What is Descriptive Design and Why is It Important: The Ultimate Guide

What is Descriptive Design and Why is It Important: The Ultimate Guide | Product Design & Innovation | Emeritus

The first thing any researcher needs to do is choose the right method of study for a particular topic. Generally, research is aimed at finding why a particular phenomenon occurs and discovering the explanation for it. However, before getting into knowing “why”, it is important to answer other equally significant questions: “what”, “when”, “how”, and “where”. This is where descriptive design becomes an integral part of the research method for researchers. The following article discusses what is descriptive design, its importance, the different types of descriptive designs, as well as its advantages. Let’s, therefore, understand what is descriptive design by delving deeper into the topic.

What is descriptive design

What is Descriptive Design?

What is descriptive designDescriptive design is a type of research design that utilizes both quantitative and qualitative methods of research to collect data to describe a phenomenon, situation, or population. Major methods of descriptive research design include observations, surveys, and case studies. In this design method, researchers do not control or manipulate variables.

To put it in simpler terms, this form of research aims to explain a particular phenomenon or occurrence. Furthermore, descriptive research opens wider opportunities to study an event or occurrence more deeply by utilizing other methods of research. One significant advantage of descriptive design is that information is collected as statistical data. This data can be used in other research studies, and can also substantiate the results efficiently.  

Examples of Descriptive Design

As mentioned above, descriptive design helps to study the pattern of behavior of a particular population. A typical example is exit poll surveys conducted by different agencies during elections. In such polls, agencies study the opinions of different populations using surveys and analyze this data to understand the chances of different political parties in the election.

Online platforms also use descriptive design. They use it to analyze the tastes and shopping patterns of different customers. At times,  researchers ask customers to give feedback by answering certain questions. Doing so helps such platforms to gain insights into customer demands.

Another example of what is descriptive design is the census conducted by governments. Researchers gather various details, such as population distribution and economic conditions.

ALSO READ: What Does a Product Designer Do? A Comprehensive Guide 

What are the Characteristics of Descriptive Design?

If you are wondering what is descriptive design in terms of the characteristics, let’s read on: 

1. No Manipulation of the Natural Environment 

In descriptive research, researchers gather information about a particular topic in its most natural environment to avoid any manipulation. Additionally, descriptive design does not require any physical settings, such as a research lab.   

2. Allows for Cross-Sectional Studies

Usually, researchers collect data from a random population for descriptive research. This is also beneficial for cross-sectional studies. Descriptive design, therefore, is an effective method to study the behavior of a wider population.

3. Involves Uncontrollable Variables

Descriptive research studies participants’ natural behavior. This means that the variables are not controlled by researchers. A random variable is one of the key components of descriptive design. A random variable is one of the key components of descriptive design.

4. Provides Quantifiable Results

Descriptive research is quantitative in nature; it is in a format that makes it possible to arrive at numerical values in order to carry out statistical analysis. This eases the process of data analysis for researchers to understand patterns and trends of an event, population, or occurrence. This further improves the credibility of the research results.

5. Enhances Further Research

Researchers utilize statistical data for descriptive studies, employing it as secondary data for other research. Moreover, the data can undergo various forms of data analysis.

Where are Descriptive Designs Commonly Used?

Descriptive design is mainly used to learn the background of a research problem and gather information required for further studies. Some of its most common uses are mentioned below:

1. Find Subject Characteristics

Researchers use it to collect characteristics of the participants such as behavior, traits, and opinion. They use surveys or observations for data collection.

2. Analyze Data Trends

Researchers can analyze the changes in data over time with descriptive design research. For example, the changing prices of a commodity. This can help to make better decisions on purchasing.

3. Compare Responses

Descriptive design helps to compare the responses of different populations to certain variables, like how users react to the launch of a new product.

4. Validate Existing Conditions

It allows for the in-depth analysis of data, which improves its credibility as a research method.  

5. Credible Conclusions

Descriptive research design uses statistical data collected over time to explain any findings and thus can deliver conclusions.

Types of Descriptive Design

To further understand what is descriptive design, it is also necessary to understand its different types.  

Cross-Sectional Design

In a cross-sectional design, samples of a given population are used to get information. There are two primary types of cross-sectional design.

1. Single Cross-Sectional Design

A single sample from a larger population is used only once for data collection.

2. Multiple Cross-Sectional Design

In this method, researchers select multiple samples from a larger population. The data thus derived from each of the samples is used only once for research purposes.

Longitudinal Design

Samples of a larger population are measured repeatedly over a period of time. And in longitudinal design, too, there are two main types:   

1. Traditional Design

They measure the same variable from the sample repeatedly at regular intervals.

2. Omnibus Design

The nature of information changes each time collected from the respondents.

Descriptive Design Methods


Researchers gather information by observing the subjects in their most natural environment for a certain period. This method does not explain the cause of a particular behavior but could give an opening to further studies.

Case Studies

Case studies involve a detailed study of the behavior of a subject, and do not produce any results. In fact, they help to prove or disprove a hypothesis statement that could lead to further studies.


Researchers collect the data from a sample population by recording their opinions on pre-framed questions. It provides statistical data for detailed analysis and validates the research results.

Pros and Cons of Descriptive Design

Descriptive design is one of the most significant methods of collecting data related to various phenomena, situations, or populations. While it does come with its advantages, the design method also has its cons. Let’s look at both.


1. Efficient Data Collection

Descriptive design has multiple methods for data collection, such as observations, case studies, and surveys. 

2. Fast and Cost-Efficient

It helps to collect data from a large population with limited time and cost.

3. Comprehensive

The descriptive design gives a detailed understanding of the research topic as it covers almost all the elements of the topic.

4. External Validity

There is no external manipulation of the sample population. Therefore, the results are valid and credible.


1. Verification Through Testing is Not PossibleWhat is descriptive design

This method is not suitable for verification or testing as the data does not explain the cause of the phenomena.

2. Lack of Reliability

An inefficient formulation of the research hypothesis could reduce the reliability of this method.

3. Risk of Untrue Responses

The responses from a sample population collected may contain untrue feedback which could affect the research results.

4. Risk of Information Error

Researchers randomly collect data from a larger population. If the sample group isn’t representative of the larger population, it may lead to sampling error.

Difference Between Descriptive Design and Correlational Design

Researchers sometimes use both descriptive design and correlational design for similar purposes. Let us understand the significant differences between both research design methods.

  1. Descriptive design is an in-depth study about the behavior of the sample populations while correlational research measures the relationship between the variables of the population. There is no possibility of prediction in descriptive research while there are chances of prediction in correlational design.
  2. Correlational design studies the relationship between two variables in a sample population where the researcher has no control over the variables.

It tries to find whether there is a relationship between the variables through the following methods:

  • Positive correlation, which involves changes in variables in the same direction
  • Negative correlation is variable changes in opposite directions
  • Zero correlation means there is no relationship between variables

Upskilling With Emeritus

To gain a deeper insight into what is descriptive design, sign up for a certified product management course only on Emeritus. The courses enable you to work closely on projects using different research design methods to ensure you get well-versed in both product design and management. 

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What is descriptive design

About the Author

Senior Content Writer, Emeritus Blog
Gauri has found that the upside of being a writer and a scissor-happy copy editor is a rather constant, even paranoid, eye on her own work—and a healthy aversion to complacency. As a professional content creator for over a decade, she has spent time writing (and editing) design, architecture, and lifestyle stories, as well as corporate content, brochures, ads, and websites, among other genres. Her stint with Emeritus has opened an exciting and challenging avenue of education to explore and proves what she already knows—you’re really never done learning.
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