Reading through this section of Visual Research: An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design made me question (or, at least, take a good hard look at) my approach to my capstone project. My project is extremely human-centered: I’m gathering the written or verbally communicated words of others, on the extremely personal and emotional topic of loss. The goal of my project is to create a book, one that can benefit both those who contributed to it and those who read it. Because I’ve experienced a great loss of my own, I moved forward with this project based almost solely on feeling. I felt a need in the world – a need for an honest, open, and raw publication on all facets of loss – and I felt like I could begin to fill it. All of the books on loss I’d been given or paged through seem to be so one-size-fits-all, glossing over reality, and written towards one specific audience. I immediately began putting myself out there, asking people to contribute their stories, sharing requests for help with complete strangers – all because I felt so strongly about what I was doing. And, that’s good – I’m excited about this project, and I do think it will be a beautiful thing.
However, what this reading made me realize, is that I need to take a step back and get a little more critical. While I do think that this reading was lacking in the passion, purpose, and feeling that drives design, I also believe it did a good job of outlining the systems of research in place. I can have all the feelings in the world, but without adequate research methods and defined objectives, my project won’t be as effective as it could possibly be.
The writers broke a design brief down into three pieces: field of study (where the work will be situated, and what function it will fulfill), project focus (what the specific context and function of the work will be within the wider field of study already defined), and research methodology (how the designer will go about researching and developing the project in response to the context and intention outlined above). For the rest of this post, I’ll take a look at how I can implement these processes into my own work this quarter.
Field of study defines the broad context for the work, and the first task facing the designer is to research their field of study, to acquire knowledge of what already exists in that area, and the visual languages which can be directly associated with the target audience or market for the design. So, as I mentioned above, I’ve read a few books on loss. I’ve perused through bookstores, read online reviews, and they’ve been thrown at me by well-meaning individuals. However, I know that I haven’t done as in-depth of research as I should – are there books out there like the one I want to create? Are there ones that are similar? If so, what do they look like? How are they approaching the same problem I’m approaching? How can my project be different, and what can I learn from theirs? I know my audience – those who have experienced loss, and those who are close to someone who has experienced it – however, I need to get a better handle on what already exists out there for them.
The second portion of the design brief, the project focus, marks the exact intentions of the work to be undertaken. Since I have such a personal experience with loss, I feel as though I’m well versed on the subject – however, because I want my book to be aimed at everyone who has experienced any kind of loss, I need to make sure the book speaks to them. Not just me. Everyone’s experience of loss is different, and if that’s what I want to highlight, I need to make sure my approach is something most people who’ve experienced loss can relate to. I’ve spoken with a great deal of people, all who are contributing to the book, however I’ve never actually asked them what they would want out of this project. I’ve asked them to write about or speak with me on their experience of loss, but I’ve been so caught up in my own idea, that I never took the time to also ask them their thoughts and opinions on the project’s direction. Doing this could lead to slight redefinitions in the project focus.
And finally, the research methodology, a set of self-imposed rules by which the designer will engage with a project. I think that this is a part I’ve done well, thus far. I’ve been communicating with the contributors to the book for a few weeks now, and I’ve streamlined the process – telling them what they need to know, a rough outline of what they should tell me, answering any questions they might have, etc. The result has been a beautifully diverse yet semi-cohesive collection of words, to be put in the book. I haven’t begun the visual design process of my project yet, so I think that mapping out, developing, and testing my visual solutions will be an important next step.
Noble, Ian, and Russell Bestley. Visual Research: An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design. Lausanne: AVA, 2005. Print.