Decipher 2018

Service Award Runner Up

Kelly Murdoch-Kitt, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan
Omar Sosa-Tzec, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

Decipher 2018 Design Educators Research Conference represented a significant effort to create an inclusive, equitable, and intersectional space that brought together students, educators, researchers, and practitioners to discuss and advance design research. Our nomination in the category of Service is for executing this vision of a hands-on, activity-oriented, inclusive design research conference. Decipher successfully brought together 228 people from 12 countries.

The conference was hosted at the University of Michigan’s Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design in September 2018. Decipher united two major and distinct design organizations: AIGA Design Educators Community in partnership and the DARIA Network (Design as Research in the Americas). Decipher 2018 was organized around five crucial themes of defining, doing, disseminating, supporting and teaching research in design disciplines.

To ensure participation from different types of designers with different levels of academic, industry, and/or research experience, we developed an innovative structure for the conference, which comprised the following modalities:

Activity Group: an intensive hands-on session in which all participants collaboratively discuss and ideate on a specific topic to discover emergent themes and issues, develop best practices and guidelines, and gather resources.

Conversation: a relaxed environment to allow participants to discuss the intersection of facilitators’ and participants’ interests through the lens of the conference topics as well as the AIGA 2025 trends (now Design Futures).

Workshop: a more traditional learning session in which one or more facilitators lead participants to engage in a topic within the conference themes. As in a classroom environment, workshop facilitators had specific learning outcomes in mind for participants and were expected to lead the entire session (in contrast to the more collaborative activity group or conversation formats).

Besides these three participation modalities, the Decipher conference included a poster session of research work, a graduate student colloquium, and provided several spaces for networking and discussion.

*Motivation*

People interpret the word design in many ways; when research is added to the mix, the ambiguity increases. Although research has become a critical component of most design faculty’s tenure and promotion requirements, the design research issues addressed at Decipher are still rarely discussed and often misunderstood. Due to a dearth of research discussion and pedagogy in most MFA and similar terminal degree programs in the design disciplines, some experts estimate that close to 90% of those currently teaching design in the U.S. have little or no background in research.

By instigating conversations around these issues, Decipher aimed at causing a ripple effect to advance research agendas for the approximately 11,500 (full- and part-time) university-level design educators in the U.S. Thus, Decipher convened design researchers, practitioners, and educators at all stages in their careers to explore the fusions of research and practice through the ways we accomplish, talk about, and teach design research.

*An Inclusive Submission Process*

We offered a number of submission and participation formats to engage people at different stages and degrees of comfort with design research. Each Decipher attendee submitted one of two types of written contributions: the first was for facilitators, those interested in leading an engaging session for conference attendees around a particular design research subject; the second was for participants, those who wanted to be involved in sessions while bringing a particular research interest into discussions among all attendees.

During the conference, Decipher provided a digital draft of the proceedings that included all facilitators’ and participants’ submissions in order to guide session selection and promote conversations and networking during the conference. Likewise, everyone at the conference, including keynotes, facilitators, and participants had their headshots and biographical descriptions included on the conference website. Due to the democratic nature of our submission process, we wanted these final proceedings to be a permanent record of the various voices of Decipher 2018.

The conference regarded all contributions, regardless of length, of equal value. Because publication is a critical component of academic research, we did not want to restrict publication opportunities to session facilitators alone, as is customary with most other academic conferences. Therefore, the final proceedings, to be published by Michigan Publishing, will include the juried written submission from participants and facilitators alike. In the spirit of equanimity. The forthcoming proceedings will be available online as an open-access publication, and in a print-on-demand format.

Decipher also supported equity and inclusion by offering 10 Scholarships for attendees who identified with backgrounds historically underrepresented in academia. After we conceived of these scholarships, we advocated for them, and obtained funding to support them from Stamps School of Art & Design. We hope that these scholarships will establish a new precedent for future design education and research conferences.

*What we accomplished*

Compared to similar conferences (e.g. Cumulus, A2RU, Design Research Society), Decipher broke the mold with its immersive, hands-on teaching and learning experiences rooted in the five conference themes. We asked facilitators to make all sessions accessible to a wide range of expertise, and did not assume that all attendees came with high levels of design research experience. We also asked them to make the sessions engaging in order to motivate and excite people to engage with design research more deeply while teaching them different ways to foster exchange of ideas and knowledge. This requirement made the sessions not passive as it usually occurs in traditional academic conferences.

Our PDF expands on this overview and includes images and links to additional supporting resources, such as an outcomes video documenting the attendee experience.

Kelly Murdoch-Kitt, Assistant Professor, Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Michigan

Prof. Murdoch-Kitt is drawn to design through her keen interest in people, systems, and interpersonal interactions. She strives to create effective, socially responsible, and delightful concepts and solutions. Her work and teaching integrate visual communication, interaction, user experience, and service design with behavior change and social engagement. Her current research, in partnership with Prof. Denielle Emans of VCU School of the Arts Qatar, examines and develops design-based methods and tools to promote effective intercultural collaboration, and how related tangible activities and outcomes increase trust and commitment in digital interactions. Murdoch-Kitt and Emans recently coauthored Intercultural Collaboration by Design: Drawing from differences, distances, and disciplines through visual thinking. This book of design-based methods that support intercultural communication and collaboration will be published by Routledge in Spring 2020.

Omar Sosa-Tzec, Assistant Professor, Stamps School of Art and Design, University of Michigan

Omar Sosa-Tzec holds a Ph.D. in Informatics with a focus on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Design, a MDes in Information Design, and MSc in Computer Science. Prof. Sosa-Tzec has been involved in design practice, teaching, and research for more than a decade. His research lies at the intersection of HCI, Information Design, Semiotics, Rhetoric, Argumentation, and Happiness Studies. Within this space, Prof. Sosa-Tzec studies how the hedonic and eudaimonic qualities of interactive and informational design products shape people’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. At Stamps, Prof. Sosa-Tzec teaches Studio 2D, Methods of Creative Inquiry, Sign and Symbol, and Information Design. His practice focuses on communication design, information design, and interaction design.

Portraits of Obama: Media, Fidelity, and the 44th President

Scholarship: Creative Work Award Winner

Kareem Collie
Lecturer
Harvey Mudd
Stanford University

“In a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter…information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.” -Obama

President Obama made this statement in May 2010, during one of his most tumultuous years in office— healthcare reform, financial reform, the BP oil spill … the list continues. The notion of being bombarded by media is not a new one. This idea was discussed often during the last half of the 20th century, as television became ubiquitous in American life. The proliferation of media content, voices, and audiences (specifically in relationship to news content) continue to grow and reach into every aspect of our lives through 21st century media tools and channels. The discourse on media and its impact on society continue to call for scrutiny, and as Obama says, it continues to put “new pressure on our country and on our democracy.”

Using Obama as a prism, I examine the culture of American mass media, examining the fidelity of news content amongst the ever-growing, ever-fragmenting, modern media landscape. I investigate the audience’s active engagement in the construction of their relationship to reality, the flawed nature of news makers and their perceptions of the world, and offer an alternative narrative approach to the construction of the self.

I approach this essay through the convention of narrative and visual communication. I discuss narrative as a mechanism of our individual cognition and cultural engagement, allowing for personal and collective understanding of the world around us. The tools of visual communication design are used to reframe the discussion of today’s 24/7 media environment, hoping to step outside of the “wolf’s gullet,” using the tools that help coat its lining.

My hope here is three-fold: (1) Using President Obama as an example, I wish to examine and illuminate the current role of media in our lives, (2) reframe the discourse of media and the active nature of the audience through the use of visual communication design, to pose new questions and answers and (3) present an alternative means of finding our sense of self within the deluge of media today.

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Kareem Collie is a lecturer at Harvey Mudd College and Stanford University. He is a design professional, with over fifteen years of experience designing, directing, and leading projects in branding, advertising, interactive, and creative strategy. His collaborative and leadership skills span across diverse areas of the industry, from the boardroom to the classroom.

Kareem is also a lifelong learner and educator, with a decade of experience teaching design and design thinking. His research interests are visual communications, design thinking, narrative, audience reception, and media theory.

As a deep thinker, visual storyteller, and maker, Kareem endeavors to inject more critical thinking and intentionality into the creative process, a notion that drives both his practice and pedagogy.

 

Science Rules: Why Design Research Needs Scientific Research Classifications

Dennis Cheatham
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
Graduate Director, Experience Design MFA
Miami University

The multifaceted nature of design means that research activities related to it are difficult to define. For design researchers, educators, students, and practitioners, new knowledge production can look more like creative or scholarly activity than fact-finding research. In order to more effectively categorize these research activities to be shared inside and outside design, I propose that categorizations of “basic, applied, and clinical” research, common in the sciences, could be valuable for clarifying design research activities and outcomes.

In this presentation, I will specifically focus on the value of basic, applied, and clinical categorizations for framing student and faculty members’ research in design. I will address how these three categorizations can frame designing activities whose “creative” or “scholarly” formats don’t always align with popularly held research definitions, though they produce new knowledge. For design educators and students, the basic, applied, and clinical categorizations can effectively frame research efforts to review boards, promotion and tenure committees, and potential employers.

I will also address how the basic, applied, and clinical categorizations enable designers to more clearly communicate their work outside of design disciplines. The popularity of the design thinking movement has involved designers in social initiatives—concerned with stakeholder experiences as well as the design of products. As design expands and is associated with words like leading, planning, making, thinking, and researching, clearly communicating impacts of various design practices to uninitiated audiences can be challenging. I will share how these science-based categorizations can help improve clarity because they are established, yet they still remain flexible enough to represent design as it continues to be applied in new ways.