The mission of design research is to discover and investigate not or partially known phenomena, and to formulate statements concerning their manifestations and relationships with other phenomena. Identification of phenomena happens in the fuzzy front end of research projects and the early explorative phases of research cycles. In spite of their determining nature, defining and processing research phenomena happen in an intuitive manner, often resulting in complications in the conduct of research. This paper proposes a method for a systematized handling of research phenomena in design research. Systematization is done in the framework of defining a research model and devising a research design based on it. The proposed method places a phenomenon in a local world, and specifies the involved things, attributes, effects and relations. Decomposition of a complex phenomenon to constituent phenomena is facilitated by a combinatorial mechanism. The paper demonstrates the applicability of the method in a concrete case. Further research concentrates on obtaining empirical evidence concerning the use and effect of the proposed method in multi-year PhD projects.