Carnegie Mellon University


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Drifting Through Design Research: An Autobiographical Rethinking of Constructing a Thesis

posted on 2023-05-17, 20:17 authored by Yumeng Zhuang

From the fall of 2022 to the present moment (the spring of 2023), I have been conducting thesis research on an interactive inflated air pouch with a sticky interior, looking for its purpose and a potential line of discourse to formulate around it. This design research project has opened up my mind to alternative ways to produce knowledge beyond the scientific and engineering research methods, which I was trained to apply prior to enrolling in this degree program. 

During the development process, I iterated on the interactive structure, the air pouches, as well as numerous versions of secondary artifacts that supported the interactions. Told from my autobiographical perspective of making this thesis, I the concept of drifting in design research and walk the readers through my journey of developing and framing the interactive inflatable structure. The journey is scattered with mind maps and non-linear paths toward key inspirations, related literature background, documentation of the construction, casual and formal reflections, interactions with people who supported me, and self-evaluations. Interweaving different styles to tell the story, I provide a holistic view of my experience learning to conduct design research and focus on revealing the drifts in the journey. Through a detailed evaluation and conversations with students adopting design research for their theses, I propose that this alternative way to document design research could reveal the often hidden drifts in the process, bring readers closer to how knowledge is produced in full reality, and challenge existing norms of disseminating knowledge. 

There are four major drifts in the propositions along the journey. I call the four resulting framings of my research encounters and provide the associated imaginary abstracts as Forecasts of them in the upcoming Journey 






Degree Type

  • Master's Thesis


  • Architecture

Degree Name

  • Master of Science in Computational Design (MSCD)


Daragh Byrme, Lining Yao, Sinan Goral