The aim of this research is to reveal the significance of materiality in graphic design ideation. It argues that materials are active participants in the generation of graphic design ideas. While prevalent in the discourse of disciplines such as architecture, this mode of design enquiry is relatively unresearched in graphic design. This project is underpinned by commentary—from theorists such as Donald Schön, Anni Albers, Richard Sennett, Timothy Ingold and Juhani Pallasmaa—that explores the integration of thinking and making .
A multimodal, visual methodology has been designed to hybridise practice-based research with collective case-study research. Framed by a reflection on the topic in my practice, a comparative study is made of materiality in the ideation of another graphic design practitioner, David Lancashire. The basis of these studies is my collection of processual artefacts and artefacts from Lancashire’s design archive. Analysis of these retrieves aspects of tacit design knowledge that is intrinsic to the construction of each. These methods are supplemented by interviews, studio field trips, video-recorded ideation and textual analysis.
The outcome of the research includes a number of important findings about ideation in graphic design. In various ways, the project provides substantial evidence of how we, as design practitioners, seek to adapt our material consciousness to particular technological situations. The thought-provoking tensions that arise from these adaptions are tacitly sought techniques to engineer invention. Prevalent among these are the repurposing of technologies to new tasks and the perpetual endeavour of noticing connections between apparently unlike domains. An influential factor is the invitation of unpredictable ideas that arise by chance. It has been found that we each seek certain conditions in which to design because they stimulate imagination, and encourage us to experiment and invent. In accordance with this, the most significant contribution of the research is the introduction of the concept of ‘material literacy’. The thesis argues that because graphic communications are contingent on material circumstances, materials themselves provide a language that is available for infinite interpretation.
The dissertation has six chapters. Chapter 1 gives an overview of how materiality has figured in the history of design ideation, and Chapter 2 establishes how this approach to design has figured in the history of both my and David Lancashire’s practices. Chapter 3 is a retrospective reflection on materiality in my practice alone. Its focus is a particular kind of material enquiry that I have devised to invent book cover designs for literary fiction within the standard parameters of high-volume commercial print production. Recognising that each of the authors’ voices is unique, I set myself the task of inventing a distinct visual interpretation to represent the uniqueness of each voice. This chapter investigates how, to fulfil this task, my practice evolved to become a continuum of materially led design enquiries. Chapter 4 examines how a material focus has similarly leveraged invention for Lancashire’s designs for the Australian printing and paper industries. Chapter 5 discusses concepts that were raised by the two cases, and finally, Chapter 6 concludes by stating the case that materially focused practitioners are not autonomous in the design process.
Examiners: Prof Andrew Morrison, Prof Gavin Sade Supervisors: Prof Harriet Edquist, A/Prof Brad Haylock