Designing Your Research Agenda 2.1

Design scholars and researchers discuss various aspects of their research agendas

Friday, January 27, 2023
2PM EST
Online ZOOM Event

Designing Your Research Agenda is a panel discussion and open forum for design scholars and researchers to discuss various aspects of their research agendas. We aim to open a dialog regarding multiple challenges of discovering one’s design research inquiry. Design Incubation will also be discussing some of their ongoing work with the mission and focus of supporting design research. Designing Your Research Agenda is an ongoing design research event series.

Some of the questions we will discuss with panelists include:

  • How did you determine your research agenda (high-level timeline of your career/trajectory)
  • How do you define research and why do you think it matters/for society, the field, and yourself?
  • How do your department and institution define and support the work you do?
  • How would you describe/categorize your department and institution?
  • If you were going to position your work within a category, would you say your research addresses: design theory, design history, design practice, design research (traditional graphic design, speculative design, UXUI, typography, AR, VR, creative computing, design solutions, etc.), design pedagogy, or something else?
  • What barriers (if any) exist at your institution or in the field for creating and disseminating your research?

PANELISTS

Kate Hollenbach
Assistant Professor of Emergent Digital Practices 
University of Denver

Lisa Maione
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
Kansas City Art Institute

Matthew Wizinsky
Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director
University of Cincinnati
PhD researcher, Carnegie Mellon University 

Moderators

Jessica Barness
Kent State University

Heather Snyder Quinn
Washington University in St. Louis

Biographies

Kate Hollenbach 
Assistant Professor of Emergent Digital Practices
University of Denver

Kate Hollenbach is an artist, programmer, and educator based in Denver, Colorado. She creates video and interactive works examining the language and vocabulary of user interfaces with a focus on user habits, data collection, and surveillance. Her art practice is informed by years of professional experience and as an interface designer and product developer. She has presented and exhibited work in venues across the United States, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, SIGGRAPH, and INST-INT. Kate holds an MFA from UCLA Design Media Arts and a B.S. in Computer Science and Engineering from MIT. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Emergent Digital Practices at University of Denver and serves on the Board of Directors for the Processing Foundation. https://www.katehollenbach.com/

Lisa Maione
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
Kansas City Art Institute

Lisa Maione is a designer, artist, and educator based in Kansas City, MO. Her research concerns the nature of the screen as a material agent that affects perceptions of histories, social economy, and the self in relation to others. As an interdisciplinary artist, she is interested in emphasizing the residue of memory through assembling and structuring relationships between objects. As a designer, she is interested in how to activate and enact “graphic design methods” outside of commercial exchange as a primary context. By displacing design-like methods into vulnerable states outside of capital and inside emotional visual vortexes, aberrations and distortions emerge and are made palpable as affective, productive output. Lisa is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the Kansas City Art Institute.  https://lisamaione.com/

Matthew Wizinsky
Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director
University of Cincinnati,
and
PhD Researcher
Carnegie Mellon University

Matthew Wizinsky is a designer, researcher, educator, and author on contemporary issues in design practice and research. He has over 20 years of professional experience in graphic, interactive, exhibition, and experiential design. He is an Associate Professor & Graduate Program Director in the Ullman School of Design at the University of Cincinnati, PhD researcher in Transition Design at Carnegie Mellon University, and Associate Editor for the oldest peer-reviewed design journal, Visible Language. He is the author of Design after Capitalism (MIT Press, 2022). https://mwizinsky.net/

#designhistory #designthinking #designpedagogy #designtheory #designresearch

Say No to Stigma: Making Mental Health Visible in Rural Ugandan Primary Schools

Developing stakeholder-informed visuals to improve mental health awareness and decrease stigma

Penina Laker
Assistant Professor
Washington University in St Louis

Children in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) comprise 50% of the total regional population, yet current mental health services are severely under-equipped to meet their needs. Uganda, an SSA country, reports 12 to 29% of children presenting mental health symptoms when screened in primary care clinics. There are widespread misconceptions towards mental illness as well as stigmatization of people with mental illnesses in Sub-Saharan Africa countries like Uganda which reports 12 to 29% of children presenting mental health symptoms when screened in primary care clinics. Common misconceptions include fears of contagion as well as perceptions that people are responsible for their illness and are dangerous. 

Furthermore, young people are particularly worried about being seen as “crazy” or “mad” by their friends and significant others, which results in little or no intention to seek help. While Ugandan schools use visual messaging and signage to bring awareness about sexual risk behavior and HIV/AIDS knowledge and prevention, no such strategies have been adopted to address mental health related stigma. Since the early 19th century, images have had a deep history that is closely linked to perpetuating stereotypes associated with the portrayal and treatment of mental health related issues. However, when closely developed with the primary audience, images are capable of educating and bringing awareness to complex narratives associated with mental health related challenges. 

This interdisciplinary pilot research study explores a three-phased collaborative process involving focus groups and extensive co-creation workshops with children and teachers working in a public primary school in the Masaka region of Uganda to develop culturally relevant visual solutions addressing mental health stigma. This collaboration combines social work’s commitment to mental health intervention research in low-resource communities with communication design’s strength in using design research techniques to address social problems, with the goal of developing stakeholder-informed visuals through a participatory process to improve mental health awareness and decrease stigma.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.1: Kent State University on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

Voices Heard: Designing an Oral History Archive

22 cassette taped interviews with Black residents of Pontiac, Michigan from the mid-1970s

Kimmie Parker
Assistant Professor
Oakland University

The Pontiac Oral History Archive, housed in Oakland University’s Kresge Library, contains 22 cassette taped interviews with Black residents of Pontiac, Michigan from the mid-1970s. To date, this archive has been largely inaccessible, available only to those who can come to our campus to listen to the cassettes. My collaborator, [name anonymized for peer-review], and I see immense value in this archive and have been working to create a public website to house the recordings, historical photographs, and other related artifacts.

For decades, Pontiac was a vibrant city with one of the largest populations of working-class Black Americans in the US; after the auto industry moved much of its operations away from the city, an already disenfranchised population struggled to move forward. Society then, as today, grappled with racism, racial inequality, socio-economic inequality, and police brutality. The stories on these tapes range from first-hand accounts of the Great Migration to industrial working conditions to racist encounters to social and family life in the 1970s. The voices of everyday people, particularly people of color, often go unheard. The preservation of and accessibility to these important historical accounts are critical as we work towards a more just society.

Since fall of 2021, we have worked on this project in collaboration with members of the Pontiac community and colleagues across our campus. We have obtained funding for the digitization and transcription of the cassette tapes, introduced students and community members to the archive, obtained permissions and made connections with living relatives, and began designing an online archival website. This interdisciplinary and wide-ranging process has become much more than a design project: this work lives at the intersection of design, community activism, historical preservation, and digital humanities. I look forward to sharing our work-in-progress as we strive to equalize access to these important voices.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.1: Kent State University on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

Designing with Power: Drawing Parallels Between Design Pedagogy and Writing Workshops

Graphic design has become affiliated with practices far afield from aesthetic foundations

Joshua Korenblat
Associate Professor
State University of New York at New Paltz

As described in his classic book Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process (published in 1981), a more reliable method includes strategies for students to iterate and see their work from fresh perspectives. With these methods, graphic design students instead get the right idea before getting the idea right, to paraphrase designer Bill Buxton. In my course, writing workshops adapted for a graphic design intent included: Freewriting, the Loop Writing Process, Metaphor Priming, and haiku poetry reframed as comics. Cut-and-Paste Revising and the Collage also become essential at the end of the semester. By the end of the course, students reported an increased awareness of their decision-making, discernment of intentions and intuition, and mindfulness of audience and medium. Their final work shows appropriate graphic design decisions within a real-world context. At the same time, their work retains an authentic personal voice—a legacy of the handmade thinking from the earlier workshops.

In contrast to art studio pedagogy, which emphasizes visual products, writing workshops help writers develop an articulate voice for self and audience, emphasizing practice over vivid outcomes. Today, methods devised by Professor Elbow that seem most relevant for graphic design students—no matter the course they are in—include Freewriting for ideation and the Collage for editing and prototyping. These methods help graphic designers move discovery work from the art studio to a communication context. As designer Dave Gray notes, designers work with a visual language that supports the same purpose as verbal language. Gray cites Using Language, a book by Stanford linguistics professor Herbert H. Clark: designers use visual language to think, converse, communicate, collaborate, and co-create. Writing workshop strategies span prose and poetry; by adapting them for graphic design purposes, educators crystallize the everyday activities carried about by language and formalize them in design practice.

Most college graphic design programs operate in Art Departments in the United States. A legacy of the Bauhaus, this structure creates an implicit aesthetic foundation for visual communication. However, graphic design has become part of practices far afield from these aesthetic foundations. These practices have emerged as people inexperienced with visual communication can produce compelling graphics using intuitive apps. This change puts more emphasis on conceptual thinking and empathy in emergent fields of graphic design—skills that might not be taught in studio art academies, which democratize who can become a professional designer. Significant emergent fields of graphic design practice include user experience design, which draws upon ethnography and psychology, and data visualization, which converges data analytics with storytelling. Yet even classic practices, such as Art Direction, can benefit from the reframing of design with writing workshops. Students become more empowered to find their authentic voice and the practice of design becomes more democratic.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.1: Kent State University on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

An Argument for Including the Banal in Design Histories

It is critical to understand how basic design efforts are explicitly world-building

Gabi Schaffzin
Assistant Professor
York University

Too often, design students are not given access to design histories that go beyond the hero-centric survey course that focuses on canonical figures responsible for forging a new path in the field or becoming household. In design, there are perhaps a few dozen of these individuals whose work will be indelibly stamped onto the brains of our undergraduates by the time they enter the workforce. That said, what those young designers do after graduation will most likely not feel terribly revolutionary as they sketch a user interface, layout a newsletter, or prepare a PowerPoint for their manager. As I will argue in this talk, however, it is critical to understand this type of work as explicitly world-building. 

We must as design educators help our students recognize how complicated these seemingly banal artifacts are and see the inherent complexity of the issues surrounding them. By framing these complexities as systemic, we can break the spell of the canonical designer. A beautiful poster is, to be sure, seductive. But our students must pay attention to the interfaces and visual tools they build that will shape their world. In this talk, I will present a few such examples: a drop-down menu wherein a Palestinian’s nationality is not listed; a single black line used to facilitate the measurement of a patient’s pain; an online form used to send in tips for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. If the time allows, I will also provide tips on how to find these examples, including via a tip of the cap to the relatively new Peoples’ Graphic Design Archive.

Certainly, if we are going to teach the tools to reshape the world, we must make sure our students have solid ground for survival—as such, I am not suggesting we fully jettison the foundational design education. But the problematics associated with the aforementioned artifacts are communal. By pairing banal design histories with systemic thinking and autonomous design approaches within the design practice curriculum, we can help our students understand their power and position them to make real, meaningful change.

Prototyping Interactive and Exploratory Visualizations for Interdisciplinary Dialogues

The visualization of interdisciplinary dialogues between design faculties and practitioners

Eugene Park
Associate Professor
University of Minnesota

Visualization of archives is a perennial challenge in the field of design that offers unique opportunities in storytelling in the context of big data. Recognizing the importance of data-driven experiences, this presentation will highlight the creative and educational opportunities as well as the challenges involving the visualization of interdisciplinary dialogues between design faculties and practitioners held over Zoom. By aggregating voice and chat transcripts into unified datasets, it becomes possible to transform them into a series of graphics that visualizes how these interdisciplinary discussions evolved across various topics.

Aided by Python scripts, the data was prepared and analyzed by design students who attended the zoom meetings and rewatched the video recordings. Instead of relying on unsupervised machine learning techniques, students discussed amongst themselves and determined the word groups for each Zoom session, which was the basis of visualizing the evolution of discussion topics over time. The intention behind this process was not to establish an efficient and scalable data pipeline, but to create a learning experience for students to disseminate what was discussed among design faculty and practitioners and become involved in the visualization process.

The outcomes of this project revealed how visualizing interdisciplinary discussions can unveil narratives and insights that otherwise might have been missed in other modalities. By observing how topics evolved over time, it was possible to see the collective areas of expertise of the dialogue participants as well as their knowledge gaps. Ultimately, this project raises questions on the assumptions behind data visualization outcomes and processes. What are the limitations of visualizations for topic modeling? How can animation and interactivity affect the experience of data-driven narratives? And how can students and algorithms work together to promote learning experiences? These are some of the major questions that will be explored through this presentation and subsequent discussion.

Come Back Home: A Case Study of a Collaborative Srts-based Research Project

How can society continue to engage in the shared pursuit of truth within the context of social-media fueled mis-information and socio-political fragmentation?

Liese Zahabi
Assistant Professor
University of New Hampshire

What constitutes truth? How can society continue to engage in the shared pursuit of truth within the context of social-media fueled mis-information and socio-political fragmentation? This collaborative, experimental project combines the creative forces of a Communication Professor who is also a songwriter and musician, a Design Professor who is also a motion designer and writer, and three dance students—resulting in three video-based artworks and a short documentary that examines the themes of truth, media, information, and current events. The project sits at the intersection of creative praxis, performance, and visual communication, weaving together multiple forms and modes of content. This presentation aims to briefly describe the project and connect it to the nascent but growing practice of Arts-Based Research (ABR).

In the second edition of her book Method Meets Art (2015), Patricia Leavy describes the concept of ABR: “Arts-based researchers are not ‘discovering’ new research tools, they are carving them. And with the tools they sculpt, so too a space opens within the research community where passion and rigor boldly intersect out in the open.” (p. 21) ABR offers ways for scholars in various disciplines to explore their research questions through an array of creative, visual, audible, performative, and written practices. Come Back Home is a strong example of ABR, showcasing creative research and making rooted in communication, visual, and performance practices, exploring the messy nature of information in our contemporary world. 

As design educators and researchers grapple with the forms their scholarship ought to take, ABR offers innovative ways to reconsider the formats of rigorous academic work. This project demonstrates how disciplines might collaborate around a set of questions, generating meaningful research that bursts out of the traditional mold of the formal academic article, creating work that can be published in more accessible venues, speaking to a more diverse array of audiences.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.1: Kent State University on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

Gadzooks: An Embellished Connection Between Like-Minded Characters

The College for Creative Studies / BFA Communication Design department began a partnership with The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation’s Curators and Archivist

Susan LaPorte
Professor
College for Creative Studies

Communication Design and typography have been intertwined from the start, as the urge to express moved from the oral to the written, so has this partnership. Consider the enterprising graphic marks pressed into clay to communicate commerce by Sumerians, hieroglyphs documenting Egyptian rituals, the innovation of movable type first in the east, and then the west, to the typographic alphabet soup from the industry period, and ones/zeros that continue to document our thoughts through the words we write and the typographic expressions we employ to amplify their messages. The shape that typography has taken reflects the taste(s), technology(s), and need(s) of global citizens through time.

The College for Creative Studies / BFA Communication Design department began a partnership with The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation’s Curators and Archivists. The class was given their vast collections of objects and artifacts as a starting point for their type design inquiry. Each student documented typography/or graphic marks found or embedded within carriages, signage, broadside, machinery, games, as inspiration for a new typeface that expanded the sample and inspired new alphabet of their own vision. Additionally, the goal was for students to see the importance of research around a design can broaden their design practice; that design is not always about serving a client, but also expanding knowledge around our discipline.

A typographic history lecture was shared to broaden their understanding of type, written communication, and the technology that shaped information through the centuries. Students then focused their own critical research, to discover greater relevance of context and meaning to the design of their type specimens. The process of creating were iterative, critical, and resulted expanding the students understanding of design practice and original type designs inspired from the collection.

The results of this class and our partnership with the HFM, and with the financial support of the Ford Fund are a set of publications, entitled Gadzooks: An Embellished Connection Between Like-Minded Characters. It is a documentation of 13 new typefaces, designed by 13 new type designers, expanding our typographic legacy.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.1: Kent State University on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

Subject, Material, Tool: A Strategy for Harnessing the Visual Communication Possibilities of Physical Materials

A set of limitations designers can play with in order to get the most image-making possibilities out of any given material

Anne Jordan
Assistant Professor
Rochester Institute of Technology

I am a book cover designer. My work consists primarily of typography as image. I aim to find that perfect point of verbal-visual connection, where what the title says and how that typography was made snap into place to reinforce each other. I do this by incorporating image-making techniques that harness the visual communication possibilities of physical materials.

Over the past fifteen years, I have developed a unique process to turn these physical materials into engaging digital images that I call “Subject, Material, Tool.” This process is a structured way to create images in which the materials used to make the images both form and inform the meaning of the typography.

“Subject, Material, Tool” is a set of limitations designers can play with in order to get the most image-making possibilities out of any given material. Essentially, it prompts designers to examine each material through three distinct lenses: as a subject, as a raw material, and as a tool. My presentation will demonstrate exactly how “Subject, Material, Tool” works via a series of applied case studies in book cover design.

I am also a design educator at the graduate level and have used “Subject, Material, Tool” as a creative prompt in the classroom with great success. My students have benefited from learning “Subject, Material, Tool” because it provides them with a concrete strategy for coming up with ideas and creating images, significantly improving their creativity in the image-making process. I will share several examples of student work as evidence of such.

Image-making, the verbal-visual connection, and type as image are topics that have been well researched by colleagues such as Nancy Skolos and Thomas Wedell, Cassie Hester, Annabelle Gould, Renee Seward, Keetra Dean Dixon, and others. This is for good reason, because finding an ideal verbal-visual connection is one of the biggest challenges designers face. “Subject, Material, Tool” fits into this area of research, but is different from existing research. “Subject, Material, Tool” is a new take on the image-making process, offering a unique structure and point of view, therefore adding valuable scholarship to this important area of research.

This presentation will be directed at design educators looking for ideas about teaching process in their classrooms. “Subject, Material, Tool” is specific enough to be helpful, but open enough that it can be broadly used across many areas of art and design.

This design research was presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 9.1: Kent State University on Saturday, October 15, 2022.

Design Incubation Colloquium 9.1: Kent State University

Saturday, October 15, 2022
Time: 1:00pm–2:00pm
Online ZOOM event

Hosted by Jessica Barness, Associate Professor and Sanda Katila, Associate Professor, School of Visual Communication Design, Kent State University.

Presentations will be published on the Design Incubation YouTube Channel after October 7, 2022. Virtual Conference will be held online on Saturday, October 15, 2022 at 1pm EST.

MODERATORS

Jessica Barness
Associate Professor 
Kent State University

Sanda Katila
Associate Professor
Kent State University

PRESENTATIONS

Subject, Material, Tool: A Strategy for Harnessing the Visual Communication Possibilities of Physical Materials
Anne Jordan
Assistant Professor
Rochester Institute of Technology

Gadzooks: An Embellished Connection Between Like-Minded Characters
Susan LaPorte
Professor
College for Creative Studies

Come Back Home: a Case Study of a Collaborative Arts-based Research Project
Liese Zahabi
Assistant Professor
University of New Hampshire

An Argument for Including the Banal in Design Histories
Gabi Schaffzin
Assistant Professor
York University

Prototyping Interactive and Exploratory Visualizations for Interdisciplinary Dialogues
Eugene Park
Associate Professor
University of Minnesota

Designing with Power: Drawing Parallels Between Design Pedagogy and Writing Workshops
Joshua Korenblat
Associate Professor
State University of New York at New Paltz

Voices Heard: Designing an Oral History Archive
Kimmie Parker
Assistant Professor
Oakland University

Say No to Stigma: Making Mental Health Visible in Rural Ugandan Primary Schools
Penina Laker
Assistant Professor
Washington University in St Louis