Even the simplest design has an underlying complexity, forcing a designer to find answers to difficult questions: Who am I designing for? What are their needs? How will my design improve their lives? Talking to clients is one way to get answers, but so is research — which will help you form better questions and may enable you to broach difficult topics with a client.

To help you create more meaningful designs, Caren Martin, Ph.D., and Denise Guerin, Ph.D., from the University of Minnesota, developed www.InformeDesign.umn.edu. It is sponsored by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).

Martin, director of InformeDesign, puts to use her 17-year career as a commercial designer to guide staff as they pull articles from about 120 peer-reviewed scholarly journals — things you won't find on the newsstand — and rewrite them in user-friendly language for the site.

There are more than 1,000 research summaries now accessible on the two-year-old site for free. These are not abstracts. Each summary, running between 800 and 1,200 words, is formatted in the same way and divided into the following sections: design issue, design criteria, key concepts, research methods, limitations, commentary, and source (which has a link to the original article or publisher).

Let's say you're going to remodel low-income housing units. By visiting the Web site, you can type in “low-income housing” in the search “research summaries” box. As of this writing, the titles of six summaries appear. In “Impact of Age, Ethnicity, and Poverty on Children's Home Experience,” you'll discover the following in the design criteria section: “Consider soothing color palettes and materials to decrease stress, which is associated with low parent responsiveness and increased incidence of spanking.” The now easily digestible research was pulled from a 23-page article in Child Development, published by the Society for Research in Child Development.

Navigating the site is easy, but, says Martin, “You have to think broadly.” Ask a question and brainstorm topic ideas. “What is facility management about? Retention. Safety. Universal design. You have to think that way.”

The site also offers a MyInformeDesign section, a personal cache on InformeDesign's server, where you can keep your own folder to collect research summaries. Webcasts, including one on how to use the site, are also available. You don't have to register for the site, but if you do, you'll receive Implications, a monthly newsletter, and e-mail notification of new articles on topics for which you have a particular interest.