Mapping the terrain

Deciding where to begin the research journey is complex and particularly challenging when the areas of interest don’t appear to relate. The readings set for the Research Methods unit have acted as provocations, prompts and created a space to consider the practice of research and research as practice. Prior to commencing the research, it has provided a buffer — and prompted me to inquire how looking within and beyond the practice of design can add depth. Critical thinking prior to commencing the research has helped clarify the research purpose and the ontology brought to the research.

The research now explicitly acknowledges the inquiry is contained in the field of design — thus understanding the role design plays in the research and practice seems crucial. The starting point should centre around design so that the foundation of the research doesn’t rely on assumptions or ambiguous understandings of the role it plays. This new understanding requires me to shift the start line of my research to understand who in the design space is emphasising the importance of process and mindset. Through a contextual review, I’ll be asking the basic why, who, when, where, what and how questions. The research looks to fill a gap in design education by attending to the cracks and neglected spaces within the current ecosystem.

The belief there is a gap in knowledge is the crux of the research. However, what initiated the research was ultimately a hunch based on my experience as a student, practitioner, educator and through discussions with colleagues at the Design Academy of Eindhoven, the Netherlands and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (KADK) in Denmark. This quick review is by no means extensive, so ultimately it requires a comprehensive ‘contextual review in order to uncover tangible gap in knowledge’ (Gray, 2004). Passion planted a seed for the research but in order to formally begin the contextual review, confidence in the direction is needed.

Clarification of the research has come through an ongoing practice of creating diagrams to express my ideas. This practice of visualising ideas and language is something designers intuitively do. Nigel Cross refers to this as ‘designerly ways of knowing and thinking — which is the understanding of the design process through understanding design cognition’ (Cross, 2006). In many instances, the diagrams are the source of an idea and provide evidence of where the thought originated. For me, the most useful diagrams are the ones that formalise a thought as it happens, or those that create a platform for new ideas to branch off — these diagrams tell stories by presenting just a snippet within a sequence of moments. Figure 3, 4 & 5 illustrate a string of ideas around interactions between researchers and participants. This approach ‘sets up a different relationship with the research problem which drives the research study’. (Haseman, 2006).

Dwight Conquergood’s paper Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research claims that ‘the dominant ways of knowing in the academy is that of empirical observation and critical analysis from a distanced perspective: knowing that, and knowing about’. (Conquergood, 2002). His text questions how we situate ourselves within the research e.g., do we choose to take a top-down approach or one ‘grounded in active, intimate hands-on participation and personal connection’. (Conquergood, 2002). This notion of distance and perspective is linked to how we conduct research and calls our attention to the fact that the researcher’s behaviour influences the study. It is through words Conquergood prompts us to consider how we are located in the study, but these questions can be asked in other ways. For example, the diagrams (figure 3, 4, 5) created at the Palm Springs WonderLab intensive question the dynamics established between researchers and participants. The diagrams act as prompts and provocations — nothing more and nothing less. They provide an objective way to view relational hierarchies. The varied heights are not prescriptive but could suggest attributes that may influence e.g., power, knowledge, age etc.

R = Researchers   / P = Participants

Figure 3. Sequence One

Figure 4. Sequence Two

Figure 5. Sequence Three


As a practice-based researcher, I acknowledge that utilising established diagrammatic approaches to visualising research may reveal other epistemological ways. In Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences: Research in an Age of Info-glut, Kristin Luker proposes the bedraggled daisy diagram to capture search terms for the literature review. The original purpose of this diagram is to uncover combinations of search terms which may be have been previously overlooked eg. learning communities and modality, or learning communities and mindset. The Thesis Whisperer indicates this type of diagram aide is particularly useful in the initial stages of a research project. However, in the case of my project, the bedraggled daisy diagram in Figure 6 propels my research into the distance. Searching for literature based on this diagram would be like putting the cart before the horse. In other words, it fast-tracks the research into looking for a solution, rather than first identifying the problem or a tangible gap in knowledge.

Figure 6.

It prompts the question, are maps the means of materialising the immaterial and a way of simplifying complexity into something which is accessible? If so, the bedraggled daisy approach at this stage does little to guide the research forward. At this stage centring the initial contextual review around design, pedagogy seems most relevant. Figure 7 demonstrates an alternative to the bedraggled daisy above and provides a more logical foundation for the initial contextual review.

Figure 7.

Such diagrams capture thoughts and help me locate myself within the research. They also document moments in flux, where connections are both breaking and making.

‘Visualizing Research takes you on a journey through the research process, helping you to draw your own map, negotiate the challenges of your studies and reach a meaningful, fulfilling destination’. (Gray, 2004). However, the process of charting or mapping the research journey should ultimately provide clarification and not a distraction. John Maeda in The Laws of Simplicity articulates ‘finding an organisation scheme that works best for you is a wise investment’ (Maeda, 2006).

Using Maeda’s technique of organising information through a process called ‘SLIP: Sort, Label, Integrate, Prioritise’ could provide greater clarity than a more complex visualisation such as 3D matrix diagram (Figure 9, 10) or a fluid method such as the mind map (Maeda, 2006). The organisation of research fields using Maeda’s ‘SLIP’ method can be seen in Figure 8 below.

Figure 8.

Figure 9. 3D Matrix (Gray, 2014)


Figure 10. Example only. Visual representations can both confuse or clarify the purpose. They help one to locate themselves within the research while they should not ‘give the impression that space is a surface’ (Massey, 2005).

The map always presents a restricted view and is never be absolute — it is a suggestion of an incomplete space — as space itself is always a multiplicity of things and half-formed encounters. Space is ‘always in the process of being made. It can never be finished; never closed. Perhaps we could imagine space as a simultaneity of stories-so-far’ (Massey, 2005). A map can only ever capture a moment or be a slice of something bigger. How can a map tell a story that reaches beyond just that moment in time, or how could it become a ‘representation of space and time’? (Massey, 2005). How could a visual representation always be in the process of being made, and encompass the multiplicity of happenings — places, people, communities, encounters etc. Massey is continually inviting us to question how might the reimagining of space and time affect the way we engage with it.

The readings in Research Methods in particular Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research by Dwight Conquergood and A Manifesto for Performative Research by Brad Haseman call for greater diversity in how we conduct, publish and value research. They call for research to shift beyond a text-centric approach to accommodate other modes of knowing. In Dwight’s paper, he refers to Kenneth Burke’s argument ‘that print-based scholarship has built-in blind spots and a conditional deafness’ — such sentiments resonate, however, the contribution ‘text’ makes to knowledge is undeniable and Dwight himself clearly articulates that ‘textocentrism — not texts — is the problem’. (Conquergood, 2002).

Dwight Conquergood suggests another way of reimagining the visualisation of knowledge; ‘Transgressive travel between two different domains of knowledge: one official, objective, and abstract — the map; the other one practical, embodied and popular — the story’ (Conquergood, 2002). The suggestion of travelling between different domains is most interesting, and something to explore during subsequent phases of the research.

To conclude, the research aims to acknowledge different ways of knowing. The methodology will largely be practice-based research, however, it is hyper-aware that it should not rely on a narrow range of formulations. To serve as reminder practice-based research should not ‘assume; (i) the innovative nature of practice-led research; (ii) that its novelty is based in opposition to other research methods; (iii) that practice is intrinsically research, often leading to tautological formulations; and (iv) the hyper-self-reflexive nature of practice-led research’. (McNamara, 2012).


Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. Berkley: University of California Press. 1969.

Cross, Nigel. Designerly Ways of Knowing. London: Springer, 2006.

Conquergood, Dwight. ‘Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical Research 1. The Drama Review 46, no. 2 (2002): 145-56.

Gray, Carole. Visualizing Research: A Guide to the Research Process in Art and Design. Visualising Research, edited by Julian Malins. Burlington: Ashgate, 2004.

Haseman, Brad. “A Manifesto for Performative Research.” Media International Australia 118, no. 1 (2006): 98-106.

Hattie, John and Zierer, Klaus. 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning: Teaching for Success. Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2018.

Maeda, John. The Laws of Simplicity. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2006.

Massey, Doreen B. For Space. London: Thousand Oaks, 2005.

McNamara, Andrew E.  Six rules for practice-led research. Journal of Writing and Writing Courses, pp. 1-15. (2012)

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