Presenting research and development work

The thoughts in his post are derived from my experience of assessing work and mainly directed towards students of graphic design. You can be far more proactive and intentional regarding the strategies you adopt. Through a process of assessment, which will include benchmarking, internal assessment, internal verification and external examining a final mark is arrived at. The way in which work is organised and presented greatly assists this process and may contribute to determining the final mark. A well-designed and co-ordinated approach suggests that the individual has reflected upon their work and had time to review and make decisions about the best way to convey this.

A definition of design and information design
A design is a plan or intention before something is made. Information design is the selection, organisation and presentation of data in a form that is of most value to an intended user. The Encarta World English Dictionary suggests that planning is ‘a method of doing something that is worked out usually in some detail before it is begun’. These statements indicate an approach that can be adopted towards the presentation of assessment work.

A systematic approach to organising and presenting research and development material, that additionally demonstrates its relationship to the resultant final output and outcome, can aid in the comprehension of a project. A common assessment criteria is ‘the selection, editing and presentation of work’. This is something that needs due consideration in advance of a final submission. How understandable will your presentation be to an assessor when you are not there to explain it? Testing this before submission is essential. Making your work easier to assess is within your control. Don’t obscure your ideas. An organised presentation is not detrimental to your work or creativity. Time afforded to this actiivity is time well spent.

There are some straightforward and practical ideas you can consider when presenting your research and relating it to your resolved project outcome.

Read the assessment sheet
It is a good idea to read the assessment sheet that people assessing your work will also be reading. You may have done this through what is called self and peer assessment. The criteria and qualitative descriptors by which your work will be judged will be published in your course handbook. They contain clear guidance and good advice that you can judge your own work by. There will be criteria directly related to your research and development work. Have you ‘extended the research beyond the immediate’? Or have you only gathered information from readily available sources and failed to analyse and evaluate this? Have you employed a diversity of research methods and consulted unusual research sources? Is this explicit in your presentation?

Highlight important information
An assessor may not read or see everything you intend them to see. If something is important don’t risk it being inadvertently missed. Evaluating your work and summarising this into succinct bullet point reports is good practice. If there is a key turning point or something critical in your work, make sure this is clearly highlighted and drawn to the assessor’s attention. Highlighter pens and post-it notes are useful in emphasising and tracking the key points in the research. External examiners may have limited time to sample work, have you provided them with an overview of your work? Presentation techniques should help them access your ideas quickly. Are you guiding them to the key points? Are you getting them into your project quickly? Don’t think that anyone is going to spend all day looking at your work because it’s you and you are special. Will anyone get your idea at a glance? If you have been on an undergraduate graphic design course you will have spent three years developing your ability to communicate visually – final assessments are the point to put that learning into practice. Will those that look at your projects understand (their connotation) what you are attempting to convey (your denotation)? The image below is by Aidan Brown and draws the assessor’s eye to his analysis and evaluation of his gathered research.

Aidan Brown: Key information highlighted

Research journey
Critical evaluation is one of the aspects that define honours level study. Reviewing your research journey, evaluating it and then documenting it is one way of evidencing this. Recording your process through use of a digital camera is a great way of visualising your journey; this could be a visit, a workshop or documenting a particular print process.

Visual analysis techniques can in themselves yield unexpected and intriguing results but you do need to question the purposefulness of undertaking pure research and analysis or ‘experimentation’ devoid of intention and direction. The notion of visual experimentation for the sake of it has an attraction but comparisons to what focused experimentation means within other disciplines is worth considering. The illustration below shows visual experimentation by Kinga Kowalczyk with annotations describing the intention of each visual trial.

Kinga Kowalczyk: Visual Experimentation

Demonstrate your awareness of the context in which you are operating. This could be social, political, cultural, commercial, historical, contemporary, etc. Think about how this could be visualised and documented.

Research methods and sources
You could list your projects on a separate sheet and list the research methods (interviews, visits, questionnaires) and sources (books, films, exhibitions) under each project title. The illustration below by Rebecca Owen demonstrates research sources (on the left) mapped against a colour coded project list. Click on the image to go to Rebecca’s online shop.

RO Bibliography

Listing the books you have read is also a good idea for for practical studio work. What inventive ways could you think of visualising this? This list by Aidan Brown anticipated the development of online visual bookshelves.

Aidan Brown: A visual bibliography

Explicit not implicit
Don’t make the assumption that your final piece is implicit evidence of your process of development. You should make explicit the journey towards your construction of a final artefact. You might also consider drawing a diagram to explain this.

Research containers
There are a number of simple devices/folders on the market. Muji for example have a range of economic transparent folders with integrated sleeves that you can place your selected and edited research into. Consider co-ordinating the range of sizes and styles of presentation you are implementing. Too many different sizes and styles can imply a lack of co-ordination.

Contents pages, section dividers, summary reports, index and appendix
Within your research folder you could consider certain structural and navigational devices. A contents page could be used to direct the assessor to a specific part of your research eg a particular visit you undertook or interview you made. Section dividers containing sub-menus and statements about the contents are useful in breaking your research into understandable chunks and therefore making it more navigable. An appendix is useful to contain the full text of an interview you conducted for example. The image below is by Sonya Malik and demonstrates the simple use of a contents page to relate design applications to associated research work.

Sonya Malik: Contents page relating research to application

Relating research to finished output
To enable an assessor to relate your individual project research to your finished items there are a number of simple strategies that can be employed:

• symbols, images and colours can be used to identify and unify diverse material, the colour orange for example could be applied through a small square on research books/folders and outcomes to link all items of a project.
• projects could be numbered and annotated, for example, ‘outcome 1, please refer to research folder 1’.
• projects could be labelled with the title of the project eg ‘London’s Architecture’.

Labelling your projects with short descriptions can be helpful for an assessor eg ‘there are four outcomes: a poster, a leaflet, a CD cover and booklet’ tells the assessor what to look out for. A short statement about the intention of the project is good, however don’t over do it. The labelling should help and not dominate or provide a diversion. This section divider by Aidan Brown includes a short summary evaluation of the research the assessor is about to consider. Each project is numbered to facilitate referencing between the finished piece and the research. Note the section tabs on the right edge which are colour coded to each project.

AB Divider

The advice contained in this post is not intended to be prescriptive or a definitive formula to the successful presentation of project work. It is hoped that it will provoke you into thought about how you can make your projects more approachable through organisation and presentation.