Compendium of Design

A Body of Knowledge
Learn from those who designed before you.

Sources of Information

Sources are everywhere - but only if your eyes and ears are open to receive them. They may appear in specific places when looking for information such as laws, regulations or standards; or they can be found the most unlikely of places and times when looking for inspirational information or imagery. The key to being an innovative designer is being able to find sources of inspiration, understanding the nature of the source and recognising your sources.

Typically, sources are organised into three categories: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary sources. Understanding these categories allows the designer to gauge the validity or reliability of the information or inspiration.

However, it is important to understand that the categorisation of sources can depend on the purpose of the research. For example:

  • A magazine article reporting on the incorrect matching of ergonomic chairs and desks would be considered a secondary source of information.
  • A research article from a scientific journal reporting on the increase in back injuries from the misuse of ergonomic chairs would be a primary source. However; if there was a need to research how the use of ergonomic chairs was represented in popular media, then an article or advertisement in a design magazine would be considered a primary source.

Primary Sources

Primary sources of information come from an original source. They are contemporary accounts of an event written by an experienced person or eye-witness. These documents include diaries, letters, memoirs, journals, speeches, manuscripts, interviews and other types of unpublished work. Published works can include newspaper or magazine articles; if written from first-hand accounts or soon after the event, audio, video or photographs, and research reports that have been published in natural or social science periodicals.

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Artefacts
  • Audio recordings 
  • Diary entries  
  • Emails
  • Interviews
  • Peer reviewed journal articles
  • Letters
  • Newspaper articles (written during the time of event)
  • Original documents
  • Patents
  • Meeting Precedings  
  • Speeches
  • Surveys
  • Video recordings 
  • Works of art, architecture, literature or music
  • Websites

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are an interpretation of a primary source. They interpret, add value to and draw conclusions from the information.

Examples of Secondary Sources

  • Bibliographies
  • Bibliographical works
  • Commentaries
  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • History
  • Journal articles
  • Magazine and newspaper articles
  • Manuals
  • Textbooks


Tertiary Sources

  • Tertiary sources are that which are a collation or interpretation of both primary and secondary sources.

    Examples of Teritary Sources

    • Bibliographies
    • Dictionaries
    • Encyclopedias
    • Directories
    • Fact books
    • Guidebooks
    • Manuals
    • Textbooks
    • Periodicals