Forensic Abstraction in Israel/Palestine: the Graphic Representations of Bodies in Citizen Media

The forensic visual investigations, from a design research perspective, using B’Tselem video in Israel/Palestine

Liat Berdugo
Assistant Professor
University of San Francisco

What kinds of images spark social change? What kinds of images demand justice? Since 2013, Berdugo has been researching in the video archives of B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that distributes cameras to Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip and gathers the footage. A camera is given to a Palestinian with the conviction that “seeing is believing,” or that visual recordings will cause change to the sociopolitical order. Yet, in recent years, citizen media have been elevated not as visual evidence in and of themselves, but as material for advanced “visual” or “forensic” investigations by firms like Forensic Architecture, Bellingcat, and New York Times Visual Investigations. Such investigations amalgamate numerous citizen-recorded videos to create a final, forensically abstracted result that “proves” a human rights violation occurred. 

 This talk studies the forensic visual investigations using B’Tselem video in Israel/Palestine from a design research perspective, and specifically interrogates the graphic representation of Palestinian bodies in such investigations. For instance, Forensic Architecture frequently abstracts and instrumentalizes the images of Palestinian bodies for the task of synchronizing videos. Such visual abstractions both homogenize and erase Palestinian bodies from view — two key tactics utilized by the Israeli occupation to discredit and dehumanize Palestinians at large. However, such forensic abstractions also support the Palestinian appeal to the concept of a “pre-social body”—a body that exists before gender, nationality, ethnicity, race, class, age, or other social categories have marked it—as a means of access to human rights. In sum, this talk asks whether forensically abstracted images demand justice more vehemently than raw media. 

 This talk draws from Berdugo’s new book, The Weaponized Camera In the Middle East (Bloombsury/I.B.Tauris, 2021), for which a proposal was originally developed at a Design Incubation Fellowship in 2018.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.3: Florida Atlantic University on Saturday, April 10, 2021.

Visual Synthesis: Temporal and Expressive Exercises

Synthesis allows us to process qualitative research, investigate existing conditions, services, and experiences, and envision and orchestrate future frameworks.

Ann McDonald
Associate Professor
Northeastern University

Visual synthesis is one of the primary methodologies that designers use to analyze and understand human-centered research and make meaning. Synthesis allows us to process qualitative research, investigate existing conditions, services, and experiences, and envision and orchestrate future frameworks. Jon Kolko has long called attention to the critical and often under-valued role that design synthesis plays in human-centered design research.1 Experience and touch-point mapping models2 and narrative storyboard models3 have evolved to enable collection and synthesis of research observations regarding user experiences. But these templates and models do not fully engage the power of visual communication and information design to express evocative stories that read at multiple levels to best expose narratives, patterns, and relationships across time frames.

Design teams could benefit from the use of more rigorous information design methods to offer more nuanced representations of complex experiences that occur over varied time frames. We need to develop further diverse ways to represent complex services, shifts in points of view, narratives and time frames. This presentation will share in-progress pedagogical design explorations in three settings; 1) a STEM high school student half-day workshop introducing the value of design methods, 2) an entry-level undergraduate Design Process class and 3) a graduate-level Notational Systems for Experience design class exploring the use of information design strategies across multiple fields as a methodology for research synthesis and envisioning. In all three cases, in-class exercises were used to encourage students to experiment with the depiction of different time frames and expressively visualize data gathered in participation/observation of defined experiences occurring over time. Using a collaborative process of visual synthesis exposed multiple points of view, increased understanding, and offered insight into the value of visual artifacts in consensus building.

As designers, we need further study in how the process of prioritizing, editing, identifying relationships, forging connections and applying visual organization and hierarchy can help make explicit the importance of visual synthesis in the understanding and envisioning of conditions and frameworks for experiences. This work is part of a broader investigation of notational systems and historical and innovative mapping of experiences across multiple fields.

1 Kolko, Jon. Exposing the Magic of Design: A Practitioner’s Guide to the Methods and Theory of Synthesis. Oxford University Press, 2015.

2 Kalbach, James. Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams. O’Reilly Media, 2016.

3 Lupton, Ellen. Design Is Storytelling. Smithsonian Design Museum, 2017.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 5.3: Merrimack College on March 30, 2019.

Multi-modal Interface Design: Communicating Design Through Presentation and Review

Peter Lusch
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
College of Arts and Architecture
Penn State

Danielle Oprean
Post-Doctoral Research Scholar
Stuckeman Center for Design Computing
Penn State

Multi-modal visualization has long been considered important for design communication through representation and presentation, yet it has not been explored through an interface. In this presentation we discuss the outline for our test of use of a new interface designed to provide a multi-modal experience of design representations through the presentation and review processes. This interface is being developed for use in an immersive environments lab, a unique presentation space that allows for large-screen display and virtual reality. Before implementing a new interface, testing needs to be done to identify issues and perceptions of how well it works. We aim to test the feasibility of using a multi-modal interface with advanced-level undergraduate students in the design disciplines (architecture, landscape architecture, and graphic design) as a way for them to communicate design through presentation and review. In this presentation we talk about how usability testing allows for the results of actual use of an interface to feed back into improving the overall design. Specifically, we will provide an overview of our application of usability testing in design disciplines to address our hypothesis that being able to view different modalities of design representation at one time is more meaningful to communicate design both during presentation and in the review process. Success of the meaningfulness of the interface will be explored through the TAM model (Davis 1992) of usefulness, ease of use, and behavioral intention. We will also present the primary end point goals for this study, including our human factors study, and our self-report measurement of actual use of the multi-modal interface through questionnaires measuring usefulness, ease of use, and behavioral intention.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 3.3: Kent State University on Saturday, March 11, 2017.