we_search is a concept and online prototype for a free public online-platform for publication, research and dialog. It supports scientific publishing standards within the design research community, allowing visitors to search for academic content within different disciplines and display the results in various visual ways.


we_search was developed as a joint project of two German universities: HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd and HTWG Konstanz. The project ran from 2012 to 2015 and was funded by the “Innovations- und Qualitätsfonds (IQF)” from the Ministry for Science, Research and Art in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

2 Insights

The following screenshots offer a glimpse of the concept and functions of the working prototype, focusing on the visual search results. Please get in touch with us if you want to know more.

This overview screen gives new visitors an overview of the available functions. One begins by entering search terms, which can be limited to the title/abstract, author, time span, place, and more. By choosing a visualization like “keywords” for the found publications gives one a new perspective on the search results. One can adjust the search to be more precise or explore and discover unexpected things. Once one finds an interesting publication, one can view the abstract, meta data, as well as associated references and citations. One can switch to a different visualization like “term ratio” to see the distribution of search terms within the results. One can add another search term to narrow the search down. When one finds something of interest, it can be saved via drag and drop to the “pocket” for later use. Within “references and citations” one can trace the sources of publications. We’re offering a familiar text view, because sometimes that also comes in handy. A unique “visual id” for each publication helps one find specific publications in a long list.
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3 Approach

Online Survey and Interviews

We conducted an international online survey and interviewed active design research experts in order to gain a better understanding of the work places, work processes, and the challenges these practitioners face.


The data from the survey and the interviews helped us generate a list of user types with their requirements as well as expectations. These needs and desires formed the basis for the functions and features of the online platform.


We developed user-scenarios, information architecture, functionalities, and design based on the list of requirements. This in turn formed the basis for the development of the user interface and functional prototypes.


A small group of potential users tested the prototype for functionality and usability. These user tests were conducted during several stages of the project to improve and extend the prototype.


Development of the online prototype began after the initial testing and refinement of key functions was complete. From this point, we incrementally added new features and tested this new version again to improve the platform and better meet the researchers’ needs.

4 Background

Design research is a young discipline which in recent years has gained international attention. However, not only is the methodology different from other research disciplines, so too are the results, which in addition to text can be made up of images, simulations (prototypes), and models. Complex topics often require cooperation between experts from different fields.

The we_search online platform is intended to remedy the described situation, improve the design research infrastructure, and facilitate scientific work within the design discipline.

5 Team

Project Managers
Prof. Matthias Held *
Ron Jagodzinski
Prof. Brian Switzer
Götz Wintergerst
Project Staff
Ursula Grau
Julia Hengartner
Christiane Knaust *
Simon Zirkunow
Student Helpers
Manuel Hieke *
Christoph Labacher *
not pictured *

6 Contact

Prof. Matthias Held, HfG Gmünd, matthias.held(at)hfg-gmuend.de
Prof. Brian Switzer, HTWG Konstanz, switzer(at)htwg-konstanz.de

Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd
Rektor-Klaus-Straße 100, 73525 Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany

Hochschule Konstanz Technik, Wirtschaft und Gestaltung
Brauneggerstraße 55, 78462 Konstanz, Germany