The term "literature review" is fairly self-explanatory: gather all materials relevant to your subject. For many students, research begins and ends online. Though the Internet is a powerful tool, the academic library is one of the best places to go for books, academic journals, newspapers, magazines, and manuscripts from professional conferences. A university library also offers access to many tools that are not readily available to the general public, such as proprietary research portals, inter-university databases, and graduate dissertations. Furthermore, trained professionals are available to assist patrons with their research efforts. Starting a project is often the hardest part. But conducting a literature review will offer valuable insight into your subject matter and better prepare you for framing the problem to be solved.
Though students may lack the resources to conduct their own marketing research, they can gain much by reviewing the results of previously published marketing studies relating to their current project. Most colleges and universities have business libraries with specific access to this research. Taking the time to read and understand this type of secondary data can help focus the design process and provide statistics to support aesthetic choices. There are many online resources for free market data, including those provided by state and national governments. In the United States, for instance, the U.S. Department of Labor website (www.dol.gov) offers a great deal of data on specific industries and occupations. Outside of the United States, similar information can be found though governmental labor agencies.
As we tell all of our students: sketch! The sketching phase is a critical step in the design process and can lead to truly innovative and creative solutions. Though students' design abilities mature and they develop their own methodology for visualization, pencil and paper remain highly effective tools. Sketching allows designers to prototype concepts rapidly without being influenced by technology—so they are focused on solving the problem first and fabricating the solution second. Additionally, sitting down with a sketchbook naturally allows some time for brainstorming, forcing designers to really think about what they're trying to solve.