Practitioner information behaviors: Research utilization and information seeking

Presented by: Amy Huber

“Assailed on all sides by information” were the words used by design scholar David Kernohan (1991, p. 322) to characterize the predicament faced by many design professionals. Twenty-five years later, problems surrounding the application of information may be even more prevalent. While design discourse continues to emphasize the role of research in fostering design innovation, enhancing project outcomes, and increasing a firm’s competitive stance, evidence suggests a persistent gap between research findings and design practitioner expectations. Environmental and design scholars have long lamented the lack of research utilization by practitioners while, at the same time, designers may deride the efforts of those researchers, citing findings as ill-suited for their use (Huber 2016a). Yet, if research findings remain unknown to practitioners, the information stands little chance of improving design processes and outcomes. Consequently, scholars have outlined strategies to increase practitioners’ utilization of research, but these were mostly based on anecdotal evidence or small scale studies. Little is known about practitioner motivations for seeking information, and specifics regarding how they review research documents. This exploratory study aimed to develop a baseline understanding of practitioner motivations for seeking information through frameworks of research utilization strategies (Pelz, 1978) and information-seeking behaviors (Hëinstrom, 2006). Such information may help design researchers better communicate with those practitioners who may leverage research findings when making decisions about the built environment. Framework Research utilization is commonly classified into three strategies: (1) instrumental, pursuing knowledge to resolve a specific problem or issue; (2) conceptual, knowledge used for general enlightenment; and (3) symbolic, knowledge used to legitimize predetermined notions (Pelz, 1978). However, Hëinstrom (2006) attributed information-seeking behaviors to one of three approaches: (1) fast surfing, taking a cursory approach; (2) broad scanning, reviewing information from a variety of sources; (3) and deep diving, taking part in a purposeful quality-driven pursuit. According to Hëinstrom (2006), fast seekers are less concerned with information depth and quality, preferring instead to judge documents by appearance, type, and information availability, while deep divers and broad scanners are more likely to embark on a more critical examination. Methods Survey responses from 97 mid- and senior-level interior designers were statistically analyzed. Multiple questions probed both preferred research strategies and information-seeking behaviors, and reliability measurements were obtained using Cronbach’s alpha. While the researcher targeted designers with practice experience, survey participants represented various market sectors, education levels, and age ranges (See Table 1). Findings Nearly half (48%) of behaviors noted by participants could be categorized as conceptual research utilization strategies, thus suggesting that designers seek information to satisfy their curiosity or for intellectual stimulation (See Tables 2 & 3). However, when respondents evaluated their typical behaviors using a slide bar scaled from 0 to 100, ANOVA post hoc tests revealed a statistically significantly higher mean for fast seeking µ61.39 and broad scanning µ56.8 over deep diving µ40.7 (See Tables 4 & 5). Implications These findings support earlier studies that suggested time constraints and document composition may influence how designers evaluate and review information (Huber, 2016b) while building knowledge by suggesting that interior design practitioners are eager to learn new information, albeit dedicating little time to its comprehension. This apparent dichotomy suggests design scholars should consider how practitioner-orientated research documents should differ from those prepared for academics.


  • Heinström, J. (2006). Broad exploration or precise specificity: Two basic information seeking patterns among students. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(11), 1440-1450. doi: 10.1002/asi.20432
  • Huber, A. (2016a). Research utilization in the design decision making process. International Journal of Architectural Research: ArchNet-IJAR, 10(1), 4-25. Retrieved from
  • Huber, A. (2016b). Is seeing intriguing? Practitioner perceptions of research documents. Journal of Interior Design, 41, 13-32. doi: 10.1111/joid.12067
  • Kernohan, D. (1991). “Einsteins’ Theory” of environment-behavior research: A commentary on research utilization. In E. Zube and G. Moore (Eds.), Advances in environment behavior and design (Vol. 3). New York, NY: Plenum.
  • Pelz, D. C. (1978). Some expanded perspectives on use of social science in public policy. In M. Yinger & S. J. Culter (Eds.), Major social issues: A multidisciplinary view (pp. 346-357). New York, NY: Free Press.