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  • Tony Pritchard 7:59 pm on March 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Alison Barnes, Amanda Perry-Kessaris, , Cat Drew, , , Education, FHEQ, Freda Sack, Hans Dieter Riechert, , Ian Noble, , Joanna Choukier, , , , Paul McNeil, QAA, Russell Bestley, Sheila Pontis, , Susannah Rees, Teal Triggs,   

    Postgraduate Design Education 

    An Introduction to the Postgraduate Level
    Postgraduate design education generally comprises Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas, Masters and Doctoral degree qualifications. The Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ), published by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), defines the descriptions of the levels of these qualifications and sets out the characteristics exemplified by typical graduates. These help to inform Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) when developing and designing courses and setting learning outcomes. Master’s degrees are described as a level 7 qualification and the level includes Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas. The level 7 qualification is one step up from the level 6 Bachelor’s degree with honours.

    Bachelor’s, Master’s and Professional Qualifications
    Defining the distinction between a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree is increasingly a challenge. This is particularly the case given the broadening of the entry profiles of students; the massification of higher education; the diversity of ability; funding restrictions; and individual perceptions. A postgraduate education sees an increase in intensity and level of the complexity of engagement. For many though, the notion of qualification inflation has led to the idea that a MA is the new BA. Some have argued that professional level qualifications such as the International Society of Typographic Designers’ (ISTD) Student Assessment Membership Scheme are as, if not more, distinctive than an undergraduate degree. Former ISTD Chair, Freda Sack, made the case to upgrade the original student Licentiate Membership to full Professional Membership as those passing were showing qualities equivalent to many professionals. The association with an illustrious body, which includes: Margaret Calvert, Wim Crouwel, Geoff White, Derek Birdsall, Vince Frost, Angus Hyland, Roger McGough, Jim Northover, Lucienne Roberts, David Quay, John Sorrell, Erik Spiekermann, Teal Triggs, Freda Sack and Jeremy Tankard, might count for more within the profession and on the curriculum vitae than a BA.

    Blurred Borders and Competencies
    Dr Russell Bestley has observed the blurring of the borders between the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. He has significant experience of students at both levels and suggests that often ‘a top level BA student is probably more engaged with their process and subject understanding than an average MA student’. Russell isn’t alone in acknowledging the ’emphasis and time [spent] on craft, technical skills [and] the ability to make’ that form the focus of a lot of undergraduate courses. He maintains that ‘postgraduate courses should be able to assume a level of competence from the outset and can then focus more on the hows and whys than on the whats and wheres’. Worryingly there are postgraduate students who are still struggling with the traditional undergraduate competencies at Masters level and this can impede them in reaching that next stage. As an international community of practice we need to consider the variance of acceptable standards within undergraduate education as a root cause and tackle these to ensure a maintenance of quality previously enjoyed. Russell isn’t a keen advocate of the idea of ‘theory’ as something to underpin practice. He prefers to see work that is ‘justified and supported by a good argument and clear, logical research’. He suggests that this can equally be achieved through reading theory and exposure to the thoughts of design writers as well as through practical testing and experimentation’. Below are editions of Visual Research co-authored by Russell Bestley and Ian Noble.


    An Investment in Time and Money – does it pay off and for who?
    A student’s decision to take a year out of employment to study in London (an expensive place to relocate to) represents a significant sacrifice in time and money. The pressure to succeed is both on the student and institution. There is a lot at stake. Some see the postgraduate courses at the London universities as finishing schools for the privileged. Russell Bestley feels particularly concerned for the poorer, equally capable and intelligent potential student. He has good reason to. Having been made redundant in the past, Russell made the decision to return to college as a mature student. He was fortunate as he was eligible for a government grant to support his retraining. Although bright and highly motivated he didn’t come from a traditionally ‘academic’ family background. There will be those of us of a similar age group and disposition that will not only empathise but be eternally grateful for the support we received in the past. How many of us would be able to go to college today if we were in the same circumstances as we were in the past? In Russell’s case there would be no Dr, no Visual Research books (amongst many others) and little documentation of graphic subcultures (his particular area of interest). Although a little troubled over the future for design education he does see the positive developments such as the existence of PhDs in graphic design. He also feels that with the growth of postgraduate design education there is also the possibility for a decent support network of engaged people.

    Applicants to Master’s Study – then and now
    This article considers what motivates people to undertake a Masters in Graphic Design and whether this motivation has shifted. It considers the changes that have occurred over the last decade in terms of the number of applications and the diversity of entry profiles. First we look at two case studies from the past who, though have different motivations, are not untypical of what might be seen as traditional applicants and who are in contrast to the younger applicants we might see today.

    Susannah Rees, Associate Lecturer, London College of Communication (LCC)
    Susannah Rees had taken a 10 year break from full-time work as an editorial designer to work part-time as a freelance designer while her three children were very young. She had been considering ways forward for her career as her youngest child was about to start school. Susannah didn’t want to continue working from home and was exploring the idea of secondary school teacher training when a friend (who was a lecturer at LCC) suggested the MA. A Masters hadn’t been something she had thought of as being ‘for her’. She applied very last minute and started the following week. She felt a renewed excitement to be able to study again a subject she’d loved, in such detail. The level of focus required was something that she had not encountered before and as a mature student the investment both financially and emotionally in undertaking a two year course was a real motivator when it came to the level of effort she needed to put in to creating a successful postgraduate project. Her work was based around design for teaching and learning and moved away from editorial design. Her experience, both with typography and raising her children, enabled her insights into devising educational schemes for aiding parents to assist their children in learning to write. During this period Susannah consulted with handwriting and type design expert Rosemary Sassoon (who had particular expertise working with children). Having the MA enabled Susannah to continue on at LCC as a Graduate Fellow and teaching assistant. She acquired her Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching to pursue a new career as a lecturer at Higher Education level. Completing the MA wasn’t just about improving her Curriculum Vitae – it was an opportunity to build her confidence and to broaden her practice. Undeniably though, it has led to new career areas that would have otherwise been closed to her. On completing her MA her project was published as a book entitled ‘Write This Way’. In the future she wishes to revisit and develop the ideas that led to her MA major project through into a PhD. Below is Susannah’s project produced as a commercial enterprise.


    Paul McNeil, Course Leader MA Contemporary Typographic Media, Partner MuirMcNeil
    For over 30 years, Paul McNeil worked in professional practice as a graphic designer. His business was focused on branding and identity with a specialisation in ‘brand communications for the technology and data communications industries’. After several successful years of trading he began to find the commercial environment increasingly constraining and the day-to-day activities had little relation to the aspirations of his earlier years. The particular issue, a challenge faced by many, was in maintaining the balance between finding ‘value in the work produced and running an efficient, profitable business’. The realisation was that he ‘had lost sight of this completely’. Paul explored many alternative options such as architecture or spatial design, before what he calls a ‘life-transforming conversation’ with Ian Noble, then course director of MA Typo/graphic Studies at London College of Communication. Ian was ‘extraordinarily responsive’ to Paul’s aspirations and doubts about his future direction and usefully suggested that Masters’ level study ‘might be an opportunity to fully explore the possibility of new definitions of graphic design as a more profound and long-term cultural practice than a mere service to industry alone’. For Paul ‘the intention to communicate through mark making, is a core principle of sustaining value with a history as long as that of humanity itself’. With this in mind Paul returned, in 2001, to full-time study in order to ‘explore these and similar theoretical and experimental possibilities’, which he hoped would ultimately ‘inform and enrich the quality of his practice’. He continued to run his business albeit in a scaled down, selective way and enrolled on the MA Typo/graphic Studies course. For a mature learner he found it ‘the most terrifying and deeply satisfying year’ of his life in which he was ‘challenged, provoked and inspired by both the tutors and the student peer group’. Since graduating he has made ‘conscious choices’ to ‘work on commercial projects selectively and in partnership’. Additionally Paul writes, teaches and continues to develop typographic research projects of his own. More recently he has established a business, MuirMcNeil, with his colleague Hamish Muir. Their aim is to explore ‘parametric principles in design’ which he translates as ‘the rules and principles of form-giving’. These investigations have been made commercially available as posters and typefaces. In Paul’s words he is ‘so happy to have discovered, quite late, a form of capital that is so much richer than money’. Below is a poster designed to celebrate the launch of Modern Theory.


    A Model for a MA in Graphic Design
    When Russell Bestley and the late Ian Noble were charged with developing and growing a broader MA in Graphic Design at London College of Communication, they took to the challenge with something of a missionary zeal. The period is documented particularly well in the two volumes of the book Visual Research that they both co-authored. On the launch of the second edition Ian typically devised a witty stamp with which to ‘sign’ the books that read ‘try to make more mistakes’. This exemplified the experimental nature of their approach to postgraduate study. Russell likens this to the notion that ‘scientists don’t conduct experiments that they know will work, they try hundreds…of different measured scenarios…to progress their knowledge’. He continues that ‘discovery requires this kind of risk – you don’t know that something doesn’t work until you actually try it’. As the American inventor Thomas Edison once claimed: ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work’. The zoologist and slightly improbably named Marston Bates stated that ‘research is the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind’. It was demanded of students on the course to establish and test their acquired knowledge and information. They had to move their position from thinking to knowing and this is pivotal to Ian and Russell’s Visual Research concept to make a ‘Claim’ then gather ‘Evidence’ to provide Qualification. Russell suggests that designers need to ‘seek out material evidence, to support their assertions and arguments’. He suggests that like a good barrister a designer should be able to ‘argue a position with supporting facts’. This had led to the quip that Russell represents something akin to ‘the logic police’. This thorough questioning of any proposition has led to an MA that includes the notion that a viable outcome may be simply a more focused and tightly-framed proposition: ‘you start with a question and end up with a better question’. In undertaking the running of the MA, Russell and Ian were able to develop their own research agenda alongside that of their students. There was a joint desire ‘to better understand the Graphic Design process itself’. Design as a product and its relationship to technology had become an ongoing exploration for many designers through the 80s and 90s. They now wanted to define and document a fundamental understanding of the inter-relationship between the design research, development and production processes. This gave rise to an awareness of ‘informed engagement’ and how the designer might make ‘more effective design if they were closely aware of their own research methodology and visual research practice’. It was their belief that in the ‘post-modern 1990s, Graphic Design was being ‘colonised by theorists from outside of the practice who were commenting on their interpretation of design approaches without the necessary understanding of the process of design from the perspective of the practitioner’. Russell explains that the shift from the Art School to a University regulatory model of higher education led to the ‘adoption of dissertations to provide an academic validation to a qualification’. These dissertations often ‘focussed on things tangential to the actual discipline itself’. What Russell and Ian wanted to reflect on was ‘how and why we design; how and why some designed things are ‘better’ solutions than others; and how that process to reach ‘better’ solutions might be harnessed and learned’. It was a distinction of this reflective postgraduate model that contextual study was not seen as separated from studio practice. Prior to his untimely death, Ian Noble had moved to Kingston University and was exploring further the notion of flexible delivery within the MA considering progression through a ’step on, step off’ approach that built towards completion via a modular system. Below are a set of word and image combinations created by Russell Bestley and Ian Noble examining the visual communication process of graphic design.


    Acceleration towards Master’s Degrees
    The lack of state or government funding for postgraduate study within the UK has given rise to courses of four or five year durations that integrate the Bachelor and Master’s stages. The traditional entry profile for a Masters would have constituted a period of professional practice prior to application as well as a first degree. The entrant’s purpose and intention might have included a desire to address aspects of their practice through an intense period of study. Having had experience of reading applications to postgraduate courses there is an understandable level of anxiety and concern over employability and the value of only having a purely undergraduate experience and qualification. The lack of professional opportunity within a harsh economic climate might also lead recent undergraduate students to stay on in education. The statement within the FHEQ that ‘much of the study undertaken for Master’s degrees will have been at, or informed by, the forefront of an academic or professional discipline’ suggests a level of maturity and reflection normally expected from knowledge and experience acquired through actual academic or professional practice. Is it possible to achieve this within a limited timeframe of an undergraduate three year period? Will this level of education enable them to ‘propose new hypotheses’ within the subject?

    Essential Skills
    With the withdrawing of funding from higher education design subjects and a climate of full fees there is the danger of educational establishments seeing themselves as purely management run businesses. In the drive to meet target numbers, responsible and ethical recruitment practices can get overlooked. HEIs are caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand there are the university estates to upkeep and staff salaries to be paid. On the other hand one needs to ensure that risks aren’t being taken at the expense of the student. This begins to impact the quality of the provision both in terms of academic learning and teaching practice but also the subject discipline. Many are seeing a decline in the level of the basic attributes required of graduates and postgraduate students. Martin Roth, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, suggests that ‘UK design education is failing students’ and that too many design graduates are lacking ‘basic skills’. Postgraduate courses are now having to build skills training into their provision to compensate, not just for the shortcomings of UK undergraduate design education, but for this lack in students arriving from abroad. It’s a global design crisis and we are at a watershed moment in considering what the subject and educational values are. Roth extends his criticism beyond technical skills to contextual subject knowledge. In a competitive race for institutions to be seen as ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘innovative’, timeless and enduring knowledge is being compromised.

    Lessons from the Past
    At the Munich ’72 Design Legacy Symposium, a panel comprising Ian McLaren, Hans Dieter Reichert, Lucienne Roberts, Mason Wells and Tony Brook (all who have experience of the profession and education) raised concerns over the undefined notions of what UK students and educators see as ‘creativity’. Wells and Brooks encouraged a more holistic view where the technical and creative are considered in equal measures. Brook in particular reflected upon his company’s increase in employment of non-UK designers in recent years. Could there be something deficient in current UK design education from an employers perspective? With all the ‘advances’ in quality assurance, learning and teaching theory and insightful management what could possibly have gone wrong? Perhaps there are lessons from the past that could be applied to the future – perhaps there are still principles worth adhering to. Below is a poster from the Munich 1972 Olympic Games. Ian McLaren was part of the design team. The poster demonstrates basic design principles such as typography, structure and colour.


    Academic Culture Shock
    Differences between entrant expectations and that of the welcoming institution can lead to academic culture shock. A postgraduate education is different from an undergraduate one. They are at different levels and there are different expectations. The postgraduate workload is more intense. The amount of self-directed study is increased. There is a requirement for a high degree of motivation. You are expected to have a developed knowledge of the subject and a critical position. Institutions differ not only within a national context but also globally. What passes for muster in one institution won’t necessarily garner support in another. Students should expect a far more critical environment from that which they experienced at undergraduate level. If students wish to study at high profile establishments then they will be expected to raise their game considerably, not only in terms of their design ability, but also intellectually. Given the cost in terms of time and money, applicants really do need to do their research, ask questions and shop around. Don’t just come to London because it’s a cool place to hang out for a year.

    Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas
    Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas often have a professional development focus although they can also be used as a bridging study to a Masters course. They are short enough to run in part-time or full-time mode to enable those working part-time or with family responsibilities to undertake flexible study. These types of qualifications provide a step up for those that have been engaging with short courses and would like a period of sustained study leading to a recognised qualification. Progression from Postgraduate Certificates, through Diplomas and onto Masters sees an increase in the level of intensity and complexity of study. Given the nature of applicants to Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas, in that they are mature students often working and managing family life, there has been much debate as to how academic institutions are supporting the ambitions of these types of people. Many would like to see the notion of stepping on and off the three phases of a Masters being far more accommodated. The credit framework logically suggests this as a viable academic and financial possibility. This would then allow applicants to study at their own pace and within their financial constraints. They could study a Postgraduate Certificate part-time over a year. They could then take a break and earn some money or gain professional practice experience. They would then be able to come back and perhaps study a Postgraduate Diploma for 15 weeks full-time. After successfully completing this, they could then then do a further trade in of their current qualification to achieve a Masters in a final phase of study at the time of their choosing and money permitting.

    Design for Visual Communication
    The Postgraduate Certificate and Diploma Design for Visual Communication courses at London College of Communication were set up to accommodate those progressing from short courses, wishing to engage with a more sustained period of study and leading to a recognised qualification. The course also supports those wishing to progress to Masters study but who haven’t met the entry requirements for the level in terms of their portfolio or application statement. This allows Masters courses to encourage talent where they see it but where it is still under-developed. These courses introduce design research methods to compliment the students original academic research abilities. Design principles are examined from the fundamentals up. These include: Type Classification; Typographic Hierarchy; Colour; Visual Language and Grammar; and Information Design. The related theoretical underpinning is delivered within the practical studio sessions so that theory and practice are integrated. As the late, great, Ian Noble once commented: ‘it’s the theory of practice and not the practice of theory’. Professor Teal Triggs, Associate Dean at the Royal College of Art, has commented further that ‘theory doesn’t make you a better designer rather a more informed practitioner’. Through reflective learning this is the aim of professional development at postgraduate level. Further units consider the academic and professional contexts and enable a degree of self-determination. London College of Communication is an institution that had the vision to maintain its analogue facilities whilst developing its digital provision. Students now can benefit from mixing analogue and digital techniques to develop new visual languages supporting their conceptual development. Most postgraduate design courses complete the academic session with a major project. This begins with a period of project exploration to develop a design research question. Students coming from other academic disciplines and previous text-based subjects tend to research as if they are going to write an essay. Design students adopt some of these traditional primary and secondary research techniques, but are to apply critical analysis alongside practical visual testing. The project will have to be transformed into a visual outcome. A good design research question contains the design area (typography, information design, editorial design, etc); the focus of the project; and the intended audience or user. This will clarify the intention and purpose of the project. The image below is by Laura Rooney and is a letterpress cover produced by Mirabel Fawcett and Vanessa Wong.


    Who is Studying Postgraduate Professional Development Design Courses?
    Applicants to the Postgraduate Certificate and Diploma Design for Visual Communication courses come from diverse cultural, social, professional and academic backgrounds. For some it is a return to a first love having followed parental, peer or academic pressure to pursue a traditional university subject. Having realised that life is longer than three years, and often feeling trapped in an administrative role, the course provides another roll of the dice. The course is home to a truly international cohort: from Canada to Russia and all the countries in between. Students have previously been involved in: geography, linguistics, opera, acting, rugby, genetics, history, fashion and product design amongst many other disciplines. They go on to set up shops (LMNOP Shop in Brighton); record labels (Default Position); work freelance; write and edit books (Valentina D’Efilippo: The Infographic History of the World); and join high profile agencies such as Bibliothèque, Sea Design, Unit Editions, Design Council, Intro and Information Is Beautiful. These are the typical career converters who desire professional up-skilling. Another group wish to acquire the academic skills to enable them to progress onto Masters study. Tim Molloy, who was Head of Creative Direction at the Science Museum, described Design for Visual Communication as a foundation course for postgraduate study. It has often been thought of as the unofficial year one of an MA. There is a new third strand of postgraduate applicant emerging. As notions of graphicacy join the traditional academic skills of numeracy and literacy, other disciplines, professions and organisations see visual communication as vital to their future functioning. Below is Valentina D’Efilippo’s co-authored book The Infographic History of the World.


    Two Case Studies of the New Postgraduate Design Applicant Profile

    Cat Drew, Senior Policy Advisor to the Home Office, Head of Police Digitisation Delivery and Policy Design Lab
    Cat Drew is Senior Policy Advisor at the Home Office. Her main interest is in data visualisation and she would like to take forward the transparency agenda by visualising and therefore making accessible the large amounts of data that Government and public services are now making available, so that citizens can properly hold the state to account. Cat has been asked to work for Policy Lab which is the Government’s new creative space that takes design practices (e.g. ethnography, prototyping, service user journeys, data science and visualisation and behavioural economics) and apply them to public policymaking. As Head of Police Digitisation Delivery in the Home Office, Cat has brought Surrey and Sussex police together with Policy Lab to do the first Lab project around designing a better online reporting and investigation service for the public. Whilst studying on the Postgraduate Certificate in Design for Visual Communication, Cat devised a stop and search website as well as an investigation into Dalston’s gentrification. She is now undertaking her MA in Graphic Design and has been looking at ways in which design can engage Dalston citizens in the promotion and creation of connections between others in the area. She wants to take Dalston Bridge beyond just fundraising connections and promote and create other sorts of connections in the area as the neighbourhood gentrifies. Cat has already produced a prototype where she designed luggage tags and asked people to fill in one side with what Dalston had given them, and then what they would give to Dalston on the other side. These were then hung up in the Dalston square so others could interact with them. Below is Cat’s proposal for the Home Office Stop and Search website.


    Amanda Perry-Kessaris, Professor of Law, Kent Law School, University of Kent
    Amanda came to the Postgraduate Certificate Design for Visual Communication course with no prior experience in visual methods. Her overarching objectives in relation to the course are to be able to produce visualisations for her legal research, and to bring visual communication to the attention of her colleagues in legal academia. Amanda plans to use her visual grammar project to teach undergraduate students about differences between legal principle and legal reality; to create a 3D model to demonstrate the meaning of the term ‘critical perspectives on law’; and to run a workshop helping legal academics to visualise a quotation using typography and collage. Amanda identifies graphic design as a multi-faceted and evolving field of thinking and practice. She has been especially interested in tracking two tensions inherent to the discipline: designer versus author and commercial versus ethical (as seen in the First Things First manifesto) and more commonly, in the tendency for designers to produce self-authored pieces. These issues have huge resonance for her as an academic who both wants to be in control of how her research looks, and is troubled by the awkward relationship between research and consultancy work. She sees much productive thinking to be done about what designers and legal academics can learn from each other in this respect. In Amanda’s own words, she is ‘learning to look’. She has formed the habit of systematically and critically analysing both self-consciously produced designs, and the general visual environment. An invaluable consequence is that she is developing (greatly aided by participation in resources such as blogs) the ability to offer, receive and respond to, feedback, all of which are crucial to further progress. The impact she sees as already clear in her work as a legal academic. She has introduced short tasks ending with pin-up critiques into a PhD Research Methods course. She is able to give feedback on use of colour and typography in slides and posters, and to help students to give each other feedback. She has also added a compulsory blog component to a new Masters level module. Below is one of a series of images by Professor of Law Amanda Perry-Kessaris to provoke discussion on different aspects of law.


    Doctoral Degrees
    The FHEQ define doctoral degrees as ‘the creation and interpretation of new knowledge, through original research…of a quality to satisfy peer review [and] extend the forefront of the discipline…’. To paraphrase Dr Russell Bestley you become an acknowledged specialist researcher and expert in the chosen field. Russell goes on to state a ‘PhD is a qualification that acknowledges the ability to research – it is not a qualification on the specific topic or subject under investigation’. He suggests that the purpose of the qualification is ‘to measure the effectiveness of the [researcher’s] methods and their argument, validated through a structured and logical body of research’. Russell continues that since all PhDs are by definition in some way unique then ‘the system to measure success or otherwise needs to be transparent and able to be applied across disparate subject fields and methods’. When asked about the notion of practice-based PhDs he offers a note of caution. ‘The danger in rewarding practice for practice sake’ he suggests ‘is similar to some Art PhDs – just because something is very well produced and worthy doesn’t mean that it is a contribution to knowledge that is transferable, understandable and repeatable’. Russell isn’t wishing to perpetuate the idea of exclusivity or elitism. He goes on to state ‘Hitchcock never got a PhD. Picasso never got a PhD. It doesn’t mean that they were not brilliant at what they did’. A PhD needs to be able to describe the innovation or knowledge being established to others ‘so that they can learn, repeat or adapt this for themselves’. Russell concludes ‘I like the fact that knowledge in this way is a kind of communal thing, not something for individual geniuses to possess – the PhD is a small addition to the greater pot of knowledge’. The Times Higher Education website recently asked: ‘Who would do a PhD [given the sacrifices]?’. The Higher Education Statistics Agency answered ‘quite a few’ given that the UK has seen a 50 percent increase in people obtaining PhDs over the last 10 years. There is little to suggest that a PhD on the CV will necessarily lead to a burgeoning academic career despite that being an initial motivation for some. There is a developing appreciation of PhD level study within certain ‘research-active’ companies like Google which may suggest an alternative pursuit within commerce for post-doctoral researchers. Either way the five case studies within the Times Higher Education article suggests a PhD is not something that is for everyone and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. Some responses to the article suggest that a degree of maturity, knowledge and experience have advantages if not being necessary requirements. Although the Times Higher Education suggests that academia is ‘a career for which vacancies were never more oversubscribed’, a PhD level qualification is now being added as the requirement for Senior Lecturer posts. Whilst this is a legitimate desire, some caution needs to be practiced in that this doesn’t narrow the diversity of teaching staff and their alternative life experiences and expertise. As indicated within this article there are specific reasons for undertaking a PhD. A PhD shouldn’t be downgraded through qualification inflation to the idea of a minimum level requirement. This could encourage the not so well motivated intention for undertaking a PhD. Darren Raven who studied at the Royal College of Art and is Senior Lecturer at Staffordshire University is undertaking a Doctorate in Education (EdD). He suggests that there is more of a tradition within other disciplines (outside of art and design) of the progression from undergraduate degree to PhD to Lecturer and then to Senior Lecturer. Perhaps with the traditional Art School being absorbed into the University structure there is this additional pressure to conform. Darren questions whether the driver for PhDs within art and design might partly be due to meeting Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) targets; HE league tables; and student satisfaction surveys. He likewise cautions that higher education managers need to act responsibly within their staff recruitment to preserve the richest possible selection on offer to students.

    Joanna Choukier
    Joanna Choukeir is a social design practitioner, researcher and educator. She is the Design and Innovation Director at Uscreates, a London-based strategic consultancy pioneering innovative work to help organisations maximise their social value. Joanna is currently in the process of completing a PhD at the University of the Arts London (UAL). The research is based on developing communication design methods to enhance social integration in post-conflict communities and takes the experience of the youth in Lebanon as a case study. She is an active user of social media communication to further the messages she cares about passionately which includes the current ongoing conflict in Gaza. Previously Joanna completed a BA in Graphic Design at Notre Dame University Lebanon in 2003 and a MA in Graphic Design at LCC in 2008. Her purpose in undertaking an MA was to explore new opportunities and practices within socio-political design. The MA afforded her the time and discipline to investigate her major project theme. On completing her studies she was able to enter the related sector of the design profession. This involves social design interventions to tackle social challenges mostly faced by public sector organisations in the UK for example health, wellbeing, education, employment and housing. Her aim would be to work with the United Nations to help them use design and innovation on their change programmes globally. Joanna is what Dr Russell Bestley refers to an an ‘engaged practitioner’ and she encourages designers to question routine approaches and ask themselves why or how they could be doing things better. She is concerned when designers disconnect themselves from the purpose of design and what it is they are trying to achieve. Her advice to anyone considering an MA would be to ‘think about your goal and where you want to be before you join a course, then use your time on the course to help get you there’. The desire to undertake a PhD arose from an insight from her MA research which opened a range of broader questions about social integration in Lebanon. She felt this could be addressed within ‘the structure and discipline of PhD research’. Joanna describes three strands within her operations, that of ‘keeping an academic hat, a practitioner’s hat and a lecturer’s hat on’. It is these three areas that help her ‘best engage with the design discipline’. A part-time PhD allowed her the flexibility to do this while still working and teaching. Joanna agrees with the observation that a Masters is more structured whilst a PhD is more self-directed. She describes an MA as being ‘more about a journey of discovery and experimentation’. Joanna continues: ‘with a PhD…one has to have a very clear focus and sense of purpose and a great passion for the research subject to sustain [the necessary] efforts and contributions for 5+ years’. A PhD has an increased level of rigour ‘requiring the researcher to fully explore the theoretical, historical and contemporary landscape of their field of study and identify a genuine and valuable contribution to knowledge’. Joanna suggests that often one undertakes a MA to support personal growth, whilst PhD research equally supports the growth of other researchers and practitioners working within the related field of study. She believes PhDs in design are vital and that ‘rigorous, evidence-based research on the value and contributions that the design discipline has to offer are scarce’. Joanna is committed to the idea that ‘there is a need for more research to make the case for design socially, economically, culturally and environmentally’. Although Joanna firmly believes in the contribution of PhD level research for academic institutions and society she also feels that ‘it’s important for a design researcher to keep practicing design as much as possible and immerse themselves in the discipline they are researching’.

    Sheila Pontis
    Sheila Pontis describes herself as being involved in three design spheres: education, research and practice. She teaches design principles such as information design and typography across a range of institutions. Her research primarily focuses on the ‘sense-making of visualisations of large data sets’. Her practice involves consultancy and project management of editorial and diagrammatic work. In 2008 her ‘passion for complex diagrams and information design’ brought her to London to complete a PhD. Prior to her PhD, Sheila undertook a MRes and MPhil. She states that in a Masters programme ‘the research process was more structured and contained as there was a specific timeframe in which the project needed to be completed’. Her PhD, however, went through a ‘much longer and organic process’ – it involved more independent decision-making. For Sheila it was fundamental to have a good supervisor and describes this as ‘the most important part of the process’. She sees undertaking a PhD as ‘a very personal decision’ and focused on her emerging subject interests related to her professional development. Initially, she wanted to expand her ‘understanding of designers’ thinking process, and also better understand the “why” behind some design decisions and solutions’. Beyond this it has helped her develop alternative perspectives on theories and models and to establish connections between the not-so-obvious aspects. The process has developed her critical thinking and realisation of supporting ideas with data. She still believes though that this ‘objectivity’ should be balanced with a desire and confidence to follow her instincts. Sheila’s view is that ‘research in the design discipline is still at an early stage in comparison with other disciplines such as Human-Computer Interaction’. This sometimes can provide a difficulty in seeing a ‘clear and direct connection’ between the academic theory and the professional practice of design. Looking back there were times when Sheila felt her PhD experience to have lonely moments. She appreciated working with other PhD students even if that was just by sharing a space and project findings. She is critical of some aspects of the PhD process: ‘it was tough in the sense that when I started mine there was even less structure and clarity about the whole process, and that made some phases tougher than they should have been’. She feels that the challenge of a PhD is better resolved when there is ‘a supporting research community’.

    Alison Barnes
    As with other mature students, Alison had arrived at a point in her life where the usual challenges of work were waning and felt a desire to explore something on a personal basis. She had been thinking for sometime of relocation to Australia and realized that a PhD would be a job requirement: ‘professionally it is clearly the way Higher Education staffing is going’. Her previous MA had engendered her excitement of research-based design. She defines the key differences between the MA and PhD as having to engage with and understand what research methodologies were and ‘how research design needs to be constructed and framed’. On reflection she feels that ‘we [don’t] prepare design students at all well for this’. Alison’s MA and ensuing PhD both were connected by psycho-geography: ‘for me the PhD was an extension to the Masters, and I guess it was important both personally and professionally’. The PhD was a particular challenge for Alison. From an early age she sensed that others may have questioned her academic abilities, she reflects: ‘getting the highest qualification was effectively two fingers up to those who had destined me to achieve nothing’. As with another case study in this article the role of the supervisor is emphasized: ‘I was lucky to have a Professor of Geography from Queen Mary University London as one of my supervisors and I can remember her asking me to write something early on about my methodology’. It was this experience that focused her attention on the lack of research thinking within design education. She felt her MA was a life changing experience but that research was not articulated in a fashion that considered qualitative methods and research design in such a formal way. In design there is a tendency to design the project then write about it afterwards. Not wishing to pass on the blame she does admit that this could have been her own lack of insight. She would be keen to see more emphasis put on ‘Research with a capital R’ both at undergraduate and Masters level in the UK. Alison comments that ‘to have three years to delve into really interesting reading that inspires your thinking, making and writing is quite an incredible opportunity’. She believes that designers need to be taken more seriously in terms of their research capacity and ‘that the old notion of a service-led profession is really a disservice in terms of what designers now often do and are capable of’. From her experience ‘post PhD is a difficult [landscape] to negotiate’, she has returned to teaching but wishes ‘to develop a more research focused career’. Alison concludes ‘that although we are encouraging more PhDs in Design, the post doctoral and research focused positions aren’t there to further develop this territory’. Below is Alison’s map of graffiti in New Basford, Nottingham.


    Although this article has been critical of some of the emerging conditions of postgraduate design education we are equally at an exciting watershed point of potential change. Despite increasing numbers, if HEIs can stay focused on providing a high quality education then an increase in the number of well-educated designers could be a positive outcome. Courses need the support of their management in genuinely maintaining an appropriate level of provision. Teachers and their students need to remember the original purpose of their intentions. PhD level design research is putting the subject discipline at the forefront of contemporary discussion. Other subject disciplines as well as government departments see design as integral to future developments and policy making. Design is respecting its roots and discovering new branches with a strong central core of knowledge and practice. Despite rising tuition fees and the attendant pressures experienced by students, staff and institutions, now is a good time to be studying design but do your research before buying your design experience and make the most of your time and available facilities.

  • Tony Pritchard 9:29 am on August 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Design Research, Design Theory, Education, , , Sketchbook, ,   


    These two films look at how Henrietta Ross and Cat Drew developed their sketchbooks. Too often we look at the finished items and not the process that led to the resolution of projects. Henrietta and Cat take you through how they documented, contextualised, experimented and evaluated their work on the Design for Visual Communication course at the London College of Communication. Those new to visual communication from other disciplines or a text-based education might find these films useful in understanding this part of the design process.

  • Tony Pritchard 9:53 am on April 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ben Shneiderman, , , Claude Shannon, , , , Education, , Hans Christian von Baeyer, Information Visualisation, Interactive Tree of Life, Map of the Market, Munsell, Nico Macdonald, , Polar Diagram, , Science, Steve Holtzman, Steven Rose   

    The Science of Information Visualisation: a provocation 

    What is a Science?
    Taking the broadest definition, a science can be described as the systematic organisation of a body of knowledge that describes the physical world. Knowledge evolves and is established through the collation and testing of data with measurable outcomes. This becomes integrated into existing information or corrects previous assumptions. The number of Bachelor and Master of Science courses related to the field of information study pay testament to the notion that the design and visualisation of information straddles the boundaries between art and science. Information visualisation is not the mere decoration of factual information. It is elemental to the construction of meaning and how it is perceived. It’s what Richard Saul Wurman calls ‘the design of understanding’.
    Image: Viral Blocks by Diego Baca is an interactive program, which was created to inform users about the subject of genetics and viruses. It presents this visual information as 3D animations, making it easier to understand abstract concepts and promoting learning through an engaging and enjoyable experience. The program utilises Processing language and Lego’s computer brick.

    The Art and Science of Visual Representation
    Art and science are often seen as being polar extremes requiring affiliation to one or the other. This is a false dichotomy. The Information Design Café, a place on the Internet for the exchange of views, values both as integral partners and regards information design and visualisation as ‘the art and science of presenting information so that it is understandable and easy to use: effective, efficient and attractive’.

    From Philosophy to Physics
    Jef Raskin, who created the Macintosh project at Apple, states ‘the founder of information theory, Claude Shannon, moved information from the realm of philosophers to that of physicists by showing that the term could be given a clear definition’. Shannon quantified what information was and qualified the means by which information was encoded, transmitted and decoded. This is not to sever the philosophical roots of communication or to suggest that this is the complete picture, but to acknowledge information study as a science as well as an art.

    Scientists need Vision
    When scientists fail to explain a particular phenomenon of the natural world through laboratory experiments, they have to look to other methods. They have to turn off the Bunsen burner, take off their goggles and white coats to employ visualisation as a method of understanding what they encounter. Unfortunately this is not always an innate skill amongst scientists. There is an argument that information visualisation techniques should be part of the core curricula, not only for all university subjects, but also as part of a child’s education at school. We have arrived at the point where visual literacy is an essential skill in an increasingly visual age. Interestingly vision is the word used as a metaphor when a shift in paradigm is required. Not that surprising though as scientists themselves tell us that sight has 85% dominance over the other senses. What is surprising is that successive British governments fail to acknowledge visual methods as intrinsic to solving many of the challenges facing society. They pay lip service to design as the gloss on the surface that momentarily deludes the public. They see subject disciplines as separate and unrelated and fund accordingly. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) describe the ‘strategically important subjects’ as science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the so-called STEM subjects. Science is a label, albeit one with current cachet. It shouldn’t be important, but it is, that we equally label aspects of visual communication as a science for it to be taken as a serious and ‘strategically important’ subject. There is some hope – US President Obama has appointed Edward Tufte as a special adviser to the White House. Who would the next British Prime Minister appoint? What examples can we offer our politicians of the importance of the visual to scientific methods? Who were those pioneers who dared to cross the borders, to and fro, to understand and explain the perplexing phenomena facing them?

    Is there a Doctor in the House?
    During the first two weeks of September 1854 an epidemic broke out in central London that claimed 500 lives. A number of the deaths were located at the junction between Broad Street and Cambridge Street. This was also the site of a public well where people would draw up water. Dr John Snow acquired the records of 83 deaths in the area and plotted them on a map. By doing so Snow had taken quantitative data and made it visible. By visualising information Snow revealed that all but 10 of the 83 deaths were within close vicinity of the Broad Street pump. He then set about explaining the anomalies. Snow alerted the authorities, who intervened by removing the pump handle thus disabling its function. Some have attributed this act as the decisive moment in the termination of the epidemic. Snow had established the link between the transmission of the epidemic and impure water.
    Image: The Cholera Map by Dr John Snow shows the geographic distribution of death by Cholera.

    ‘Nursing is an Art…the Finest of Fine Arts’
    This heading is a quote by Florence Nightingale, an English nurse with a talent for mathematics. She plotted the daily loss of life during the winter months of the Crimean War on her own invention – the polar diagram. Nightingale presented this visual information to the Ministry of War as evidence of soldiers dying due to disease and poor nursing and not as a result of their immediate battle wounds. Charts, diagrams and graphs are seen as the domain of the mathematician but, in terms of visual communication, are owned in equal measure by the information designer.
    Image: The Polar Diagram by Florence Nightingale shows preventable death represented by the blue wedges, deaths resulting from wounds in red, and death due to other causes in black.

    The Periodic Table
    Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev is credited with devising the arrangement of all known elements into the Periodic Table. Elements had been grouped in two ways previously – either by their atomic weight (hierarchy) or by common properties such as metals or gases (category). Mendeleyev’s discovery was that these two methods could be combined in one table. It has been suggested that Mendeleyev was inspired by the game of patience, in which cards are arranged horizontally in suits and vertically by descending number. Using this concept he arranged the elements into horizontal rows called periods and vertical rows called groups. This visual display of information demonstrated two sets of relationships depending on whether one was reading the table up and down or from side to side. Elements are organised vertically to express chemicals with similar properties for example metals sit one on top of each other. The horizontal rows are organised by the number of protons in their nuclei, known as the atomic number. Hydrogen has one proton and therefore has an atomic number of one and is placed first in the top left corner. Mendeleyev’s invention allows the relationship between elements to be understood through visual means. In the book ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’, Bill Bryson describes the Periodic Table as ‘a thing of beauty in the abstract, but for chemists it established an immediate orderliness and clarity that can hardly be overstated’. In the view of Robert E Krebs who wrote ‘The History and Use of Our Earth’s Chemical Elements’ the Periodic Table is ‘the most elegant organisational chart ever devised’.
    Image: The Periodic Table by Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev demonstrates the strength of visual cross referencing.

    New Information Landscapes
    Physicist Hans Christian von Baeyer opens his book, ‘Information: The New Language of Science’ with the following: ‘information gently but relentlessly drizzles down on us in an invisible, impalpable electric rain’. Our lives are becoming progressively intricate and the inability to filter complexity is leading to information fatigue and sensory overload. Journalist Nico Macdonald explains that ‘most of us still try to comprehend this glut of data using representations from the era of print – many based on text rather than image. Our ability to present information in a useful and intelligent manner is falling behind our ability to create and distribute the raw data’. We need new innovations to move beyond placing printed information behind glass screens. Information geographers must fashion a new digital landscape and one that can be traversed visually. Macdonald suggests ‘evolution has left humans with brains that are as much visual as they are analytical, able to distinguish and group objects by size, colour, shape and spatial location. Our brains are adept at identifying patterns’. The dilemma for designers is how to present information, retaining its levels of complexity, yet making it accessible. Information visualisation attempts to present vast quantities of data through interfaces that allow information to be filtered and manipulated to the needs of the individual and the moment. Words are exclusive and contingent on an understanding of language; images are inclusive and more widely recognisable and understood. Hugh Dubberly states that ‘when we design things more complex than single objects – systems, sets of elements, interactions and pathways – we need a new approach.’ He believes design ‘needs now to be more about making complex, abstract ideas visible than about creating objects’. Information visualisation uses visual metaphors such as graphic sliders and fish eye lens views to alter the intensity of different aspects of information. This new era of information visualisation could borrow an idea from motorway signage, that of progressive disclosure. We do not need to see the entire database of information rather we need interfaces that provide gradual access to levels of information.
    Image: The Interactive Tree Of Life is an online tool for the display and manipulation of phylogenetic trees. A phylogenetic tree, also known as an evolutionary tree, is a diagram with a complex branch system. The tree demonstrates the connections between biological species based on their genetic characteristics.

    Map of the Market
    Much of the design on the net has focused on graphic navigation systems but once you encounter information it is often in the form of text or graphics that adhere to a print tradition. Map of the Market, an example of a treemap, was created for smartmoney.com. The website features an interface comprised of rectangular subdivisions which resemble an aerial photograph of land use. Each rectangle or ‘field’ represents one of 600 companies organised within industry sector clusters. The size of the rectangle relates to the company’s market capitalisation. Each company’s fortunes are represented by colour. Red indicates a fall and green a rise. Additional rollovers and clickable items provide up to date news stories and in-depth information pertaining to each company.
    Image: The Map of the Market by Martin Wattenberg represents the use of colour and area as powerful visual tools in creating an interface to complex information.

    Film Finder
    Ben Shneiderman at the University of Maryland challenges his students to present vast datasets in visually approachable and useful ways. The Film Finder project required students to propose an interface for accessing information from a database of 10,000 films. Devices such as A-Z range sliders enable information such as film or actor details to be viewed in alphabetical order. This is known as ‘direct manipulation’ of information. The interface features a timeline with film genres colour-coded. Additional buttons allow for films to be viewed by certificated rating and awards.
    Image: Film Finder by Christopher Ahlberg, Staffan Truvé and Ben Shneiderman

    Information Sculpture
    Steve Holtzman, a leading commentator on digital developments, describes the concept of designers and artists working in the digital medium as ‘sculpting in ones and zeros’. Holtzman continues ‘…information is now, in this information age, taking its rightful place beside energy and matter as a fundamental shaper of the world we live in. Of the three, only information is at the heart of who and what we are. It is a manifestation of our humanity that, in digital form, is sculpting new worlds. Self-expression in digital form is, literally, a process of information design’.
    Image: Colour Volume by Timon Botez utilises the knowledge of physics software specialist Justin Manor. Botez re-imagined Munsell‘s three-dimensional colour system to analyse and disassemble selected works of art into volume representations.

    Colour Science and Theory
    Colour can be described in terms of its physiological, psychological and socio-cultural effects. Colour theory covers aspects such as: hue (primary, secondary and tertiary colours); saturation; tone; complimentary colours; temperature; advancing and receding colours; vibrancy; and harmony. Students of design will often undertake many different colour exercises in order to experiment with and understand the effects of colour. It is also important to understand how colour changes through different lighting conditions and media such as print and screen. Scientists can describe the biology of the eye and the mechanics of the brain but how does this lead us to feel emotion or touch our soul or leave us with a memorable experience? Biologist and neuroscientist Steven Rose explains how information becomes perception and meaningful: ‘…it happens in the visual cortex itself; multiple interconnections link the separate modules, integrating their separate analyses; the flow of signals between them is the mechanism of perception’. Once again we have a scientific explanation but are still wondering how information can be prepared for consumption. What are the attributes of information, its design and visualisation?
    Image: I Feel Pain by Orapan Limbutara provides visual diagnostic tools for determining the type, location and intensity of pain. Limbutara had discovered cases of incorrect diagnosis where spoken language had been a barrier to understanding. Colour is used to represent pain intensity.

    From Information to Visualisation
    Information is comprised of components known as data; these components are things like words, numbers, statistics and facts. Design is the act of conceiving a plan or intention that determines the look and function of something before it is produced. Information design and visualisation is concerned with explaining complexity through visual means to enable understanding. Information design is the selection, organisation and presentation of data in a form that is of most value to an intended user. The primary purpose of information design is to help its users to understand and experience the world better. Giving visual form to information can make it more accessible, usable and enjoyable thereby reducing uncertainty. Information design records our experience of existence and presents this accumulated knowledge through formats such as: books, guides, exhibitions, maps, signage, interfaces, instruction manuals, television and the Internet. Information design has evolved to meet specific human needs and in doing so has contributed to the shaping of civilisation. We encounter information in different environments such as printed matter; three-dimensional spatial contexts; and the screen interface. Each shapes our experience and perception of information.

    Where am I?
    Imagine for a moment a world without directional signs; no maps to guide us from A to B; entering a building that has no signage; being asked to operate something that has no instructions; trying to read a publication without headings; attempting to find the way through a website that has no means of navigation. You are imagining a world without information visualisation or feedback about our environment. It would be a disorientating experience.

    Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom
    Information resides in a hierarchy that begins with data: data is transformed into information; information provides knowledge; and wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge. Data alone is of little value; the way data is presented provides its context and builds meaning. Richard Grefé, Executive Director of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), observes that ‘design is the intermediary between information and understanding’. How are we to organise information in order to better understand it?

    LATCH Theory
    In the book Information Architects, Richard Saul Wurman proposes that there are five main ways of organising information. To facilitate easy memory of this system he devised the acronym LATCH. L is for Location: maps organise information so that locations may be perceived by their geographical relationship to each other. A represents Alphabet: dictionaries, encyclopaedias and telephone directories use this system to organise words, concepts and names. T is for Time: museums often organise their exhibitions chronologically using timelines. C represents Category: this is a method often employed by department stores and supermarkets. H is for Hierarchy: hierarchy is a value system that places things in relative importance to one another.

    We can’t do it alone
    Information design is a process of making information more useable through a variety of design methodologies and requires an awareness of: instructional design, technical writing, web design, print, publication design, interface design, interactivity, programming, user experience design, information architecture, written and oral communications, human factor concerns, ethnography, cognitive psychology, semantics, syntax, linguistics, semiotics, communication theory, typography, illustration, diagramming, user research and testing. Complex information schemes require multi-, cross- and inter-disciplinary teamwork.

    Isolation or Integration?
    To view science in isolation from other fields of enquiry is to deny the complexity and history of human development. Educational theorists talk in terms of integrative learning – a method that seeks to connect complex and often contradictory perspectives. The ability to integrate knowledge enables holistic views to be made and judgments taken. Seeing only some of the parts and not the sum of the parts allows only a partial view and can lead to less informed decision-making. Ben Shneiderman of the Human Computer Interaction Laboratory (University of Maryland) suggests that ‘the purpose of visualisation is insight, not pictures’. Science can utilise and benefit from insights outside the immediate discipline as much as it can inform human progress and knowledge. Scientists may need artists and designers to draw the pictures for them but true visual insight reveals and enlightens. Scientists can’t always see the data or the meaning behind the data until it has been put into an appropriate visual form. Scientists at NASA required information designer Edward Tufte to re-draw the graph for them. The graph visually explained the data behind the avoidable Challenger disaster of 1986. They had the data, they even tried crude visual representations but they just couldn’t extrapolate meaning without Tufte’s intervention. They could describe but couldn’t interpret. The before and after graphical representations of data can be seen here. By visualising data correctly the disaster as shown on CNN below could have been avoided. Perhaps the top down management decision to launch under known dangerous conditions would not have been taken. Particularly if the visual case for not doing so had been transparently presented to the world. The primacy and the relative unilateralism of the traditional sciences has been questioned and found wanting. The scientists can’t do it alone and nor should they be expected to.

    Information Visualisation, Nico Macdonald, Eye Magazine, Issue 49, 2003
    A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson, Black Swan, 2004
    World Without Words, Michael Evamy, Laurence King, 2003
    Visual Explanations, Edward Tufte, Graphics Press, 1997
    Information Architects, Richard Saul Wurman, Graphis Publications, 1997
    Information Design, Robert Jacobson, The MIT Press, 2000
    Readings in Information Visualisation, Stuart Card, Jock Mackinlay
    Ben Shneiderman, Academic Press, 1999
    The Craft of Information Visualisation, Benjamin Bederson, Ben Shneiderman, Morgan Kaufman Publishers, 2003
    Diego Baca Viral Blocks website
    Interactive Tree of Life website
    Botez website

    • Lisa 5:47 am on April 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Your blog has been one of my favorites of all time. … Thanks for writing such a great blog. I always enjoyed reading it,

      • Tony Pritchard 9:59 am on April 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for taking the time to post a reply – much appreciated. Glad you are enjoying the blog. It’s a good outlet for my thoughts on design and education. Your link takes me to the Nurses E-Learning Center. I’d be interested in hearing more about the links you see between the medical profession and information visualisation or why you are interested in design. I have had people from the medical profession study with me as well as others with a science background such as molecular genetics.

      • Aidan 10:27 am on April 3, 2012 Permalink | Reply

        I found this while searching for some data visualisation I’d seen at The Wellcome Trust museum in London – they ran an exhibition last year called “Dirt” that included a piece on John Snow’s cholera work (and Ghost Map). There was also a wonderful study from the 19th century on monthly death rates plotted against weather (high & low temperature) and (I think) age group that left me in awe of our the calligraphy and illustrative skills of the time. Irritatingly, with photography prohibited in the museum I wasn’t able to capture it, but it impressed me with a) how easy technology can make illustration of data these days and b) how easy that software can make it to produce illustrations that are neither helpful nor elegant in comparison to skills of the past. If you have any ideas on who might have produced the study, or where I could find images of the illustration, I’d be very grateful. Thanks for the blog.

        • Tony Pritchard 10:49 am on April 3, 2012 Permalink

          Thanks for taking the time to write. I can’t identify the piece that your are referring to, but it put me in mind of the Minard Map which Edward Tufte describes as ‘probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn’. The map uses most, if not all, of Tufte’s 7 grand principles of analytical design. It does relate temperature to cause of death. You can find Minard’s Map on Tufte’s website.

      • jenny 3:09 pm on February 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply

        awesome infos here. thanks for sharing it! keep up the good work!

  • Tony Pritchard 12:54 pm on March 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Education, Educause   

    Private and public learning spaces: an integrated system 

    This post is in response to recent communications with my colleagues David Sims, Darren Raven, Paul Lowe, Andy Stiff and Lindsay Jordan regarding a risk assessment of the online submission of work. It draws upon the recent podcast by Educause entitled ‘The Genius of “And”: Reconciling the Enterprise and Personal Learning Network’.

    Open and closed systems
    There are open and closed systems within online virtual learning environments. Open systems operate within the public domain. These systems use the many and rich online tools such as blogs, social networks (Facebook), Delicious (bookmarking), Vimeo and Flickr amongst others to manage words and images connected to study. Closed systems are the private learning spaces that offer relative protection and confidentiality. These are course management tools such as Blackboard. Blackboard has the current advantage of working with University information management systems. This means that once enrolled, students have access to Blackboard. Many would also seek the reassurance that certain aspects of study such as feedback and assessment results remain private and within the control of the tutor and student. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) ‘safeguards quality and standards in UK higher education’. It is a QAA principle that ‘assessment is conducted…with due regard for security’.

    Courses that embrace the ‘And’ concept
    Jon Mott, speaking at Educause, suggests that the choice between open and closed systems is a ‘false dichotomy’ and that you can have the best of both. It is not ‘either or’ but both…closed AND open. Numerous courses use Blackboard purely to communicate announcements and store information. There are few examples of courses that utilise the learning and teaching potential of the virtual environment, preferring the traditional ‘sage on the stage’ approach. The Blackboard paradigm has not shifted much in five years. Building blocks such as Image Board (University of the Arts, London) have been added, but these have been judged as being behind current standards such as Flickr. Closed systems are difficult to export from once you graduate from a course. All the learning, reflections, resources and links are left behind. Students on the Design for Visual Communication course at the London College of Communication (LCC) began to post links out from Blackboard to external resources such as blogs. Courses such as MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the LCC use Blackboard as a gateway out to the rich world of industry standard online tools such as Ning sites, photoshelter and slideshare. The FdA Design for Graphic Communication at LCC embraces online technologies such as iShowU, issuu and podcasting to explain concepts to their large cohorts. These are archived at the externally hosted Doing Graphics website.

    Assessing the future
    The QAA Code of Practice is ten years old. Although e-learning is considered within one of the sections, to date the QAA has resisted developing a ‘distinct form of quality assurance’ for this mode of study. Some may suggest that the time is right to review the QAA paradigm in respect of online educational standards. It is unfortunate that QAA are perceived as an educational police force enforcing the law of the code and constraining innovation. With a perceived loss of faith comes a lack of confidence to originate new modes of conduct. There is a cost to progress and innovation in this loss of faith but there is equally a financial cost. There is an obsession with an audit and inspection culture. In Louise Morely’s book ‘Quality and Power in Higher Education’, she quotes the Times Higher Education Supplement (August 2000) as stating ‘a report for HEFCE found that the bureaucracy of subject review cost universities £250 million a year’. Mantz Yorke writing in 1999 reported that ‘more than 2000 individual institutions underwent subject review…only six courses were found to be failing’. A very expensive finding! The power of the quality assurance infrastructure within higher education is clearly felt. Fear breeds misperceptions, but there are perhaps more reasons to rediscover our confidence. The section of the QAA code on assessment states: ‘It is not QAA’s intention to prescribe how higher education providers will implement the precepts…which are intended to assure good assessment practice’. Although the revised code is a little more cautious in tone, the original code published in 2000 suggested it was offering a framework which: ‘institutions may wish to use and adapt according to their own needs, traditions, cultures and decision-making processes’. One final quote offers the notion for some scope: ‘The QAA wishes to encourage innovation and diversity in assessment practices’.

    Online submission of work: a risk assessment
    This is an extract from a paper to be presented at the LCC College Academic Committee (10.03.10). The following are proposed principles to be adopted to ensure a secure process.
    • Students need to be briefed and clear on what the expectation is with regards to assessment requirements and the process of submission eg what are the acceptable limits on the different types of digital formats.
    • The IT infrastructure needs to be robust enough to manage the submission for example the size of submission multiplied by size of cohort needs to be considered.
    • There should be clear contingencies should the technology fail to accommodate the submission.
    • The means of submission needs to be appropriate to the situation
    • There needs to be a clear receipting system
    • There should be clear lines of responsibility – what is expected of the student, administration and academic staff. It is not expected that administrative or academic staff will be collating different aspects of the student submission.
    • Where work is printed out this should not adversely effect the quality of the work and marking should not be related to the quality of the print.
    • The risk factors need to be identified for example do all students have access to the internet from where they will be submitting? What happens in the event of a server failure? If email is used staff will have to look out and could inadvertently miss the submission.
    • A submission form should be designed requesting student information in a consistent format eg a content list of items
    • There should be a pilot with one course in each Faculty being identified to undertake this. This should not be a final year cohort or summative assessment.

    A summary critique
    Colleagues with a particular interest in online submission reviewed these principles. The following is a summary of their critique.
    • Risk can be minimised but not eliminated completely. This is also true of conventional hand-ins
    • Digital Dropbox on Blackboard would not cope with large files from a large cohort. Externally hosted online facilities such as Vimeo, Flickr, Blogs, etc can handle volume and file size but are not within our (LCC/UAL) control.
    • For LCC/UAL to handle volume and file size it would need to invest in an all encompassing content management system, the like of which has no precedent (as far as we know) either in the commercial or education sector.
    • There are advantages to students engaging with external industry standards, but there could be quality issues eg security or updating beyond assessment deadlines.
    • The management of the postgraduate provision may be an easier proposition than undergraduate as students studying at that level mostly have acquired undergraduate academic skills and/or professional experience.

    Returning to ‘And’
    Imagine a screen split in half. One half is a private learning space the other a public learning space. The student posts a link in the public space. The tutor visits the resources (blogs, Vimeo, Flickr, etc) the student has carefully edited. The tutor clicks the record button and speaks or writes in the private space. The student collects their feedback and feed forward comments as well as their mark from the private space. We have been operating the ‘And’ option. The ‘And’ option has the security of the private space but adopts the less regulated world of the public space. As a sector do we trust uncertainty and loss of control? We expect risk taking in the face of uncertainty of our students. Do we trust ourselves? As someone responsible for quality assurance in a higher education institution such questions make me anxious. As a subject and teaching specialist I don’t have such concerns. We are at a point where we have to define our future practice and this may mean a progressive and responsible letting go of some of what we have known for something potentially better.

    The Genius of And, Jon Mott
    Quality and Power in Higher Education, Louise Morley
    The Quality Assurance Agency website
    The Doing Graphics website
    Online Submission of Work: A Risk Assessment, Tony Pritchard

    • Jonathan 2:20 pm on March 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Interesting – I’ve got all my students (160 of them for now, around 450 in two years time) running blogs and being assessed on the basis of them and we’re pretty much doing it “under the radar” as it’s the public aspect we’re interested in – engaging with the outside world, networking etc, something that’s led to the Studio Unbound project (http://studiounbound.wordpress.com/) but it’s very much an ongoing action research project. If we had to go through the “seek permission” process it would never happen, so we’re adopting the “seek forgiveness” approach instead. Blackboard doesn’t cut it for us – too much in the way of just getting stuff out there.
      But there is an issue of parity of assessment, what’s being assessed and so on that we need to look at (and will be). However what is clear is that the quality of learning and output has increased dramatically this year and I think the key is making sure the space is being used appropriately, rather than simply being used. It reminds me of an argument I once had with a colleague when I noticed they were using a studio fit for 90 students to run a seminar with five, simply to make sure the studio looked “used”, even though we had much better seminar spaces with comfier chairs etc somewhere else.
      I think why our blogging experiment is working as well as it is is because of what we’re asking students to do and how it ties in to the actual outcomes of the module, rather than simply asking them to blog because everyone’s doing it.

      One thing I like about the guidelines above is the thing about “printing” as that actually addresses a bugbear I’ve had for a long time, where I strongly suspected the students with access to the best printers got higher marks than those without. It’s a principle that should be adopted for traditional submissions too!

      Another thing that’s become clear in doing this is that the “digital native” is a myth – quite a large number of my students don’t know how to use a computer particularly well and find blogging, even in systems like blogger, to be a challenge. But we’re getting there, and I firmly believe that social networking is a key skill for designers and graduates – it’s the modern equivalent of traipsing round London with your portfolio. That was always a challenge for someone who didn’t live near London but now the playing field is much more level. So for me, using these tools is not so much about assessment (it doesn’t make it easier!) but learning. I’d like to do a study and see if ability to network online leads to better employment prospects…

      • Tony Pritchard 6:52 pm on March 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for taking the time to read and posting a response – the feedback is much appreciated.

        I’m not so sure the stuff that is on the radar is any more secure – and that’s putting it mildly. The parity question could still be put to conventional studio operations. Do we ever act on the findings of internal verification or are we just ticking that particular regulatory box? I’m not saying we shouldn’t have such processes just that the same concerns apply across the board and possibly we should challenge each other’s decisions a little more often.

        Blogging is commonly in use at UAL. Some courses require the final assessment to be an edited version. When I took my PG Cert in Learning and Teaching, part of it was online. We wrote weekly posts based on our readings for that week. It was then possible to edit this into a final submitted piece. We had to submit the work both online and as hardcopy.

        One of the most interesting and progressive courses at the LCC is the FdA Design for Graphic Communication. In the first week induction all students were taken through techniques for writing and posting on blogs. I can confirm that the assumption that all young people are naturals when it comes to online activity is a false one. There are issues of competence and confidence. Our study support unit is kept busy with plenty of requests for help, traditionally with essay writing days before the assignment hand-in. So it shouldn’t come as too much of a suprise that if someone is struggling academically they might struggle which ever medium they are engaged in. But it does and we need to anticipate future levels of study support for online activity. David Crystal has also pointed out that phenomena such as texting is thought to be a ‘teenage thing’…recent surveys suggest otherwise.

        I have been fortunate over the last five years to work with mature and highly motivated students who bring practical and academic skills in the bucket loads. I had noticed an increase in blogging and personal websites as well as social networking amongst them. A year or so ago I felt that I was losing touch with technological developments for the first time. I was spurred on to embrace as many of the online tools as I could, even if I didn’t quite understand what they meant at the time. I created a Facebook page and invited the last 5 or 6 years of students to join. Through this network I am able to push employment opportunities and help graduates make connections. One event coming up at the end of June is futurising.org. Since publishing online from August 2009 this blog has had 10000 views and the Flickr site has had nearly 2000 views. In my 25 years of professional practice I doubt if got to show my portfolio much more than 10 times. I would never have communicated with so many people I didn’t know first hand. And yes I have had employment opportunities from my online presence.

        Thanks for the Studio Unbound link. I’ve had a brief look but I will return to have a more in-depth peruse. I’ll draw it to the attention of my colleagues at LCC.

  • Tony Pritchard 5:37 pm on January 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Education, Graduates   

    Paying to work for free 

    There is a worrying trend emerging for graduates, some of who are ‘paying £8000 for internships’ (Kenber 2009).

    Twenty-five years ago you graduated qualified to do the job you had studied for. When you got a job, you anticipated job security for life. Then came the paid trial internships that you hoped would develop into a permanent job. Following that came the work-for-free internships. Now you get to pay to work for free at an internship. Some internships are being auctioned to the highest bidder.

    Potentially these developments could call into question the value of education and the resultant qualification. Could it be that there is a trend towards a form of employer apprenticeships? Commercial courses are directly challenging the higher education sector. Shillington College was set up by the founder who couldn’t find anyone with the right skill set to employ. The commercialisation of the sector continued with initiatives such as Tesco’s scheme to support university education with Clubcard points (BBC 2007). Some universities within the higher education sector are slow to respond to these types of change. ‘As higher education costs ever more by way of tuition fees and as it presents itself using the instrumentalist rhetoric of “Get a degree, get a fancy job”, it is to be expected that with such commodification and commercialisation comes consumerism’ (Palfreyman 2010). With consumerism comes customer dissatisfaction and litigation culture. Palfreyman describes the autonomy of higher education as a ‘refuge for scoundrels’ where ‘academics need not ever be accountable to anyone for anything’ (Palfreyman 2010). The downturn in the economy, government cutbacks, a cap on fees and customer dissatisfaction, are finally being felt with universities now playing catch up with new efficiency programmes and a focus on the student experience.

    There has been some recent media debate as to whether a university education increases your chances of higher earnings over a lifetime…or not (as is implied). The government says yes it does. But graduate and media stories are countering this idea with some seeing an arts education as being ‘an expensive library ticket’ (Ross 2009).

    This disenchantment is expressed by one such design graduate. ‘I really hate the ‘work for free’ idea. It’s nothing but pure exploitation and means that only people with financial backing can break into an industry. This combined with uni fees means yet again the class system becomes ever entrenched, when expanding HE [through initiatives such as widening participation and lifelong learning] was supposed to break down class barriers. What do we all do our degrees for then? And the irony is that in most jobs you will never come close to using the level of skill you developed at uni. Degrees have become totally devalued now. An A-level leavers’ job 10 years ago is a ‘graduate job’ today. There are now too many third rate unis offering third rate degrees to people who will be let down by them’ (Tite 2010).

    The government strategy is to focus on the courses that ‘deliver high quality training that meets the needs of learners and employers at a time when public finances are under pressure’ (Hardy 2010). Institutions will be expected to provide statistical evidence of ‘pass rates and future employability’ (Hardy 2010). All food for thought as we develop core curricula and review components such as study choices and what Personal and Professional Development constitutes. There is a growing tension with students feeling caught between an increasingly expensive higher education system (that is perceived as not paying off) and poor employment practice. Education can’t necessarily guarantee employment but it can offer the highest quality education experience preparing students for the best possible opportunity in the workplace. That is our responsibility to our students.

    1 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/6840634/Graduates-paying-8000-for-internships.html
    2 http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23752308-students-tricked-into-thinking-they-will-earn-more-after-study.do
    3 This is Kent, Education Supplement
    4 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6335399.stm
    5 http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=409854

    • Chris 5:23 pm on January 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Should designers create or join a trade union?

      Recently I overheard a group of designers who work mainly in the commercial sector and they saying that we were tired of being undercut by free pitching and ‘some bloke with a mac’ – doing an awful job for next to nothing.

      In my small experience as an in-house designer I know that my skills and training are overlooked by a management who have little respect for the design process – which can, if applied well, have enormous benefits for all. Perhaps if there was a trade union, we would able to lobby for better design?

      I also know of one very talented designer who has been threatened to be taken to court by some awful independent client over a very underpaid job. If there was a union, then perhaps we could afford proper legal backing?

      I may be wrong in all of this, so any comments are welcome.

      • Tony Pritchard 8:01 pm on January 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for posting Chris. You are right about the need for some sense of professional ethics. Organisations such as the International Society of Typographic Designers and the Design and Art Directors Association are professional bodies who perhaps should be more vocal in the press. Muller-Brockmann, despite doing some ethically dodgy jobs early on, was quite moral in terms of ethics. I think there is a piece in Typos issue 1 on this subject (you can probably still find Typos in the LCC library). A group of designers created a manifesto in 1963 – worth having a read, you’ll find it here: http://www.kengarland.co.uk/KG%20published%20writing/first%20things%20first/index.html
        It was updated in 2001 I believe. Geoff White was one of the original signatories, I think Geoff may be coming in to teach you soon. Design education could probably do a little bit more, mind you LCC does get in some really good people to advise on things like intellectual property. Look out for an event called Futurising (futurising.org) coming up at the end of June.

    • Chris 2:24 pm on January 31, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks Tony, I will certainly keep an eye on those professional bodies and check out the Typos reference.

      I agree with the manifesto – I certianly find the design process more rewarding than just advertising, especially when it involves working with disciplines which need some help with their approach to visual communication. Hopefully the Futurising event with be a good oppertunity find out more about such things.

    • Marice 9:29 pm on March 2, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      thanks for the Futurising mention, loads of opportunities for graphics and design graduates to learn about business skills at the event plus one to ones and events with Pentagram, Mother and D&AD etc.

      • Tony Pritchard 8:34 am on March 3, 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for posting Marice. Glad you’ve found me in my back garden of cyberspace. Futurising (http://futurising.org/) sounds like it is going to be a much needed event to kick start careers at a very opportune moment for graduate designers coming out of a recession.

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