Planning an uncomfortable journey

My experience as a designer, learner, educator and researcher shows me that a linear process can be an indication you are treading a path travelled before. Travelling the same path can be reassuring. So how can we walk the path with fresh eyes, always curious, alertly watching for a different image to emerge? How can we build confidence and trust to embrace what is unfamiliar and see what we’ve previously overlooked?

My aim on this research journey is to ensure it is playfully uncomfortable, avoid predefined paths and do everything to ensure the journey isn’t boringly linear. It is to see the relationship between process and outcome as cyclical.

This means with each new task I set I aim to consciously incorporate methods, tools and techniques which are unfamiliar and aim to embrace them with like an improviser does on stage.


If we look long enough the story is always bound to change — that’s just one message I take from experiencing the James Turrell piece Backside of the Moon — this experience was discussed in the original Blind Spot presentation.

Working with the unknown

To consciously keep the research journey uncomfortable I seek out new ways to explore ideas. For example, The Balance as Bias post looks to disrupt the way I approach diagrammatic sketching by adding time to the equation — it also reminds me vividly of how challenging the learning process can be when everything feels unfamiliar. Additionally, I am experimenting with different writing styles to see how my ideas are best articulated.

It requires trust, patience, perseverance and time to travel paths not traversed before.

Diagrammatic Sketching

The WonderLab research space has helped me see some of the tacit methods I employ. Using diagrammatic sketching is a method I use to help me interpret what others are saying. It also creates space to visualise the unimagined and generate understanding. Visualising the invisible provides clarity and structure and prepares a path for me to move forward. For example, I’ll often visualise the shape of a page and then generate the words to match the shape. Or on a micro level drawing the shape of a word might help me to remember how it is spelt.

Action and contemplation

Attending to a task can be done through a combination of conscious and unconscious activities. Consciously, would be the deliberate act of drawing, reading or writing as a way of directly attending to the brief, and unconsciously would be the contemplation that occurs whilst carrying out everyday activities such as walking, listening to music etc. As I become more confident with my practice I am able to use unconscious methods more deliberately. This approach may seem haphazard but there is an informal structure that lies beneath e.g., it begins with divergent thinking and experimentation and as the deadline nears convergent thinking takes the lead.

Mental preparation and organisational strategies

Like any designer we bring ‘certain organising principles to a problem from the outset’, and for me, this involves mental preparation. (Cross p.21, 2011). In the case of preparing for DRaW I create a multipage blank template — perhaps this is akin to an artist preparing a canvas. Populating the template with content is how I build my understanding and form the narrative. Initially, there is no clear order to the content and ideas. I aim to work sequentially, but this rarely transpires. Typically there is no clear beginning, middle or end, just ideas that will later be reordered, removed or manipulated. The story is formed through the practice. Similar to sketching constructing the presentation is a means ‘of imaging, imagining or discovering something that cannot be constructed in the mind alone’. (Cross, 2011).

Invitation to speak at Draw #5 on Creative Research Methods

The task to speak about creative research methods for Design Research and Writing (DRaW #5) at Monash University, required me to understand the methods I employ and articulate them to an audience. Preparation for the session enabled me to develop a deeper understanding of my practice through practice. Composing a visual narrative in the form of a presentation was a way to transform my implicit understanding of creative research methods into explicit knowledge. Visualising the intangible, articulating my thoughts and facilitated discussion post presentation all served to affirm that the mixed method approach I employ is a creative research method.

It was suggested that I present something I’d previously shown called Blind Spot. However, I choose not to represent this narrative as it didn’t explicitly address the session theme. In this case of DRaW #5 the main requirements were;

– focus on Creative Research Methods
– discuss your experience with the topic for approximately 10 minutes
– respond to questions and participate in an expanded discussion lead by the moderator
Note: It doesn’t specify a slideshow presentation is required.

From the onset, the task to speak at DRaW may appear relatively straight forward, e.g., prepare a visual narrative and articulate this to the audience. This approach takes for granted knowledge acquired from seeing examples from previously attending DRaW, and it also assumes that the slideshow framework is appropriate and relevant.

Questioning is how I respond to any brief — I use this approach to acknowledge the defined and the ambiguous, and ultimately it helps add breadth and depth to the task.

Searching for the unspecified

Producing the unexpected is the designer’s task according to many. We are asked to reach beyond the brief and develop innovative solutions. There are some strategies designers may employ to do this. An approach I use in my design practice is to review the task and look for what isn’t specified or the potential loop-holes. Briefs can be restrictive spaces, and this technique helps me establish an open mindset that can focus on possibilities rather than limitations. Seeking to find, understand and exploit the unspecified is often dependent on one’s original mindset. The surrounding conditions together with the right mindset means the clearly defined or ambiguous can generate impetus for questioning, exploration and experimentation. Using this strategy is by no means the magic bullet to developing innovative solutions, but it highlights what may be overlooked, provides greater clarity and motivates me personally — so in that sense it’s a win.

Defining Design

I am part of the WonderLab PhD cohort which is researching Design and Learning. You would assume as a collective we would have a common understanding of what is Design means, however, in reality, every person holds a nuanced view of what it encompasses and what it excludes. Could this be a call for each researcher to articulate what they mean by Design in the context of their research? Or, as a cohort do we establish what the term Design means in the context of WonderLab?

How do we form this common understanding?

Defining Design

How do we communicate the value and meaning of the design discipline when it literally has hundreds of branches? Do we need to be pedantic and specify what we mean by Design in each instance it’s cited?