Category Archives: BA(Hons) Graphic Design Research

Process & Liturgy; California-style

Over the past few years, many of the graphic design course team have been re-evaluating their sense of what ‘research’ means, how it fits with their teaching & design practice, and have been encouraged to take steps toward defining a clearer personal research agenda. With a changing educational landscape, and a wide variety of opinions regarding the place and definition of research, this process has (on a personal level) been somewhat overwhelming, and I have found myself asking really big questions about, well, pretty much everything.

Mid-way into this process, and almost a year ago to the day, I found myself at the receiving end of a couple of small (yet successful) internal funding bids that enabled me to visit Los Angeles, San Francisco and Redding last July to explore what have become two key areas of focus for the work that feeds who I am.

I had already started a project interviewing graphic designers, specifically exploring their personal design process (the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind the what we do – speaking with Angus Hyland at Pentagram, Phil Carter at Carter Wong and Fred Flade at Soon_ in the Spring). This has been, and continues to work towards a ‘mapping’ project that will eventually express those processes visually. The resulting ‘Process Dictionary’ will compliment a number of other process-based projects already under way and will (hopefully) culminate in a book with colleague Dion Star unpacking ‘process’ more holistically.

California is home to an eclectic mix of individuals & companies who represent schools-of-thought that were either; significant in my own design education, are current world leaders in their respective fields, or paint a much broader picture of the reach of design today. If you start just south of San Jose, and drive one hour north on the 101 to San Francisco (or use the 280, which is way more beautiful), you will probably pass the head offices of most of the leading communication & innovation companies in the world. Never one to name drop (and I might get sued if I do), I was able to spend time in conversation with the head of one of the largest communication media networks in the world, a design director from one of the most influential personal computer companies in the world, a design lead for a company re-inventing the way we think about travel accommodation, the head of product for a team re-imagining recruitment, several creative directors who have flown the UK nest and are thriving in the US, head of a new digital start-up that is challenging the conventional design agency model, two independent industrial designers who each build custom motorcycles (but both for very different reasons), and several academics who represent polarised schools of thought on design education in the 21st Century. What was overwhelming was their unified passion for what they do, their shared belief in the power of design to improve the world around us, and their willingness to share their ideas. At present, the interviews have been transcribed (thanks Heidi), and the journey to now convert some of the conversations into meaningful ‘process maps’ begins…

Alongside the core interviews, I was also able to attend (what is in conventional academic terms) a very unconventional ‘conference’ – with the aim of establishing a clearer vocabulary for broader themes I have been exploring for a while.

The bigger ‘research’ story has led me to question how to integrate my formal interest in design (23+ years), my informal & disjointed experience as a musician (28+ years), and how everything I do is underpinned by my belief that we are spiritual beings and were designed to be in relationship with God (over most of my life in one way or another). This has moved towards a practical exploration of how the broader arts can frame, enhance and compliment communities that seek to connect with God (what musician Michael Gungor calls ‘Liturgical Space’). An immediate example of this is the way in which stained-glass windows have, in days-gone-by, described biblical stories so as to make them accessible to (what would have been) a largely illiterate community. I’m curious as to what the modern-day equivalent of that may be – particularly as we have moved culturally from illiteracy, to literacy, to an increasingly visually-driven method of communication, yet the established modern church has still to fully embrace the arts beyond the trivial. The ‘conference’ I attended in California was organised by Bethel Music – part of Bethel Church in Redding, CA and was attended by a wide variety of creatively-biased individuals interested in how the arts (particularly music in this case, but with some reference to the visual arts) can further our experience, understanding and expression of God. The time away covered a wide variety of themes; from personal character & identity, to making good use of your resources, exploring the creative muse & self-doubt as an artist, to practical sessions on guitar effects (always a highlight), song-writing and the importance of community.

On both counts (process & liturgy), the trip was a definite career highlight, and the impact of the time away, conversations had, and life experienced will (I hope) have a significant bearing on the work that I produce over the next few years. As ever, the broader battle is to now find the time to actually move the projects forward in a meaningful way, but the framework is there, as is the will to do so, so watch this space

AN Dec. 2015-12-09

(Footnote; Particular thanks to Nolwenn Baot, Jon Unwin and Stuart Westhead at Falmouth University for their advice, support and guidance in making the trip happen. To Heidi Ball (again, at Falmouth) for making sure I didn’t end up in Mexico! To Neil Robinson at Chapter SF for opening up his black book of connections, and to The Giddens Family in Redding for opening their home and hearts (especially Rosie for giving up her room).

graphic designers research symposium 20-11-15

Article in Eye Magazine:

Academics and practitioners meet in Falmouth, Cornwall to discuss the issues affecting research in graphic design

15.11.12 Symposium article 1 Spread from In the Land of Punctuation by Christian Morgernstern and Rathna Ramanathan, Tara Books, 2014.

On Friday 20 November 2015, academics, publishers and practitioners in graphic design will meet at the University of Falmouth in Cornwall for a symposium on graphic designers’ research, writes Jessica Jenkins.

When graphic designers speak of research, they normally refer to the process of scoping ideas for their work. In universities, research has become increasingly important in terms of the kudos of an institution and its academics, who are called upon to sharpen their research profiles, and solicit funding. Getting funded to explore graphic design in a non-commercial context sounds like a perfect brief. But when strict criteria apply with reference to ‘peer review’ and ‘impact’, it can be hard to place graphic design research.

While many established practitioners seek to define and expand the remit of graphic design – through self-initiated projects and through the art of re-thinking the client’s brief – design practice, design history and theory often seem to occupy separate worlds. Success in one may be measured through prestigious awards and invitations to show-and-tell conferences; success in the other may be marked by REF points accumulated by the publication of erudite papers in journals barely known to the professional designer. Of course, this caricatures both realms slightly and many individuals successfully combine research and practice, but nonetheless, an understanding of what is meant by ‘research in graphic design’ is rarely part of academic or professional debate.

The Falmouth symposium aims to be a new venture into this territory, spanning theory, practice, history and the profession. There are still some tickets available, and it is free, so please join us in Cornwall for some fresh air and fresh ideas.

15.11.12 Symposium article 2 Book design and typography for The Murty Classical Library of India, by Dr Rathna Ramanathan, 2015.

15.11.11 Moth icons Falmouth lecturers Nicola Salkeld and Ashley Rudolph’s research project ‘Moth’, 2015, in collaboration with Augsburg University.

Rathna Ramanathan, head of communication design at the RCA, known for her expertise in intercultural communication design and typography, and Eye editor / co-owner John L. Walters will talk about design and publishing. Alice Twemlow, a design critic, historian and founding chair of the Department of Design Research, Writing & Criticism at the SVA (School of Visual Arts) in New York, will deliver a talk on her own experience of graphic design research. Falmouth University’s own senior lecturers Nicola Salkeld and Ashley Rudolph will present their teaching research project ‘Moth’, a collaboration with Augsburg University on graphic symbols of death. Social designer and academic, Joanna Choukeir will also present her experience of integrating teaching and research.

15.11.12 Symposium article 4 One of several digital billboards displaying Rebecca Ross’s ‘London is Changing’ project, 2015.

15.11.12 Symposium article 5 Cover and coal dust jacket for Craig Oldham’s In Loving Memory of Work, 2015.

15.11.12 Symposium article 6 Craig Oldham, ‘If Maggie Gets Up Your Nose, Picket’ from In Loving Memory of Work, 2015.

The Graphic Designers Research symposium will take place at Falmouth University on the Woodlane Campus, Fox 4 Lecture Theatre, Falmouth, TR11 4RH on 20 November 2015.

Jessica Jenkins is a designer and writer based in Berlin, Paris and London

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.


In the face of Death is a collaborative project with 25 students from Augsburg University, and Falmouth University, including staff Nikki Salkeld, Ashley Rudolph, Prof. Michael Wörgötter and Prof. Stefan Bufler.

The project aims to create of a meaningful graphic system of symbols, which focus on ideas and beliefs at the end of life, (the moment at which we die). Using the four immortality narratives (as described in Stephen Cave’s Book Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilization); Elixir, Resurrection, The Soul and Legacy, as vehicles to establish these systems.

In the face of Death project launched in Augsburg just before Easter 2015.  The 25 students have been given one of the four immortality narratives to research and consider how they might then create of a meaningful graphic system of symbols, which focus on ideas and beliefs at the end of life, (the moment at which we die). The project was introduced by Steven Cave’s, School of Life podcast, followed by an historical overview of death and attitudes to mortality and immortality. We then had an immortality tour of Augsburg, followed by lectures on the theory of signs and the sign development process.

The weeks events also include an evening Calligraphy workshop led by Prof. Hans Heitmann and a research day in Munich at the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum and the Anatomische Sammlung der LMU München.


Conference on Visual Cultures in Socialism, University of Hamburg

Dr Jessica Jenkins
Conference on Visual Cultures in Socialism.
Organised by the University of Hamburg.


My own PhD research uncovers the art and design of public spaces in communist East Germany, and Visual Cultures in Socialism gave me an excellent opportunity to learn about related research areas. This overview gives a brief insight into this academic conference, which although not titled as such, presented design history research, with a focus largely on forms of visual communication in a number of state socialist states in the post war period up until the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe in 1989.

Firstly, a thought on Hamburg, the German city made wealthy through its position as a gateway to the North Sea. Although the city lies actually 100km from the sea, the capitalisation of the harbour has defined Hamburg for hundreds of years. It was the abundance of water and wealth that struck me on my visit, but at the same time a social dimension typical for Germany. Students don’t pay fees, universities are run as places of learning, canteen food is cheap and healthy, nurseries are modern and well equipped, public transport is efficient and affordable, and the cost of a beer at a prime spot overlooking the Elbe was no more than anywhere else.

None of this of course, has much to do with the subject of the conference. East Germany was situated far away from Hamburg, and even today there is a huge divide in perception and experience between East and West. On the other hand, in fact, the “social contract” in Germany is part of the Cold War story. West Germany’s political strategy was to make Capitalism attractive, and thus weaken the case for the Socialism of neighbouring East Germany, once part of the same country. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this need to prove West German superiority also fell away, and whilst the sense of public provision is still tangible, the social contract has been eroded over recent years.

The conference covered all sorts of visual subject matter. Imagining the visual histories of socialism, certain images come immediately to mind: Stalin portraits, red flags, the hammer and sickle, posters of female tractor drivers, and bits of material culture emanating from economies marked by shortages. However, the richness and diversity of the visual culture which spread across this vast territory for forty years and more is a fascinating resource for design and visual culture historians. The conference asked: how was socialism visually defined and represented? How was it made recognizable? How can we understand the relationships between the control and production of images, the consumption of images and mass culture, the interaction between “high” and “low”, in addition to the management of cultural and ethnic diversity in the socialist societies of the 20th century and the visual cultures tied to ruling practices?

During the conference, one of my thoughts was how little, even within graphic design which is at least 50% concerned with images, we actually critically engage with images. We have a flair for finding and using images, but how often do we really stop and think about the significance of our choices, and the culture we are immersed in and which we make it our task to perpetuate?

Now for the images…

JJ 1


Christoph Lorke, WWU Münster.

Thinking the Social: Social images of ‘poverty’ and the construction of ‘self’ and “otherness” in GDR society.

Christoph Lorke examined officially sanctioned images of 1) the elderly and 2) large families in the GDR, Bulgaria and the USSR. The socialist states were keen to present old age as a time of social and personal flourishing, (in contrast to the image of poverty from the West, see far left). Large families were promoted as places of good moral and social education where all members contributed to the well being of the family unit. Mothers who bore many children were presented with medals in some countries.

JJ 2


Christine Gölz, GWZO Leipzig.

Merry pictures of the little folk: The cartoon magazine ‘Veselye kartinki’, or what’s left from the Socialist ‘children’s world’

The Merry Little folk of Soviet socialist comics. Initially the brief was to be fun and apolitical, but from the late 1967s there was an increasingly socialist agenda in the stories.

JJ 3


Paweł Miedzinski,
Institute of National Remembrance, Szczecin, looked at the Polish sate photography agency. Top, images of Polish advertising techniques. The trusty technique, sale through sexual association is used, as well as the now less common focus on the product.

Below, Micha Braun, University of Leipzig
presented the bizarre counter state activities of surrealist and performing arts groups in the 1980s who satirised state socialism. The public action “who is afraid of toilet paper” where sheets of toilet paper were distributed to the public was a reflection on shortages of basic necessities.

JJ 4


Sabine Stach, German Historical Institute, Warsaw/University of Leipzig.

Personae non gratae or How to stage hidden heroes. Visual representations of Jan Palach.

Stach looked at the changing reception of the icon of Jan Palach, the young student who burnt himself to death in 1968 as a protest against the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. Once a potent symbol for “socialism with a human face”, today he is politically neutralised as a symbol of democracy.

Beata Hock, GWZO Leipzig presented images of women in socialism as: Casualties of remembering communism/ Above, the female Soviet cosmonaut who set the Russians ahead of the Americans in the gender race in the 1960s. Below left, a still from the late 1980s film of the deviant Russian woman, “Little Vera”. Below right, the extraordinary photographs commissioned by Life magazine, contrasting a Dior model, albeit invited to the Soviet Union by Khruschev, with the simple, headscarfed Russian women in 1954.

JJ 5


Nadine Siegert, University of Bayreuth: Images of nostalgic and utopian Socialism: visuality and counter-visuality in Angola & Mozambique.

Siegert presented an extraordinary range of socialist propaganda images from Angola and Mozambique from the 1960s and 1970s, which showed influences from Soviet socialist realism, American pop art, Polish poster design and West European activism.

JJ 6


Carmen Scheide, University of St. Gallen:
The visual construction of Soviet Ukraine.

How was Ukraine constructed as female, as opposed to the male characterisation of the Soviet Union which ruled the country? As folk image, as innocent, as pre-modern, Ukraine was to play cultural feminine to the Soviet modern and hi-tech masculine.

JJ docks

View of central Hamburg.