Design Proposal

Designs ability to explore problems and be a tool of critical investigation has been overshadowed by its role to generate revenue. One’s design process has been condensed with emphasis and monetary value being placed on the outcome and not the process itself. Graphic design competition based websites such as 99Designs and DesignCrowd champion this scenario and reward the production of quick outcomes. This corporate influence has created an influx of homogenous concepts and imagery that have become insufficient in producing unique and engaging visual identities and narratives.

The research investigates, how can a design process of creating visual identities adopt an explorative model which encourages intuitive design decisions? This question hypotheses that when a designer acknowledges and places confidence in their individual thoughts (logical, intuitive and emotive) to justify design decisions it produces a explorative process that result in a fulfilling outcomes, both for the designer and client.

The proposed solution for this research critiques an existing design process, ‘The Double Diamond Process’ which was developed by the British Design Council in 2005. The appeal of this model is its simplicity, clearly defined stages and diversity in its use. Although this process does well at recognizing the different stages a designer progresses through, a design process is not always so linear and clearly defined. As such, this research explores how a similar model can better cater to a designer’s intuition to promote their individual creativity.

During an elective, Unconventional Publishing, I explored the possibilities of using communication design as how Adam Cruickshank describe, ‘an autonomous creative practice. Suddenly I had the freedom to explore and document ideas independently from corporate environments I was previously working. I discovered that through the process of design and the physical act of creating, I was able use these projects as vehicles for my curiosity and as a tool to acquire knowledge. This realisation highlighted the significant role that ‘researching through design’ would contribute to this investigation and prove invaluable as methodology. Further, it revealed opportunity how to appropriately critique these corporate environments and explore how by participating with such corporate influence, could result in an enriched decision making and fulfilling design process. 

It was on reflection of this semester as a whole that I was able to understand that each individual outcome was a smaller response to a large problem that I was undertaking. Each design brief that I was presented was an opportunity to experiment both visually and conceptually. Although I had frustrations with branding and visual identities becoming predictable, I realised the problem lay within a designer’s participation of this issue. Designer’s must not only solve problems, but participate in asking why the question is being asked and adopt a holistic design process. As such, the outcome of this research not only questions and critiques orthodox design practices, it reconsiders a designer’s process when creating visual identities and considers the value speculative and experimentation contribute to one’s process.

The publication ‘Uncorporate Identity’ by Metahaven has acted as the primary influence and reference for the process, outcome and presentation of my research. The publication is an anthology of Metahaven’s ideas, responses and critique on corporate identity and explores themes of design, geopolitics, architecture, and branding. The appeal of this publication is that it acts a vessel to cater for different tangents of thoughts. It highlights the importance of these explorations to their design process and how vital it is in the acquisition of knowledge. It is an ideal reference for ‘Research Through Design’ as well as an example of what an anti design book that will relates to my research topic of branding.

In conclusion, by researching through design I am able to critique my own creativity process and explore how these insights could be of benefit and interest to other designers when creating visual identities. The outcome for this research is to encourage designers to place confidence in their own subconscious thoughts; intuitive, logical and emotive, and how these can be invaluable in producing unique design outcomes and narratives. By acknowledging these thoughts, designer’s can experience an enrich decision making process that places confidences in an individual's creativity and ability to produce unique outcomes.


Design Research

Three primary methodological research tools were employed to investigate how the design process of creating visual identities can support an explorative model and encourage an individual’s intuitive decisions. The methodologies were applied sequential to allow for the collection of qualitative data to be continual inform/refine and progress the research to appropriately respond to the research question.

Additionally, two interviews were conducted early on in Semester Two to provide insight and perspective of speculative design and branding at large. The primary role of these interviews was to mature and progress the scope of the research. The interviews are with Adrian Ley and Brando Corradini.

The three primary research methods are summarised with their potential contribution to the research:

︎ Research Through Design: Autoethnographic
  • Use projects as vessels to conduct research and explore different ideas.
  • Through creating tangible thought, it allowed for ideas to be better articulated as well as critiqued.
  • Provide opportunity to grow and refine central research dialogue

︎ Workshop: Ethnography
  • Introduce and test framework of intuitive lead decisions in Double Diamond.
  • Generate qualitative data in form of posters in response to following proposed process.
  • Observe participants on their response to the research project overall.

︎ Case Study
  • Test a proposed design framework is appropriate for the real world.
  • Continue to refine and grow the proposed design framework


This research was initiated by adopting an autoethnographic, self reflective practice. Autoethnography is a term for research that explores the connections between culture, the wider society and the self (Chang, 2008). This method proved appropriate to apply a ‘research through design’ approach to assist in articulating and exploring different ideas and concepts. (Fallman 2007) states that this ‘project-grounded research’ seeks to place emphasis on the research objective of creating design knowledge (Frankel and Racine 2010). The value of this self reflecting practice is that the investigation becomes a vehicle for acquiring and shaping knowing (Downton 2003). Further, this integrated frame of reflection and inquiry means that the process seeks explanations and produces immediate results (Friedman 2000). (Lois Frankel 2010) explains that through project based research “the emphasis is on the research objective of creating design knowledge, not the project solution”.

This research at large was primarily focused on extracting information about a designer’s participation and process. As such, it should be acknowledge this investigation is inquisitive about the profession of design and can be considered ‘Research About Design’. Buchanan calls this area of research a “design inquiry” and sees it as searching for “an explanation in the experience of designers and those who use products” (Buchanan 2007). Although Buchanan cleary divided ‘Research About Design’ into two categories: ‘the discipline of designing’ and ‘creativity of the designer’. My research is inquisitive of both the development and process of creating branding identities and the designer’s role and process that equates to that.

The information from this self reflective practice are qualitative and aim to not only collect, but provided opportunity to articulate and understand the research in regards to different influences and perspectives on the research. Qualitative research is associated with discovery, description, understanding and shared interpretations (Sanghera 2007). As such, the varied insights and information all contributed to, and revolved around adding to a central dialogue about a designer’s participation in designing visual identities while leaving opportunity to add to this conversation through external perspectives.

These insights and data collected were then reconstructed into shareable concepts which were tested through an ethnographic study of communication design students during workshops. The workshop explained the intentions of my research and proposed a design process that encouraged intuition, mistakes and experiments. The participants were asked to respond to a speculative brief to create a visual identity through a poster.  Qualitative research is appropriate for this inquiry as it is subjective and focuses on describing and interpreting people’s meaningful experiences though a participant point of view (Ladner 2007). Although the final outcome wasn’t a functioning identity system, a narrative was produced by rapidly progressing through a design process with strict constraints. Via observing the participants discussions and posters created, it provided insight into their response to the proposed concepts and research at large. Ethnography, a core anthropological research tool seeks to explore how people experience and make sense of what they, themself and others do (Plowman 2003).

From these insights case studies were developed to test how these insights could be beneficially in real life scenarios. The benefit of employing this research method is that it is concerned with how and why things happen, allowing the investigation of contextual realities and the differences between what was planned and what has happened (Anderson 1993).

The pragmatic paradigm of the research acknowledges that our reality is ever changing based on our actions, “sidestepping the contentious issues of truth and reality” (Feilzer 2010), and instead focus “what works as the truth regarding the research questions under investigation” (Tashakkori & Teddlie 2003). As such the pragmatic epistemology is more suitable for ‘Design for Research’ and studio research methods such as Reflection of Practice and Case Studies.

In conclusion, The paradigm of the research mixes both constructivist and pragmatic epistemology and pragmatic theoretical perspective to support the research. Two research methodologies were used to employ three methods of collecting information. Autoethnographic studies allowed for a reflective practice and case studies to be explore the research while ethnographic studies promoted a different perspective on the research. The research methods describe above allowed for the research to be explored chronologically and in a sequential progression. This will allow the research to be self directing and fulfilling in it’s exploration but restrained and supported by findings and data collected from observations during field work. The chosen methods provided value by creating a diverse range insights into the problem at hand. Further, these insights were successful in forming a holistic conversation regarding visual identities and provide the necessary insight into responding to the research question.


Creative Audit

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.