results of several previous randomised controlled trials and meta-analyses. The Long-Term Outcomes Study to Assess Statin Residual Risk with Epanova in High Cardiovascular Risk Patients with Hypertriglyceridaemia (STRENGTH) reported that consumption of 4 g/day of marine omega 3 fatty acids was associated with a 69% higher risk of new onset atrial fibrillation in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease. 20 A meta-analysis of seven randomised controlled trials showed that users of marine omega 3 fatty acids supplements had a higher risk of atrial fibrillation events, with a hazard ratio of 1.25 (95% CI 1.07 to 1.46, P=0.013). 21 The Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL Rhythm study), a large trial of omega 3 fatty acids for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in adults aged ≥50 years, however, found no effects on incident atrial fibrillation, major adverse cardiovascular events, or cardiovascular disease mortality among those treated with 840 mg/day of marine omega 3 fatty acids compared with placebo. 10 22

One possible explanation for the inconsistent results in these studies is that adverse effects might be related to dose and composition. Higher doses of omega 3 fatty acids used in previous studies might have had an important role in causing an adverse effect on atrial fibrillation. 21 One study found that high concentrations of fish oil altered cell membrane properties and inhibited Na-K-ATPase pump activity, whereas a low concentration of fish oil minimised peroxidation potential and optimised activity. 23 In another study, individuals with atrial fibrillation or flutter had higher percentages of total polyunsaturated fatty acids, and n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, on red blood cell membranes than healthy controls. 24

In terms of composition of omega 3 fatty acids, a recent meta-analysis showed that eicosapentaenoic acid alone can be more effective at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease than the combined effect of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. 25 Similar outcomes were reported in the INSPIRE study, which showed that higher levels of docosahexaenoic acid reduced the cardiovascular benefits of eicosapentaenoic acid when given as a combination. 26 Another possible explanation is that age, sex, ethnic group, smoking status, dietary patterns, and use of statins and antidiabetic drugs by participants might modify the effects of regular use of fish oil supplements on cardiovascular disease events. Despite these differences in risk estimates, our findings do not support the use of fish oil or omega 3 fatty acid supplements for the primary prevention of incident atrial fibrillation or other specific clinical cardiovascular disease events in generally healthy individuals. Caution might be warranted when fish oil supplements are used for primary prevention because of the uncertain cardiovascular benefits.

Secondary prevention

Our large scale cohort study assessed the role of regular use of fish oil supplements on the disease process, from atrial fibrillation to more serious cardiovascular disease stages, to death, in people with known cardiovascular disease. Contrary to the observations for primary prevention, we found associations that could suggest beneficial effects between regular use of fish oil supplements and most cardiovascular disease transitions. No associations were found between regular use of fish oil supplements and transitions from atrial fibrillation to death, or from major adverse cardiovascular events to death.

Consistent with our hypothesis, the Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell'Infarto Miocardico (GISSI) Prevenzione study reported an association between administration of low dose prescriptions of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and reduced cardiovascular events in patients with recent myocardial infarction. 27 A meta-analysis of 16 randomised controlled trials also reported a tendency towards a greater beneficial effect for secondary prevention in patients with cardiovascular disease. 28 Why patients with previous atrial fibrillation benefit is unclear. These findings indicate that triglyceride independent effects of omega 3 fatty acids might in part be responsible for the benefits in cardiovascular disease seen in previous trials. 29–31 No proven biological mechanism for this explanation exists, however, and the dose and formulation of omega 3 fatty acids used in clinical practice are not known.

For the disease process, from cardiovascular disease to death, our findings are consistent with the results of secondary prevention trials of omega 3 fatty acids, which have mostly shown a weak or neutral preventive effect in all cause mortality with oil fish supplements. The GISSI heart failure trial (GISSI-HF), conducted in 6975 patients with chronic heart failure, reported that supplemental omega 3 fatty acids reduced the risk of all cause mortality by 9% (hazard ratio 0.91, 95% CI 0.833 to 0.998, P=0.041). 32 Zelniker et al showed that omega 3 fatty acids were inversely associated with a lower incidence of sudden cardiac death in patients with non-ST segment elevation acute coronary syndrome. 33 A meta-analysis found that use of omega 3 supplements of ≤1 capsule/day was not associated with all cause mortality, but among participants with a risk of cardiovascular disease, taking a higher dose was associated with a reduction in cardiac death and sudden death. 28 Individuals who might benefit the most from fish oil or omega 3 fatty acid supplements are possibly more vulnerable individuals, such as those with previous cardiovascular diseases and those who can no longer live in the community. How fish oil supplements stop further deterioration of cardiovascular disease is unclear, but the theory that supplemental omega 3 fatty acids might protect the coronary artery is biologically plausible, suggesting that omega 3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertriglyceridaemia effects, contributing to a reduction in thrombosis and improvement in endothelial function. 34–41 Nevertheless, the effects of omega 3 fatty acids vary according to an individual's previous use of statins, which might partly explain the different effects of fish oil supplements in people with and without cardiovascular disease.

Many studies of omega 3 fatty acids, including large scale clinical trials and meta-analyses, have not produced entirely consistent results. 21 25 42 Our study mainly explored the varied potential effects of regular use of fish oil supplements on progression of cardiovascular disease, offering an initial overview of this ongoing discussion. Our findings suggest caution in the use of fish oil supplements for primary prevention because of the uncertain cardiovascular benefits and adverse effects. Further studies are needed to determine whether potential confounders modify the effects of oil fish supplements and the precise mechanisms related to the development and prognosis of cardiovascular disease events.

Strengths and limitations of this study

The strengths of our study were the large sample size, long follow-up period, which allowed us to analyse clinically diagnosed incident diseases, and complete data on health outcomes. Another strength was our analytical strategy. The multi-state model gives less biased estimates than the conventional Cox model, and distinguished the effect of regular use of fish oil supplements on each transition in the course of cardiovascular disease.

Our study had some limitations. Firstly, as an observational study, no causal relations can be drawn from our findings. Secondly, although we adjusted for multiple covariates, residual confounding could still exist. Thirdly, information on dose and formulation of the fish oil supplements was not available in this study, so we could not evaluate potential dose dependent effects or differentiate between the effects of different fish oil formulations. Fourthly, the use of hospital inpatient data for determining atrial fibrillation events could have excluded some events triggered by acute episodes, such as surgery, trauma, and similar conditions, resulting in underestimation of the true risk because undiagnosed atrial fibrillation is a common occurrence. 43 Fifthly, most of the participants in this study were from the white ethnic group and whether the findings can be generalised to other ethnic groups is not known. Finally, our study did not consider behavioural changes in populations with different cardiovascular profiles because of limited information, and variations in outcomes for different cardiovascular states merits further exploration.

Conclusions

This large scale prospective study of a UK cohort suggested that regular use of fish oil supplements might have differential roles in the course of cardiovascular diseases. Regular use of fish oil supplements might be a risk factor for atrial fibrillation and stroke among the general population but could be beneficial for disease progression, from atrial fibrillation to major adverse cardiovascular events, and from atrial fibrillation to death. Further studies are needed to determine whether potential confounders modify the effects of oil fish supplements and the precise mechanisms for the development and prognosis of cardiovascular disease events.

Ethics statements

Patient consent for publication.

Consent obtained directly from patients.

Ethics approval

The UK Biobank study obtained ethical approval from the North West Multicentre Research ethics committee, Information Advisory Group, and the Community Health Index Advisory Group (REC reference for UK Biobank 11/NW/0382). Participants gave informed consent to participate in the study before taking part.

Acknowledgments

This study was conducted with UK Biobank Resource (application No: 69550). We appreciate all participants and professionals contributing to UK Biobank.

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Supplementary materials

Supplementary data.

This web only file has been produced by the BMJ Publishing Group from an electronic file supplied by the author(s) and has not been edited for content.

  • Data supplement 1
  • Data supplement 2

GYL and HL are joint senior authors.

Contributors HL supervised the whole project and designed the work. GC and HL directly accessed and verified the underlying data reported in the manuscript. GC contributed to data interpretation and writing of the report. ZQ, SZ, JZ, ZZ, MGV, HEA, CW, and GYHL contributed to the discussion and data interpretation, and revised the manuscript. All authors had full access to all of the data in the study and had final responsibility for the decision to submit for publication. The corresponding author attests that all listed authors meet authorship criteria and that no others meeting the criteria have been omitted. HL is the guarantor. Transparency: The lead author (guarantor) affirms that the manuscript is an honest, accurate, and transparent account of the study being reported; that no important aspects of the study have been omitted; and that any discrepancies from the study as planned (and, if relevant, registered) have been explained.

Funding This work was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (grant No INV-016826). Under the grant conditions of the foundation, a creative commons attribution 4.0 generic license has already been assigned to the author accepted manuscript version that might arise from this submission. The funder had no role in considering the study design or in the collection, analysis, interpretation of data, writing of the report, or decision to submit the article for publication.

Competing interests All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at www.icmje.org/disclosure-of-interest/ and declare: support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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IMAGES

  1. Fases De Design Thinking

    primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

  2. A framework for studying design thinking through measuring designers

    primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

  3. Unit 7: Choosing a Research Methodology

    primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

  4. Primary Research Vs. Secondary Research Methodology

    primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

  5. Design Thinking in Research

    primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

  6. What is Design Thinking and Why is Everyone Talking About it?

    primary secondary and tertiary research in design thinking

VIDEO

  1. Design Thinking and Research

  2. Design Is Not Neutral

  3. What are primary,secondary &tertiary colors? #trending #colortheory

  4. THE CODING PROGRAM

  5. Design Thinking an Problem Solving

  6. Understanding UX Research, Design Thinking & Information Architecture

COMMENTS

  1. The 4 types of research methods in UI/UX design (and when to use them)

    Improve your designs based on data-driven research. Though there are many different ways to collect data and do design research, they can broadly be categorized as either primary, secondary, exploratory, or evaluative research. In this article, we'll explain these four types of research methods in the context of UI/UX design and when you ...

  2. 4 types of research methods all designers should know

    Secondary research. Secondary research is when you use existing data like books, articles, or the internet to validate or support existing research. You may use secondary research to create a stronger case for your design choices and provide additional insight into what you learned during primary research.

  3. A Complete Guide to Primary and Secondary Research in UX Design

    Here's why it's important in your design projects: 1. It gives you a deeper understanding of your existing research. Secondary research gathers your primary research findings to identify common themes and patterns. This allows for a more informed approach and uncovers opportunities in your design process.

  4. What is Color Theory?

    Secondary (mixes of primary colors). Tertiary (or intermediate—mixes of primary and ... Color is a big issue in how people from different parts of the world will interpret your design. A little research goes a long way. ... , design thinking, interaction design, mobile UX design, usability, UX research, and many more! Name ...

  5. Design Thinking in Practice: Research Methodology

    Over the last decade, we have seen design thinking gain popularity across industries. Nielsen Norman Group conducted a long-term research project to understand design thinking in practice. The research project included 3 studies involving more than 1000 participants and took place from 2018 to 2020: Intercepts and interviews with 87 participants.

  6. Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources (+ Examples)

    Primary sources include the original raw evidence or data that you collect yourself in a study. For example, interview transcripts or statistical data. Secondary sources include distilled analyses and interpretations of primary data that someone else collected in their study. For example, journal articles and critical analysis pieces.

  7. Primary and Secondary Research

    After a literature review or other form of secondary research, you will be prepared to venture into the topic with confidence because you will know the existing knowledge on the topic. Primary research is special because you are the first (or one of the few) people to study the phenomena. Considering design is always changing and the ways ...

  8. Secondary Research in UX

    Secondary Research in UX. Mayya Azarova. February 20, 2022. Summary: Secondary research is an essential foundation for UX work, necessary to explore the problem space and scope of prior projects and to identify important questions and best practices in the field of study. It also helps to focus the scope of your own project and often saves money.

  9. Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources

    Journal articles that report research for the first time (at least the parts about the new research, plus their data). Secondary Source - These sources are translated, repackaged, restated, analyzed, or interpreted original information that is a primary source. Thus, the information comes to us secondhand, or through at least one filter.

  10. A meta-synthesis of primary and secondary student design cognition research

    The research objectives that guided this study include the following: RO 1: Synthesize the findings of studies investigating the design thinking of primary and secondary students according to the three coding scheme foundation categories. To examine primary and secondary design cognition, studies have analyzed how students allocate their time to a variety of predetermined cognitive processes ...

  11. Design Thinking in Research

    Formally, design thinking is a 5-7 step process: Steps to the Design Thinking Process. Empathize - observing the world, understanding the need for research in one's field. Define - defining one particular way in which people's lives could be improved by research. Ideate - relentless brainstorming of ideas without judgment or overanalysis.

  12. Primary Source Research in Design

    Primary source research can be defined as first-hand experience or evidence about a topic. According to Princeton University's website, primary sources include original documents such as diaries, manuscripts, letters, or interviews, whereas secondary sources include textbooks, magazine articles, commentaries, and encyclopaedias. Primary sources are crucial during the design process because ...

  13. Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

    When searching for information on a topic, it is important to understand the value of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Primary sources allow researchers to get as close as possible to original ideas, events, and empirical research as possible. Such sources may include creative works, first hand or contemporary accounts of events, and the publication of the results of empirical ...

  14. Primary vs. Secondary Sources

    Primary sources provide raw information and first-hand evidence. Examples include interview transcripts, statistical data, and works of art. Primary research gives you direct access to the subject of your research. Secondary sources provide second-hand information and commentary from other researchers. Examples include journal articles, reviews ...

  15. Primary vs Secondary Research: Differences, Methods, Sources, and More

    Navigating the Pros and Cons. Balance Your Research Needs: Consider starting with secondary research to gain a broad understanding of the subject matter, then delve into primary research for specific, targeted insights that are tailored to your precise needs. Resource Allocation: Evaluate your budget, time, and resource availability. Primary research can offer more specific and actionable data ...

  16. Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

    Sources of information or evidence are often categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary material. These classifications are based on the originality of the material and the proximity of the source or origin. This informs the reader as to whether the author is reporting information that is first hand or is conveying the experiences and ...

  17. 7.4: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

    Secondhand information (a restatement, analysis, or interpretation of original information). Third-hand information (a summary or repackaging of original information, often based on secondary information that has been published). The three labels for information sources in this category are, respectively, primary sources, secondary sources, and ...

  18. What is Secondary Research?

    Secondary research is a research method that uses data that was collected by someone else. In other words, whenever you conduct research using data that already exists, you are conducting secondary research. On the other hand, any type of research that you undertake yourself is called primary research. Example: Secondary research.

  19. Industrial Design education in Australia: a competence ...

    Industrial Design education is poorly understood by laypeople but is present in Australian curricula from primary through to tertiary education levels. Designers and design researchers have long recognised the value of the broad-ranging skills, knowledge fields, and personal qualities design education imparts, but this understanding is generally not shared by the wider community who may see ...

  20. Primary Research vs Secondary Research in 2024: Definitions

    To collect data and test hypotheses, researchers may use primary research or secondary research. Despite the differences between these two research methods, primary vs secondary research both provide advantages that support specific research objectives. ... Mrug, S. (2012). Survey. In N. J. Salkind (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Research Design (pp ...

  21. Handout: Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Research Resources

    This handout serves as a reference guide to view examples of Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Resources based on the different disciplines - Social Science, Engineering, and Medicine. ... Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Research Resources.pdf application/pdf 44.8 KB Download File; More About This Work. Academic Units Center for Teaching and ...

  22. Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary

    Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary. A primary source is an original document/image, the results of an experiment, statistical data, first-hand account, or creative work. A secondary source is something written about or using primary sources. A teritary source is a collection of primary and secondary sources.

  23. PDF Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

    without thinking about disciplinary context, your research question, and your research methods. Identification in Context Sources that are secondary or tertiary in one context might be primary sources in another. For instance, if your research design called for a content analysis of the coverage of gender

  24. Regular use of fish oil supplements and course of cardiovascular

    Objective To examine the effects of fish oil supplements on the clinical course of cardiovascular disease, from a healthy state to atrial fibrillation, major adverse cardiovascular events, and subsequently death. Design Prospective cohort study. Setting UK Biobank study, 1 January 2006 to 31 December 2010, with follow-up to 31 March 2021 (median follow-up 11.9 years). Participants 415 737 ...