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.

Interdisciplinary Human-Centered Design Research – Overcoming Practical Challenges Before and During The Pandemic Time – A Pragmatic Approach to Design Education and Practice

A project to improve VA technology for veterans with spinal cord injuries

Sam Anvari
Assistant Professor
California State University Long Beach

This presentation proposal covers the practical approach and various pedagogical measures taken to form a team of fourteen students and two faculty from Graphic Design and Psychology to improve VA technology for veterans with spinal cord injuries. This multidisciplinary project is ongoing research between California State University Long Beach, the Spinal Cord Injuries and Disorders (SCI/D) Center at the Long Beach VA Hospital, and the device manufacturer, Accessibility Services, Inc. in Florida. The project’s goal is to improve the design usability of the Environmental Control Unit (ECU), which patients with SCI/D use to complete everyday tasks such as making a phone call, calling the nurse, controlling the TV, adjusting the bed, etc. The project started in 2019 by performing heuristic evaluations on the ECU device with a team of seven students and faculty from psychology, health science, and graphic design. Findings from this work identified system elements needing improvement for better user experience and visual interfaces design.

Despite the pandemic and its associated lockdown conditions, the research team successfully transitioned to the project’s next phase, design A/B testing, online. The faculty leaders scheduled virtual weekly meetings with the team and developed an alternative plan to continue the project. In 2020, students worked tirelessly to a digital prototype of the device that is accessible remotely online within the safe space of the home. The ECU device’s online prototype made it possible for the research team to apply design changes and prepare for remote user testing. In the meantime, the research team grew more extensive, with five students from the graphic design program, eight students from the Psychology Human Factors program, and another two students from the university’s undergraduate research opportunity program (UROP). This presentation will discuss various tools and methods for human-centered applied design and networking with the industry.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 8.2: Annual CAA Conference on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

Critical Making: Design and the Digital Humanities

Scholarship: Published Research Award Winner

Jessica Barness
Associate Professor, Kent State University
Amy Papaelias
Assistant Professor, SUNY New Paltz

Our special issue of Visible Language journal, “Critical Making: Design and the Digital Humanities” (vol. 49, no. 3) locates where, how, and why critical making is emerging and the scholarly forms it takes. Visible Language journal is the oldest peer-reviewed design journal in the world and is currently published by the University of Cincinnati.

The idea for this special issue grew out of a mutual interest in the ways critical making in design connects with humanistic inquiry, and how this might form a foundation for research by design faculty. We viewed the project broadly as a finding tool because we observed a shortage of resources for design scholars on this topic. Critical making is an emerging framework that serves as a means to integrate research activity and practice-based artifact. It situates studio-based design practices as scholarship in ways that augment existing theories of design authorship, production, and thinking. The findings that occur within these activities become the crux of the endeavor and may produce as much knowledge as the polished, finished product.

As editors of the issue, our responsibilities included writing and circulating the international call for papers, facilitating double-blind peer review processes within two disciplines (design, and the digital humanities) and designing the issue layout, including the development of text analysis and data visualizations. Rather than advocate for each discipline to borrow and build off the other in isolation, this issue aimed to serve as a shared space to affect synergistic research, practice, and education. It became a research project in itself and is ongoing.

Two challenges were encountered in this project. First, Visible Language is a journal of evidence-based research and we focused on scholarship that is often considered exploratory. This meant determining, for all submissions, what constitutes rigorous ‘evidence-based research’ in theoretical and speculative inquiry, and in effect, publishing articles to serve as models for work of that nature. Second, the issue needed to connect research within disciplines that have significant overlap yet are just beginning to formalize their commonalities. The final issue needed to represent new knowledge, and be peer-reviewed, at a transdisciplinary intersection.

The final issue was published in print (approximately 700 copies distributed) and online. The online distribution coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of Visible Language and launch of its new open access web site; as a result, our full issue was readily accessible to all visitors to the new site. The issue contains nine articles by an international group of authors, and these were organized into two areas that blurred disciplinary boundaries: Theories and Speculations (methods and systems to facilitate research), and Forms and Objects (publishing, prototyping, and hacking practices). These published works have the potential to critically impact the ways we read, write, play, imagine, and learn across disciplinary boundaries, and exemplify non-traditional academic research methods for design and digital humanities scholars. This project served as a catalyst for the AIGA DEC conference Converge: Disciplinarities and Digital Scholarship we co-organized (spring 2017) and has been referenced in various other venues (see outcomes PDF).

Jessica Barness is an Associate Professor in the School of Visual Communication Design at Kent State University. Her research resides at the intersection of design, humanistic inquiry, and interactive technologies, investigated through a critical, practice-based approach. She has presented and exhibited her work internationally at venues hosted by organizations such as the Design History Society, HASTAC, and ICDHS, and she has published research in Design and Culture, AIGA Dialectic, Spirale, Visual Communication, SEGD Research Journal: Communication and Place, and Message, among others. Recently, her interactive work has been on display in the traveling exhibition Édition, Forme, Expérimentation, curated by Collectif Blanc. She co-edited (with Amy Papaelias) a special issue of Visible Language journal, “Critical Making: Design and the Digital Humanities” and is a member of the organizing committee for AIGA Converge conference, June 2017. She has an MFA in Design from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

Amy Papaelias is an Assistant Professor in the Graphic Design program at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Presentations of her creative work and pedagogy at national and international venues include the Type Directors Club, Digital Humanities, Theorizing the Web, TypeCon, and the College Art Association. She has been involved with several digital humanities initiatives including One Week One Tool, and serves on the Advisory Boards of Beyond Citation (CUNY Graduate Center) and Greenhouse Studios (University of Connecticut). She co-edited (with Jessica Barness) a special issue of Visible Language journal, “Critical Making: Design and the Digital Humanities” and is a member of the organizing committee for AIGA Converge conference, June 2017. She co-authored a chapter (with Dr. Aaron Knochel) for Making Humanities Matters (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). She is a founding member of, a network for promoting the work of women in type, typography and the lettering arts.

Recipient of recognition in the Design Incubation Communication Design Awards 2017.