This creative audit reviews and analyses a range of literature relating to the design of creating visual identities as well as the role and influence that critical thinking contributes to a design process. The chosen literature explores how ‘research through design’ can be both an effective research tool for collecting knowledge as well as it’s role of communicating it.
In the book, Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming Dunne and Raby (2013) describe the term speculative design as such a catalyst, where the focus moves from problem solving for clients, to problem finding for societies. From this introductory to both critical and speculative thought, it radically changed my attitude to design thinking and the way problems are solved. It highlighted that instead of producing an outcome, a sole tangible concept, a designer could adopt an inquisitive role and aim at better understanding a problem instead of seeking to solve it.
This concept of ‘problem setting’ not ‘problem solving’ acknowledges that designing is an individual inquiry into a problem and that one’s solution is just one of many possibilities. By ‘setting’ the problem, a designer has the freedom to go back and forth between the context to which they’re designing, and the intended solution, is a “reciprocal action where you diverge and converge, synthesise and open up.” (Villumsen, 2018)
In the article Abductive Thinking and Sensemaking: The Drivers of Design Synthesis by Jon Kolko, Kolko suggest ‘reframing’, the “method of shifting semantic perspective in order to see things in a new way” (Kolko, 2010) is a beneficial method to frame/reset problems. By reframing the problem in normative perspective it highlights “salient features and relations from what would otherwise be an overwhelmingly complex reality” (Takeda, Tsumaya and Tomiyama, 1999).
In the article, ‘Understanding problem setting and problem solving’, an the author argues that a design “solution and problem is intertwined and evolve as you’re designing” (Villumsen, 2018). This illustrates how significant the process of ‘research through design’ is for generating knowledge and contributing to research. “Practice serve as experiments through which they interrogate their ideas, test their hypothesis and pose new questions” (Laurel 2003). These readings highlight that through experimenting and producing design artefacts that a problem is better understood andal a appropriate solution is produced.
(Fallman 2007) explored this concept of research through practice through a term, ‘Project-grounded research’. This research seeks to place emphasis on the research objective of creating design knowledge (Frankel and Racine 2010). The value of ‘Research Through Design’ is that this kind of investigative theory becomes a vehicle for acquiring and shaping knowing (Downton 2003). This integrated frame of reflection and inquiry means that the process seeks explanations and produces immediate results (Friedman 2000).
According to (Norman, 2013) the human centred design process starts with a good understanding of people and the needs that the design is intended to meet. “Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.” (Norman, 2013). Accordingly, ‘Research through Design’ is essentially the continuous effort of understanding and catering to our human needs. “Creativity is the habit of continually doing things in new ways to make a positive difference to our life (Hyper Island, 2016)”. A successful design process is defined by characteristics of ‘discoverability’ and ‘understanding’ (Norman, 2013), these set the foundation to allow designers to research possible solutions and generate new knowledge. In addition, Jon Kolko suggests for the designers to produce this knowledge, they may “a user-centered discovery process to immerse themselves in a particular subject or discipline, and then go "incubate" that material” (Kolko, 2010). By allocating time to reflect and valuing it’s adaptation to one’s design process, Kolko highlights this will produce “a tangible artifact as a visual representation of the reflection.”
To quote Dunne and Rab (2013) again, “The form of design thrives on imagination and aims to open up new perspectives on what are something called wicked problems, to create spaces for discussion and debate about alternative ways of being, and to inspire and encourage people’s imaginations to flow freely.” As such, the significance of speculative design is its ability to open public debate and lead public opinion (Franke, 2010). Describes the role of a ‘speculative designer’ to instruct the audience how to think; rather he or she should allow members of the audience to construct their own opinions about the issues that are being presented (Franke, 2010). Again, this conversation was transformative in my approach to researching and progressed it from being a interest of branding into an critique of one’s process when designing visual identities.
In a paper by Yauner and Rodgers (2015), they add to the conversation of critical design as practical design tool, not only for self reflection but seeks “to critique contemporary society through the production of provocative artefacts that cause the viewer to reflect on current trends, assumptions and values.” However, the authors argue that critical design may be only appropriate for certain contexts i.e. museums and galleries due to their social role to comment and critique a range of issues and value these observations. The authors highlight the conflict that while ‘critical design artefacts critique consumer society this does not prevent them from themselves becoming desirable objects to be consumed (Blythe, Yauner and Rodgers, 2015).
In Metahaven’s book Uncorporate Identity they highlight how critical design is a tool to host conversation and drive investigation surrounded a central theme/topic. In their instances, their critique of corporate branding and producing an appropriate identity for a nation reveals the complexity of this design problem. “The way we (Metahaven) want to use design is analytical, but also creative,” says Daniel Van Der Velden, a member of Metahaven. “Uncorporate Identity is no exception to this. In the book we take aim at the idea of ‘soft power’ that underpins nation branding. The mindless copying of existing approaches to branding is what makes the results often boring and predictable. We need more experiment and a bit more imagination too.”
Another perspective of critical design can be found in analysing consumer behaviour itself. In the article ‘Marketing communications in a post-modern world’ (Kitchen and Proctor 2015) suggests that economic, social and technological developments have resulted in market places being in an influx of constant change. Consumer behaviour responds and evolves simultaneously to technological advancements. Accordingly, consumers not only seek to engage in brand experiences, they seek to be immersed in these projected identities to form their own. Brands and identities are in a postmodernist era, being the “recognition that reality is not simply mirrored in human understanding of it, but rather, is constructed as the mind tries to understand its own particular and personal reality.” ("Glossary Definition: Postmodernism" 2014). In the book Design, User Experience, and Usability: Novel User Experiences (Marcus, 2016), this issue is explored with the author stating “Design speculations can act as a catalyst for collectively redefining our relationship to reality.”
In conclusion, the referenced literature painted a holistic conversation regarding visual identities and how considering critical and speculative design . This was significant in developing my knowledge of existing conversations and presented an array of varying opinions and responses in regards to visual identities and design processes at large. It highlighted existing areas of research while revealing opportunities for further research which informed the direction of my research. Further, this exercise proved invaluable at developing my vocabulary to articulate my opinion and critique my practice appropriately.