Theory and Practice

Much of the dialogue encountered to date sits within either practice or theory. Theorists talk about design, designing and the designed but don’t appear to use design. And, practitioners focus on the act of creating rather than documenting, understanding, or recording what they are doing. This research seeks to bridge the chasm between design theory and practice by adopting a bilingual (written and visual) approach to the research.


 A dialogical practice

The verbal and visual narrative act like a duet — at times one mode leads the communication and other times it is the union of the visual and verbal that produces clarity. There is never a perfect way — it is simply about creating space for different connections.

When I develop a visual and verbal narrative there is a constant dialogue between the two — sometimes the presentation inspires the narrative and other times it acts in reverse. The inner conversation supports the making — it’s discourse that adds a depth and richness to the making. This conversation is where practice shifts to praxis, and reflection to reflexivity.

Design Tensions

Actual Process----------------------Designed Process

Understanding Design

For many designers, the design process is loaded with tacit and implicit knowledge that serves their practice adequately. Explaining decisions to clients and teaching design at a University has pushed me to understand more explicitly the ambiguous nature of what we do.

As a design practitioner, I have an embodied sense of what it means to design. However, I wonder how the visual might help transform my tacit and implicit understanding of design into the explicit. I am not seeking to design a solution to this problem, but rather build an understanding of design through making. My research inquiry may be paradoxical given design is typically solution-seeking. I wonder if adding research after design shifts the solution-seeking orientation, to a study that’s inherently different?

Design processes from my experience are unique and dynamic so the act of determining what a design process looks like has its limitations. If this agility is a strength of design, how might visual explanations of what we do better reflect the emergent nature of design practice?  Reducing design processes to a static and easy to grasp diagram like the double diamond model from the Design Council is not my agenda. Nor is the development of a framework that walks individuals through a process. Following a predetermined process doesn’t automatically lead to well-designed outcomes, it simply embeds participants with an explicit understanding of a design thinking process. All that is determined has strengths and weaknesses and in the case of Designing Thinking we could say it helps us to better tackle wicked problems and communicate better with business, but it’s not all-encompassing of design, designing and the designed. 


‘The planet does not need more ‘successful people’. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people to live well in their places. It needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane and these qualities have little to do with success as our culture is the set.’

David Orr, Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World.

A formula of sorts (Co + Re + Un = In)

The first prefix is ‘Co’ which is to go about things in that way that is joint; mutual, common, together. It’s to cultivate a practice that sits within the community and in relation to community, in collaboration with others and in a way that’s open to continual change. Adding ‘co’ is essentially adding a layer of uncertainty.

Learning together
Codetermination / Co-design / Collaboration / Community / Coeducation /Coauthor / Coexist / Cooperate / Cohost / Coordinate

The second prefix is ‘Re’ to go about things once more, afresh, anew. Re can be about returning to a previous state or doing something in return or opposition. Re is about what comes behind or after. ‘Re’ will be used as a method to capture what might have been missed or forgotten in the moment. Moments of particular significance such as supervision meetings, post milestone discussions are of particular importance because processing what is said in the moment can be difficult. The act of returning to these moments provides the opportunity to relisten, transcribe, read, pause and critique what I or others said. Some instances will require me to delve even deeper such as transcribing audio and then summarising the conversation. By way of checking my understanding for accuracy the text  would be shared back in a form that could be altered. This means collectively we decide when to temporarily fix the record.

Revisiting what is fixed
Revisit Record / Relisten / Rewatch / Replay / Retest / Reshape / Reshare Recalibrate / Return / Review / Refine / Reactivate / Reaccustom / Revert / Restore / Reacquaint / Remain / Reexamine / Reenter / Reenact / Recover Reduce / Reuse / Repair

The third prefix is ‘Un’ which is to denote the absence of a quality or state or the reverse of something.  

Visiting the future
Uncertainty / Undisciplined / Unknown / Unlearn / Unacademic  / Unselfish / Unrepeatable / Unfocussed

The final is the preposition of ‘In’ which expresses the situation of something that is or appears to be enclosed, or surrounded by something else or an expression of a period of time during which an event, or happens or expressing the length of time before a future event is expected to happen.

Innovate / Include / Inclusive / Inbetween / Insitu / InVitro / InVivo / Ingredients Instructions / Interface / Intelligence

Audio Field Sequence 23/10/19

I imagine the page as a piece of music and the graphic elements as notes that create the tune. I know very little about music but conceptualising the page as sound brings the static to life.

When a layout isn’t working, I use this metaphor because it requires me to reconsider how the design principles and elements are used. I transfer this technique to other forms of design such as publication, interaction, exhibition and spatial design. Flow, rhythm and pace are fundamental to these areas of design, but they seem equally relevant in a learning context.

Experimenting with pace, intensity and styles of learning are fundamental to my teaching practice. However, I am curious to learn more about how these variables influence learning.

Figure 1.
The visual representation of audio from a WonderLab playdate. I don’t expect much to emerge from looking at just one instance; however, I am curious to see if patterns, relationships, correlations emerge over time. I wonder….

When are we loud and when are we quiet?
When do we go slow and when do we speed up?
Where is the contrast?
What is the hierarchy?
What is the relationship between white space and silence?
What if a lesson plan was visual?

Designing a research practice

Designing multi-modal learning experiences
Through visualisation, what can we learn about  multi-modal communication in pedagogy?

The research looks to build an understanding of multi-modal communication in practice by developing an accessible visual language that can replace or supplement speech and writing in teaching practice. The language will create a visual record of one’s current pedagogical practice, helping to provide perspective on the delivery modes. The documented visual scenarios provide one with the possibility to objectively review and reshape their practice through making.  The formal visual language will be future-thinking and use digital technology to move beyond the static nature of current ideographic languages.

The study seeks to deliberately adopt alternative ways of conducting, publishing and valuing research by moving beyond the text-centric approach common to academia. It appeals to my interest in subordinate ways of knowing by focusing on non-discursive processing. Additionally, the study seeks to develop inclusive learning experiences that speak to varied personalities and learning style preferences. 

I hope a design research lens will reveal blind spots in practice and help develop facilitator/learner competency in multi-modal communication. Insights from the research should help facilitators integrate different modes of communication more meaningfully into the curricular and their practice. Additionally, the knowledge gained reinforces the urgency to form multi-literacy collaborative partnerships that can communicate across a spectrum of channels.

The research will be practice-led and multi-method. Data will be expressed non-numerically and represented in forms other than words — this may include ideographic writing systems, data visualisation, animations, digital interactions and live action etc. (B. Haseman, 2006). The practice-led process will use design thinking methods and visual communication to disseminate research that is both accessible and engaging for communities beyond and within academia (Conquergood, 2002). 

The investigation will be rooted in design pedagogy; however, the knowledge generated will be transferrable to other disciplines and professional practice.