On the Consideration of a Black Grid

Keynote Address: Tenth Anniversary Colloquium

Silas Munro
Partner at Polymode
Artist, Design Author, and Design Educator

From the funky, fresh Black modernism of the Johnson Publishing Company’s headquarters designed by John Warren Moutoussamy with Arthur Elrod and William Raiser to the expressive graffitied grids of Adam Pedelton’s monumental canvases in black and white, there lives a wide-ranging matrix of possibilities for what I consider to be a Black Grid. The renowned design scholar Audrey G. Bennett’s text, “Follow the Golden Ratio from Africa to the Bauhaus for a Cross-Cultural Aesthetic for Images“, traces a lineage of fractal ingenuity in the Sub-Saharan Cameronean palace of a Chief in Logone-Birni that likely influenced Egyptian, North African Temple architecture, linking to Italy through the mathematician Fibonacci know for his so-called “golden ratio” that then informed European ideals of beauty circulating in the infamous Bauhaus art school. Bennett’s postulations connect to my meandering search to see myself as a Black designer, artist, and unexpected design historian in a sea of pedagogies that don’t represent me or my lived experience. This brief visual essay charts a series of experimental meditations on how grids can shape Black liberatory forms. My Polymodal design investigations set a curious space that asks, What might be a Black Grid?

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.3: Tenth Anniversary, St. John’s University (Hybrid) on Friday, June 7, 2024.

Copy, Transform, Combine: Extrapolating from 19th Century American Wood TypeOld World, New Forms: Extrapolating 19th Century American Wood Type

The repurposing of Variable OpenType technology as a tool of digital preservation

Javier Viramontes
Visiting Lecturer
Rochester Institute of Technology

“Copy, Transform, Combine,” refers to a 2017 University of New Haven exhibition of historically significant Swiss posters from the private collection of Tom Strong, with the aim of deepening the historical/practical education of graphic design students with a more immersive material and contextual experience. The title of the exhibition outlines a methodology of using archives in an experiential manner to engage history, not as a static memory, but rather as an experience that allows students to revisit design history through their own perspectives, allowing them to copy, transform, and combine new works based on historical exemplars.

“Copy, Transform, Combine,” can also serve as a unique way to rethink historical preservation. For this presentation, we will discuss the repurposing of Variable OpenType technology as a tool of digital preservation of Aldine Expanded, a 19th-century American Wood Type design, first manufactured by The Hamilton Mfg. Co., Two Rivers, Wis. As indicated by the research of David Shields, Associate Professor, Department of Graphic Design, Virginia Commonwealth University, 19th-century letterforms such as Aldine Expanded were produced in a time without standardized classification systems. Furthermore, without notions of intellectual property or copyright, 19th-century movable wood type designs were often plagiarized, altered, or expanded without a sense of attribution. This typographic revival aims at mapping and classifying Aldine’s various copies and offshoots into a single digital Variable Opentype font file sourced from various design archives.

This presentation will discuss the early and middle stages of this experiment. We are interested in engaging design educators looking to engage archives through preservation, remixing, and the study of historical visual culture through contemporary design technologies.

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.3: Tenth Anniversary, St. John’s University (Hybrid) on Friday, June 7, 2024.

Revitalizing Symbolic Urbanism: Digitalizing the Vernacular Visual Language of Detroit’s Urban Landscape

Where technological advancements continually redefine the human experience of urban spaces

Dho Yee Chung
Assistant Professor
Oakland University

Detroit is the epitome of the urban development crisis in the United States. Although it’s a city with a rich history in the automobile industry, it faces significant infrastructural challenges and urban decay. As the automobile industry decentralized from Detroit, the city’s booming metropolis experienced abandonment and neglect. Accordingly, the once-thriving industrial engine and the various signages that shaped Detroit’s urban landscape disappeared into its history. The symbolism in these signages is significant because it represents the visual artifacts of respective eras. Recognizing the importance of preserving this visual heritage, my project aims to create a digital archive that revitalizes Detroit’s vernacular visual language.

To ground a framework for symbolism in urban landscapes, this talk revisits Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour’s seminal work, Learning from Las Vegas, which suggests a new paradigm in the urban landscape—communication over space. While Venturi and his colleagues focused on the context of Las Vegas in the 1960s, my project extends their ideas by bringing them into the present, where technological advancements continually redefine the human experience of urban spaces. With the advent of GPS platforms and self-driving cars with LiDAR technology based on real-time data, the traditional reliance on physical street signs has diminished. However, digital space suggests a new opportunity to transfer the lost vernacular language of the past into a digital archive accessible by any user.

My project seeks to bridge the gap between past and future by acknowledging forgotten history while enriching visual communication relating to Detroit’s urban landscape. This talk is expected to contribute to ongoing dialogues surrounding the intersection of technology, urban development, and visual communication, ensuring that the city’s rich heritage remains an integral part of its future trajectory.

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.3: Tenth Anniversary, St. John’s University (Hybrid) on Friday, June 7, 2024.

Fuzzy Modes, Clear Communication – Radio as a Process, Tool, and Language for Graphic Design

An experimental practice that bridges the gap between radio and design

Matthew Flores
Graphic Design Fellow, School of Design
University of Tennessee-Knoxville

How can you use an inherently non-visual and immaterial medium to generate, communicate, and disseminate ideas visually? This presentation will explore the first phase of an experimental practice that bridges the gap between radio and design – in particular, the use of “fuzzy modes”, a term coined by Murray Greenman (call sign ZL1BPU) to describe radio formats which employ digital transmission but human-readable reception.

Humans navigate a digital world with an analog toolbox of sense and perception, a fact made complicated when most contemporary methods of communication are intended to be read, interpreted, and translated by a computer. Fuzzy modes exist in the unusual space between machine and brain, leveraging technology for transport, but relying on a human user for interpretation. In practice, I express images and text through a variety of fuzzy modes (in particular, radio facsimile, Slow Scan TV, and Hellschreiber), allowing the idiosyncrasies of each form to become manifest in the message. In this way, noise and artifact highlight the literal and conceptual distance between broadcast and reception, and the act of transmission becomes a collaborative conversation between designer, medium, and receiver.

Transmitting visual information via fuzzy radio mode is full of contradiction: it’s non-visual by nature, yet produces a very particular graphic aesthetic; it’s immaterial, yet reception is bound by a specific physical space; it’s obsolete and niche, yet it creates an opportunity to interrogate our interaction with the digital world. Because of this unique position, I propose that adopting fuzzy modes as a tool for graphic production can refocus our relationship to digital interfaces, underscoring the importance of human perception when communication is necessarily mediated through technology. By turning my design practice fuzzy, I demonstrate that these techniques are more than a dusty set of protocols for ham radio operators, and can become a distinct and compelling means of graphic experimentation and expression.

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.3: Tenth Anniversary, St. John’s University (Hybrid) on Friday, June 7, 2024.

Federico: Embracing Outside Influences

A typeface modeled after the sign making practice of a solitary World War II veteran

Kyla Paolucci
Assistant Professor
St John’s University

Federico is a typeface modeled after the sign making practice of my grandfather, a solitary World War II vet who drafted his progressive philosophies in electrical tape for all those who passed his home. His practice employed humble materials to create hopeful messages despite his own economic poverty. I’ve recreated his methods with the tools readily available to me to design a spirited typeface that features a range of styles.

As a graphic designer and educator, I am intrigued by how ethnographic approaches to design can enrich commercial outcomes. By refocusing type design on analog practices, the materials used when creating work can reflect relational experiences and unveil new visual languages for future applications. Tape is an inexpensive material that is admired by many designers and my use is one of many recipes. Its properties enable diverse constructions across various contexts. As a tool for type design, characters are engineered rather than drawn, allowing for quick reconfiguration and expansion of weights and styles.

Type design has become more accessible over the years with free software and online instruction. Federico, however, is an analog process that must leverage desktop tools to exist in a predominantly digital market. Serving not only as a typeface, Federico is a system that connects me to my generational roots as a designer by embracing traditional methods while adapting to modern tools and technologies.

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.3: Tenth Anniversary, St. John’s University (Hybrid) on Friday, June 7, 2024.

Data in Motion: Storytelling with Data and Motion Graphics through a Graphic Design Practice & Pedagogy

Students were trained in preparing the dataset through cleaning and enriching it with other relevant metadata

Eugene Park
Associate Professor
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

This paper proposes a forward-thinking pedagogical approach that brings motion graphics into the practice of data visualization within a graphic design studio classroom. The intention behind this pedagogical approach is to address the need to effectively communicate complex data through visual narratives that enriches design research and practice with data literacy and storytelling.

At the heart of this exploration is a case study that tasked junior and senior graphic design students with creating a one minute video to explain a selected topic. Students had to utilize open source data published by government agencies and nonprofits. By working with these datasets, they were trained in preparing the dataset through cleaning and enriching it with other relevant metadata to enhance their intended narrative. In addition to using common analysis tools like Tableau, machine learning algorithms written in Python were also utilized for specialized datasets (i.e. textual data).

After the analysis stage, students proceeded to storyboard their animations using the graphs they generated. Along the way, they were challenged to design their scenes with the text-to-graph relationships in mind, and strategically plan out their scenes to optimize information retention and minimize cognitive overload. Afterwards, the final animations were created using After Effects. Due to the focus on the analysis, visualization, and animation, there wasn’t time to explore how sound can enhance the animated experience.

This project challenges graphic design students to engage in statistical analysis and apply dual-coding theory where both written text and accompanying images are utilized in creating an explanatory visualization. It also equips students with the skills and insights necessary to create clear, engaging, and informative visual narratives with both traditional practices and modern design tools. Ultimately, this reinforces the importance of graphic designers to expand visual communication beyond the static mediums in order to make complex information accessible.

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.3: Tenth Anniversary, St. John’s University (Hybrid) on Friday, June 7, 2024.

Mining for Ideas: Collaborative Collages as Spaces of Opportunity

A method founded in play and inspired by design history

Anna Jordan
Assistant Professor
Rochester Institute of Technology

I will present a method that I designed to help students and practicing designers come up with new and surprising ideas. The method, called “Mining for Ideas,” is grounded in collaboration and experimentation. It can be used in a classroom or design studio setting to effectively generate ideas about both form and concept. Designers begin with a collaborative collage game, involving an enormous selection of unconventional tools and materials, leading to spectacular sculptural creations. Each sculptural collage is altered by each designer, leading to truly collaborative pieces. Next, designers photograph the sculptures to create two-dimensional images that are mined for ideas, similar as to how a miner would chip away at earth to reveal valuable gems. Very quickly, designers generate many surprising ideas, each with corresponding examples of concrete design elements such as typography, grid, texture, color, and image. Then, the raw ideas are expanded into applied pieces of graphic design via a flexible morphology that is structured around these concrete design elements. The method is founded in play and inspired by design history precedent including my personal design practice, the Surrealists’ exquisite corpse drawing game, and Skolos-Wedell’s form-to-content method for designing posters. In this presentation, I will illustrate how the method works with several examples from my classroom, explain how the method could be applied to various design problems, and cite student interviews as evidence proving that the process is successful.

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.3: Tenth Anniversary, St. John’s University (Hybrid) on Friday, June 7, 2024.

Navigating Web Accessibility: Lessons Learned from a Community of Practice

The American Disability Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability, its website does not provide legal details on complying with US web accessibility laws, only suggestions.

Dannell MacIlwraith
Assistant Professor
Kutztown University

Our college dove deep into a Community of Practice (CoP) on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the 2022-2023 academic year. Higher education has embraced CoPs to encourage change and provide opportunities for faculty growth. They build community, enhance cross-discipline collaboration, promote new knowledge, and foster innovation among faculty. Our college asked faculty from different departments and majors to volunteer to meet monthly to discuss improving the DEI in one of their courses or a specific project. In my Interactive Design class, I investigated a website redesign project. My curiosity lay in how much students prioritized accessibility in their designs and their understanding of web accessibility. Our emphasis revolved around acquiring knowledge of practices and tools aiding user accessibility, evaluating internet connection speed, and catering to the needs of the visually impaired. These themes formed the focal points of our group discussions and research.

In the United Kingdom and Canada, web accessibility is required by law. In the United States, the American Disability Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability. Still, its website does not provide legal details on complying with US web accessibility laws, only suggestions. In the United States, class action suits for ADA violations are on the rise. In 2019, 2285 lawsuits were filed, an increase of 181% from the previous year. Most cases have been settled out of court, with companies agreeing to make the necessary changes to their website. My presentation will demonstrate how my research examined several of these lawsuits (including Netflix and Dominos) and how a better, more inclusive communication design would have avoided these problems.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are recommendations for making online content accessible and more inclusive. The advice is for websites to be:

  • perceivable,
  • operable,
  • understandable,
  • and robust.

In my presentation, I will detail how a Community of Practice (COP) facilitated my examination of our class project while guiding students to assess their designs using WCAG recommendations. For example, for a site to be understandable, users “must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface.” To maximize the understandability of text, designers should avoid using pure black (HEX #000000) for text, as it makes the eyes work harder due to the extreme contrast on a white background. Another example is being mindful of colorblind individuals and how websites would appear to anyone with a visual impairment.

I aim to illustrate to designers how minor design adjustments can significantly enhance a website’s inclusivity.

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.3: Tenth Anniversary, St. John’s University (Hybrid) on Friday, June 7, 2024.

Colloquium 10.3: Tenth Anniversary Edition June 2024, Call for Submissions

Call for design research abstracts. Deadline: Friday, April 26, 2024

Submission Deadline Extended: Friday, April 26, 2024.

Event date: Friday, June 7, 2024
Location: St John’s University, Manhattan Campus

We invite designers—practitioners, creators, and educators—to submit abstracts of design research, creative investigations, and productions. This is a hybrid event format. In-person will be located at St. John’s University, Manhattan Campus.

Double-blind peer-reviewed colloquium abstracts will be published online. Please review the articles, Quick Start Guide for Writing Abstracts and Writing an Academic Research Abstract: For Communication Design Scholars before submitting.

Accepted presentations will be videotaped by the researchers and published online on the Design Incubation channel which is due by Friday, May 10, 2024. A moderated discussion will be held virtually on Friday, June 7, 2024. We encourage all attendees to watch the videos in advance of the moderated discussion. This event is open to all people interested in Communication Design research.

Presentation format is Pecha Kucha.

For more details, see the colloquia details and description. Abstracts can be submitted online for peer review.