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.

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.