WEEK 7: Lecture Notes – Research as a Graphic Designer

How do I approach research as a graphic designer?

At first glance at this question I found myself frustrated – how do I approach research as a designer? I think this frustration came from the idea of my initial thoughts around the word “research”. Research seems like a very mindful and thought out act of doing – something time consuming and scientific, steering away from the creativity and innate reflexes and craftsmanship that we all develop as designers.

As my peer mentioned, “personally I consider research a means to an end or expansion of curiosity, more of an activity of life.” “I agree, I research without even thinking about it – everything I read, watch, listen to, everything I take in is adding to or changing my opinion or thoughts about something!”

This subconscious consumption of research is so innate as a designer – we are constantly looking at the aesthetic around us, drawing inspiration from our world around us as well as the design we come across. Something this made me think of is how much design we are always consuming – as noted last week in my piece, walking down that familiar street I found hundreds of examples of design in all forms – menus in the window, shop fronts, street signs. All of these things have been designed by someone before me, and I am shaped by it without trying.

inundated with advertising. subliminal research.

I’ve found that academic language can be a barrier to understanding – as I say, even the term research seems to hold a weight that at first felt irrelevant to what I do – however after the lecture which I found incredibly interesting, I found myself thinking differently.

The papers I read following the lecture I also found myself thinking differently, if not slightly overwhelmed by the sheer content. 

Regarding the lecture, I found the word “curiosity” to be the most relevant, and I found the question “what is my approach to knowledge” really thought provoking. I wonder about who “knowledge” is for – whilst the term research can feel solely for the academic, knowledge is something that everyone gathers, like moss on a rock, yet the active pursuit of knowledge is different. The philosophy section of this lecture fascinated me, and I spent a lot of time wondering if I was a rationalist or an empiricist.

I think I approach most things in life as an empiricist, with curiosity about the sense of experience, and how perception starts the process for me as a designer. However, I would then argue whilst my ideas and understanding of concepts start from an empiricist view, once I begin a task I am much more into the rationalist way of thinking – what are the tools of the trade, what are the industry best practice, what do we know already about the topic and how can I play with this. I treat all of my work in this way – as a craft that has rules and principles, that are then played with within the boundaries of the work whilst maintaining traditional techniques.

Something that struck me by the end of the first lecture was what we did before the internet – research has evolved as access to an education has been made more broad, which I think has added a huge amount of previously unheard perspectives to the body of research in design.

The second part of the lecture about the cabinet of curiosities was interesting in the idea that an object changes its meaning once the context is lost or purposefully hidden. It made me reflect on my visit to the Wellcome Collection and consider how beautifully science and art blend and play with each other, to create both informative and at times disturbing views of the everyday.

I would like to end on a quote from one of my favourite authors regarding research becoming too enmeshed within the design process and not using your empiricist brain on what you already know:

“The scholar’s greatest weakness: calling procrastination research.”

  • KING, S. (2011). 11/22/63: a novel. New York, Scribner.