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Session 9: The Critical Designer

The Role and Value of Research

Research is the search for, and systematic advancement of, knowledge and is an integral part of creative and professional practice. Becoming a critical practitioner means being able to design effective research strategies.

Primary Methods

This method involves carrying out research yourself in the studio or out in the field. Practice led research refers to where knowledge emerges through a cycle of activity and reflection and where theories, issues and interest are investigated by the production of creative works. Approaches may include:

  • mapping

  • experimentation with materials and processes

  • sketchbook or blog-based investigation

  • formal analysis and/or application of theory

  • adapted social-science methods (e.g interviews)

Secondary Methods

This refers to reading and analysing existing published sources, such as:

  • theoretical frameworks or fields of research

  • reading list/locating key texts on your subject

  • literature review and comparison between sources

  • finding useful case studies

Remaking Theory, Rethinking Practice

In Andrew Blauvelts book, 'Remaking Theory, Rethinking Practice', the Japanese-American curator highlights common criticisms against the use of theory. He argues 'overintellectualization' disrupts the artists natural intuition because it's too abstract and vague; theory does not respond to the realities of studio practice, or the commercial world.

​He also proposes that the 'impasse between theory and design must be bridged' and argues that design is a form of 'social practice', and 'thinking' and 'doing' are two sides of the same coin symbiotically linked. Theory is designed and therefore able to be shaped and used in a creative practice.

He then turns the argument on its head - 'it is important to recognise that design no matter how it is practiced, fashions its own theories about making that help give it meaning, significance, and legitimacy'. He then goes on to argue that theory is designed and is therefore able to be shaped and used in creative practice.

Blauvelts final point refers to rethinking practice within a theoretical framework - 'theory provides the basis with which to ask questions not only about work, but also through work. And if nothing else, what design lacks in terms of interesting work these days is not necessarily more visual variety, but rather more provocative questions and polemical answers'.

Theory is relevant and useful because it is important to place yourself as a creative and your practice within a broader cultural context. It is also useful in developing a visual literacy and understand how your work is read and understood by the audience.

In addition, theory helps inform your creative practice, to create more insightful and impactful work, as well as helps you design effective research strategies to address a variety of creative briefs. It also encourages lateral thinking, which is important in an ever changing and complex cultural landscape.

I found Blauvelts writing to be quite hard to understand but I've highlighted below areas of the text that stood out to me.



  • Bestley, R and Noble, I. Visual Research: An Introduction to Research Methods in Graphic Design (pages 7-240)

  • Blauvelt, A. Remaking Theory, Rethinking Practice in Heller. S. Education of a Graphic Designer (pages 71-77)


*no notes due to being absent at the lecture



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