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Posted 15 October 2012

In: 701 Methodologies Seminar

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Our mid-term assignment for this course was to put together a five to seven minute audio-visual presentation describing our research findings on our topics. My research and presentation are on Graphic Design as a Profession, a topic which has interested me for some time now.

We are to self-assess our efforts using the following criteria to benchmark our performance: topic introduction, tone, vocabulary, visual design, presentation flow and timing. It is always difficult and awkward to self-assess your assignments, so all I can do is provide my own perspective of how the presentation came to be.

Initially, I was pretty unsure of how the flow of the presentation would unfold, so I decided to answer three simple questions: 1. what is graphic design? 2. what is a profession? and 3. is graphic design a profession? As I move to taking a personal position on the topic, I will undoubtedly need to add a fourth and possibly even a fifth question, but for the purposes of this assignment, these three questions allowed me to focus on some of the research conducted so far.

With the primary questions in place, I then proceeded to explain several of my findings, but I quickly realized that seven minutes was simply not enough time to go into any amount of detail on the topics. I was forced to greatly limit the amount of information presented, and instead opted to touch only on a couple of highlights.

The tone of my presentation is casual and comfortable. Presenting in front of an audience has never been a challenge when I truly know the material, so I made sure that the material was fresh in my mind as I started recording. I discovered, however, that my pacing needed to get faster to meet the time constraints, so I re-recorded the presentation several times until I was able to present the material in under seven minutes.

As far as the visual presentation, I wanted it to be engaging and helpful in reinforcing the message, rather than re-stating it, and I feel that I was able to accomplish just that.

All in all, I feel the presentation was successful – if not a bit rushed. But I guess, in the end, seven minutes really is plenty of time.

The first assignment of this course was to define graphic design in our own words, without doing any research or digging through other materials. While the idea of defining an entire profession is a bit daunting, I came up with the following definition:

graphic design is a vocational discipline in which a designer visually informs and/or persuades a viewer, often in relation to specific communication efforts (marketing-related or otherwise).

Five weeks later we are to re-address the original definition we posted now that we have had the opportunity to focus a little more on research, and have had some more background as to what other conversations have discussed on the topic. Going back to my original definition, I see several parts I would like to re-address.

First, I would like to narrow my focus a bit from the previous attempt. When coming up with the previous definition, I defined graphic design in broader terms, almost devoid of my own personal biases and opinions on what it is. I would now like to refine the words ‘vocational discipline’ to ‘profession.’

Now this simple change can prove to be controversial, since by the strictest definitions of what constitutes a profession, graphic design doesn’t exactly qualify. Not to mention that this very debate has been going on for years, without any real resolution. But, for my own definition, I think it is appropriate to call it a profession.

Secondly, I would change ‘informs and/or persuades’ to ‘communicates, informs and persuades’ as I think informing/persuading feels too narrow.

Thirdly, I’d change the word ‘viewer’ to ‘audience,’ as I now understand that there are different types of audience for the communication a designer produces.

And finally, I’d like to completely re-address the last portion of my definition, currently stated as ‘often in relation to specific communication efforts (marketing-related or otherwise)’ and instead focus on what graphic design is meant to do. So, the updated definition looks more like this:

graphic design is a profession in which a designer communicates, informs and persuades an audience by adding context, clarity and insight to business and social communications challenges.

In many ways, I believe this new definition captures a slightly narrower view of what graphic design is, though it still remains broad in the practical applications of the profession. I’m sure it will change yet again in the next five weeks. Stay tuned.

Posted 9 October 2012

In: 701 Methodologies Seminar

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While doing some research on design education, I stumbled across a TED lecture by Sir Ken Robinson from 2006 in which he argues that education systems worldwide are effectively and ‘ruthlessly’ killing creativity. In this wonderfully engaging and intelligent discussion, Sir Robinson states that the world’s education systems do not teach students how to be wrong, and argues that “if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” He expresses his concern that creativity and ‘the arts’ are always the subjects held in the lowest regard and importance, particularly when compared to math, science and other liberal arts. He further proposes that it is now time for creativity to have the same status, importance and regard as literacy.

I feel like Sir Robinson’s observations are spot-on. One of the most intriguing things I observe in children is their complete lack of self-censoring when it comes to drawing. If you hand a toddler a crayon and ask that toddler to draw a portrait of their mother, the toddler will immediately scribble something on the paper with no preconceptions or preoccupation that the portrait may not be perfect. They will just draw, uncensored, un-emcumbered by the notion of correct or incorrect. In contrast, if you hand a crayon to an adult and ask for a portrait, it is extremely likely that you will hear an excuse like “oh, I don’t know how to draw.” Or, “oh boy, all you’re gonna get is a stick figure.” To me, this is a perfect example of what being afraid to make a mistake looks like, and it is something that we are trained to do. As Sir Robinson says “children don’t grow out of creativity, they are educated out of it.”

Posted 4 October 2012

In: 701 Methodologies Seminar

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Saturate and Group Method
This method of design thinking focuses on transforming a physical space and saturating it with visuals, thoughts and ideas pertaining to the question being researched. This saturation of ideas can help uncover new and unexpected connections and associations between concepts, which may, in turn, become unique solutions to the problem at hand. This method could be considered a type of physical (and collaborative) concept map where grouped ideas can reveal direct or indirect links with other idea groups.

I have experienced a handful of times where a similar method was used to explore extended branding and marketing campaigns with multiple media components, though the method was not used for research purposes, but rather for idea generation and consistency in brand message. By saturating our walls with ideas and visual explorations, the team was encouraged to provide feedback, critiques and ideas throughout an extended period of time (vs. a one hour ideation session, for example). It also encouraged other co-workers who were not in the team to offer feedback, and in many instances, inconsistencies and missed opportunities often rose to the surface.

I am eager, however, to implement this method to research the design problem instead of just for ideation, as I can see how it can provide great value and answers much earlier in the creative process. It seems like it would be a really good way of taking into account more of the surrounding context to a design problem, which could enrich the solution by helping the designer empathize with the user more easily.

Composite Character Profile
This method is a collection of characteristics, behaviors, features and traits from a number of individuals that are then synthesized into a single, fictional character (a stereotype of sorts) to better understand a particular user segment. These character profiles (a.k.a. personas) are often given a name, a face and even a story describing what a day in the life of this person could look like. Multiple personas are often created, each detailing a particular user segment, which helps researchers gain a quick (though generalized) understanding of the audience.

In my own career, I have used this method multiple times to keep the design problem focused on the user, and not the client’s or our own perspective. It is a great tool to gain a better understanding of the surrounding factors that may affect an individual’s decision directly or indirectly, and I find it particularly useful when designing for interactive experiences (i.e. websites).

The process (at least in my case) starts with a series of individual and group interviews of the people we believe will use the product. These include the main stakeholders (usually executives), various internal groups or departments (e.g. hr, sales, distribution), current customers, past customers, potential customers and sometimes even vendors. The interviews focus on understanding a ‘day-in-the-life’ of the interviewee more so than on the design problem we are asked to solve. We then take the notes and findings of those interviews and find common patterns of behavior, which we use to guide the creation of the persona document. Each persona will be given a name and ‘identity’ of sorts, so that when we are discussing a particular challenge, we can remember that we are designing for “Bob,” a real human being with real needs.

In my experience, it is a fantastic tool – though costly to implement (as is any research component). However the benefits of going through the process far outweighs any cons.

Posted 1 October 2012

In: 701 Methodologies Seminar

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As I’ve been gather sources for my paper on what the graphic design profession looks like today, Professor Abadie suggested I look into Marshall McLuhan’s thoughts on medium. It didn’t take long to find articles, essays and videos on McLuhan’s theories – and it especially didn’t take long to discover that his views were not always understood or well-received. So, naturally, I had to dig a little deeper to get a better understanding of why this figure’s ideas would influence the graphic design profession today.

It is in his most influential book, Understanding Media: The Extension of Man (1964), that McLuhan first coins the phrase “the medium is the message,” which at first glance is both deceiving and profound. It takes a bit more study (and I have a lot of studying to do on the subject) to get a more clear understanding of what he means.

In essence, and as far as I have managed to understand so far, McLuhan places a great deal of importance on the medium, with seemingly little regard for ‘content’ or ‘message.’ He goes as far as saying that the message is unimportant, inconsequential even – at least in relation to the medium. But what does he mean by all this? I believe that what McLuhan was referring to is that the medium (i.e. television, radio, print, computers) should be our main focus of research, because our understanding of the consequences and effects of media on society as a whole is much too limited and under-valued. McLuhan was convinced that the medium would so greatly change and affect society, that the message(s) it delivers are inconsequential in comparison – and, frankly, I agree with his assertion (to a degree, but that’s for another post).

What does all of this have to do with the graphic design profession? I haven’t been able to formulate my thoughts enough around this to express them here in any manner of cohesiveness, but I can see how taking a much broader view of graphic design as a medium and its effects on society, would open up a whole new realm of interesting avenues to explore and research. I am eager to learn more about McLuhan and his work.

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