Masters Degree – Assignment 2, b – Reasons, Key Texts, Inspirational Research & Practice. (…a Thought Avalanche)

“The more extensive a man’s knowledge of what has been done, the greater will be his power of knowing what to do

~ Benjamin Disraeli

“You say that reading and processing some of the dense information within your assignments is akin to learning or wading through a foreign language, yet you insist on writing your plans and planning aids in that very foreign language you find impossible! Why?”

G. Sleightholme in conversation with a student

With subjects such as CATS – or Critical & Theoretical Studies – those students who have hoped to escape the, to them, exhausting formal linguistic rigor and difficulties with comprehension of dense language (and seemingly alien vocabulary) of written and researched information by just turning tail and throwing themselves into visually creative subjects, can be sent into apoplectic fits through the simple act of asking for a paraphrased sentence or two on a long dead, or out of (current) fashion, creative.

Even one in their own field. This is obviously an issue; and one that needs addressing or at least softening… that is part of the reasoning behind this research in practice.

So, here I am exploring:

The Visualisation of Educational Concepts for Art & Design Students

Creating a “Gateway” to ease the students access to the (to them) inaccessible.

Text versus Image versus Text & Image

– Some Key Texts –

…now being explored in my Masters study.

1A range of texts,

–       The books and authors needed for research in this field.

Some of the early starting points for my research now supplemented with further reading… Essayists such as Arthur Koestler (creativity), Umberto Eco (semiotics), Rick Poynor et al (the design process) and Scott McCloud(word, image and sign).

Further to my early reading I have branched out, and embraced the world of Infographics. Looking at writers such as:


Edward TufteVisual Explanations and Beautiful Evidence

In his various books and essays, Tufte has developed the concept of “data-ink ratio”, an idea that turns its back on the use of elaborate and unnecessary decoration in creation of visualisations of quantitative information.

Tufte states in his book, Visual Display of Quantitative Information

“Sometimes decorations can help editorialize about the substance of the graphic. But it’s wrong to distort the data measures—the ink locating values of numbers—in order to make an editorial comment or fit a decorative scheme.”

Some of my early concerns regarding the visualisation of some of these concepts (mentioned here and particularly here) has been the issue of making stylistic choices over just communicating an idea.

Something that possibly falls within the remit of modernist design thought such as that of the Bauhaus with its “form […] follows function” mantra.

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form EVER follows function. This is the law.”

 ~ Louis Sullivan, US Architect.

This is unusual for me as I have, in the area of say architecture, quite often discussed the possibility that aesthetics might indeed be one of the actual functions of a building (people who live in a buildings shadow, with no background in design theory, or who simply have to pass the building on a daily basis might not necessarily find the inherent beauty of minimalism manifesting itself clearly in its grey/multi-storey car park/concrete box aesthetic – something academic aesthetes find difficult to process).

Tufte’s writing has proved important in such fields as information design as well as visual literacy, both of which deal with the visualisation and the image based communication of specific and sometimes highly complex information.

He also developed the idea of “chartjunk“, referring to any excessive, useless, non-informative, or purely decorative information-obscuring elements of quantitative information designs.

In particular he targets his ire at the ubiquitous Powerpoint presentation as an information/data delivery system –

“Simplistic thinking, from ideas being squashed into bulleted lists, and stories with beginning, middle, and end being turned into a collection of disparate, loosely disguised points. This may present an image of objectivity and neutrality that people associate with science, technology, and “bullet points”.”

“There are many true statements about complex topics that are too long to fit on a PowerPoint slide.”

Edward Tufte

…an idea that in principle allies itself with some of my own thoughts regarding the Holistic Learning inherent in complete maps and plans of processes rather than truncated ideas.

David McCandless – Information is Beautiful. (a London-based author, data journalist and information designer, working across print, advertising, TV and web.)

I’ve been a long time follower of McCandless on Twitter and his other online sites and have more recently begun to stumble across his prolific outpourings of data visualisation all across the web via a range of sources. It was a joy to find out (admittedly I was somewhat late to the party) that he had produced a book on the subject of his Twitter account.


Colin Ware – Information Visualization, Second Edition: Perception for Design “…explores the art and science of why we see objects the way we do through an exercise in visual literacy that makes the science of visualization accessible and illuminating to a non-specialist reader, without dumbing any of it down. From the cognitive science of perception to a review of empirical research on interface design, the book covers a remarkable spectrum of theory and practice fueling data visualization as a design discipline and a visual language”.

Contributors include Nick Bilton, Jessica Hagy, Aaron Koblin, Moritz Stefaner, Jer Thorp, Fernanda Viegas, Martin Wattenberg, and Michael Young.

Nathan Yau –  Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics,

 Jason Munn – The Small Stakes

A prolific and at times sublime poster and printmaker who typically uses imagery that appeals to a smaller/selected group of “in-the-know” audience members.

Otto Neurath – The International System of Typographic Picture Education

…including some experimentation on my own Isotypes.

Rudolf Modley – Pictographs Today and Tomorrow

Richard J LaneJean Bauidrillard

In particular Chapter 5 – Simulation and The Hyperreal – which deals with the possible confusions and “erroneously pedestal-occupying” nature of image creation (what Baudrillard might describe as a first-order simulation), in light of not wanting to let the messenger (a delivery system like a poster) out weigh (in terms of being beautiful or upheld and a great piece of design) at the expense of the message/idea itself (i.e read books); just as a tangible icon or totem might replace the more difficult and abstract idea of a deity in the day-to-day worship of the devout.

Critical and Theoretical frameworks and contexts:


The curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City, Ellen Lupton is also the director of the MFA program in Graphic Design at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, she has authored several books, essays and blog posts in her chosen field including this: Modern Design Theory

Phenomenology – Some thoughts/notes…

…against – (i.e. anything can be critically viewed alongside “art artifacts”).

On “Melancholy Objects”


amongst others… and including:

Jean Baudrillard’s interpretation of contemporary society as dominated by images, and that the image’s and our own growing reliance or comfortableness with their simulacra state over the original object/event – ef

Jean Baudrillard – The Violence of the Image

“Today everything takes the look of the image – then all pretend that the real has disappeared under the impression and the profusion of images.. What is totally neglected is that the image also disappears under the blow and the impact of reality. The image is usually spoiled of its own existence as image, devoted to a shameful complicity with the real. The violence exercised by the image is largely balanced by the violence done to the image – its exploitation as a pure vector of documen-tation, of testimony, of message (including the message of misery and violence), its allegiance to morale, to pedagogy, to politics, to publicity. Then the magic of the image, both as fatal and as vital illusion, is fading away. The Byzantine Iconoclasts wanted to destroy images in order to abolish meaning and the representation of God.

Today we are still iconoclasts, but in an opposite way : we kill the images by an overdose of meaning.

Borgès ‘fable on ” The People of the Mirror :he gives the hypothesis that behind each figure of resemblance and representation there is a vanquished enemy, a defeated singularity, a dead object. And the Iconoclasts clearly understood how icons were the best way of letting God disappear. (but perhaps God himself had chosen to disappear behind the images? Nobody knows). Anyway, today is no more the matter of God : We disappear behind our images. No chance anymore that our images are stolen from us, that we must give up our secrets – because we no longer have any. That is at the same time the sign of our ultimate morality and of our total obscenity.”

– Baudrilliard (REF)

Plato’s Allegory of the shadows on the wall of the cave…

–       Quotes

“The Foundation of every state is the education of its youth” – Diogenes, further …”Aristotle was asked how much educated men are superior to the uneducated: “As much,” said he, “as the living are to the dead”

2ideas and approaches to (my own) practice that will expand the scope and reach of the project idea/ideas.

a Maps the forgotten illustrations:

“In a away we are all visual now. Every day, every hour, maybe even every minute, we’re looking [at] and absorbing information… We’re steeped in it. Maybe even lost in it. So perhaps what we need are well-designed, colourful and – hopefully – useful charts to help us navigate. A modern-day map book.

– David McCandless, Information is Beautiful (HarperCollins 2009).

Maps are simply highly specialised illustrations.

So specialised and so long specialized that we now consider them a unique “species” of information visualization. Even on the odd occasion we have to draw one for a friend.

A map and a poster…

b – Notebooks and the Recording of Information or the “Externalisation of Memory”

Visual and other types of Creative creating highly visualised notes for things as broad as the beginnings of projects through to the ordering of simple lists in the Book

To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum” / Princeton Architectural Press – and including the notes of Pablo Picasso, Joseph Cornell, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Andrew Wyeth and Janice Lowry, among dozens of others — revealing their personal habits, priorities and decision-making schematics “through the lens of the seemingly mundane and, in the process, demystifying artmaking and the creative life”.

Amazon: Discovered at –

My own examples:

As with the sketchbook example that closes this post and the one above, visualising data is not simply an end product but part of my process.

Notes (above) taken during Curriculum development meetings as well as in lecturers on Practice as Research, showing my process of abridging/expanding information received as visualised metaphors alongside my written notes, all done as the lectures and discussions are taking place. Many of these simple sketches will go on to be adapted into more finished visuals that can be used as part of formal presentations or infographics at a later date.

As with the image below.

Poster Idea – Visualising the make-up and intrinsic requirements of an Art & Design Student.

The poster above was in part inspired by these great science book covers flagged up by the excellent Maria Popova on her blog (which in turn were stumbled upon while looking for visual derivatives of the work of Paul Klee who himself had written about design – Writings on Form and Design Theory [add that one to the list]) and part by immediate thoughts and reactions to discussions noted and sketched in my Day-Book/Sketchbook (2nd image above and detail below).

…so from simple pen & ink sketch notation, through SketchUp and into Photoshop fro the final image.

The simple stylistic visual influences or aesthetic “parodying” above are secondary to some of my own thoughts on expanding the Visual Imagery used in Analogy or Metaphor in spoken or written advise as given to students.

SO MUCH OF THE WRITTEN THEORY OF EDUCATION RELIES ON VISUAL IMAGERY! But for the most part reduces that imagery to a secondary method of transfer i.e t. text, while using illustrationas a second class delivery method for lesser tasks within a text.

For example:

“A simple analogy provides an easy way to understand the hybrid model of learning in personality. Think of an arrow shooting through the air. An arrow will fly true to its target if:

· It has sufficient momentum (Sensation Seeking drive)
· The angle of flight is correct (Goal Oriented Achiever)
· The flight of the arrow has been well planned (Conscientious Achiever)
· The arrow is flying towards a target that has been well chosen (Emotional Intelligent Achiever)
· The arrow has been launched by someone who has put sufficient thought into the process and who understands the process such that they can plan for and react to changing circumstances (Deep Learning Achiever)

Jackson, C. J. (2009). Using the hybrid model of learning in personality to predict performance in the workplace. 8th IOP Conference, Conference Proceedings, Manly, Sydney, Australia, 25-28, June, 2009 pp 75-79. Retreved Febuary 12th, 2012 from

Plus other thoughts in the works:

Essay assignment building… and the process of academic research in a Art School setting…

…and something on students perceptions of the marking process:

Ramon Lully – The Memory Castle

The Note Book or Day Books –

Visual and other types of Creative creating highly visualised notes for things as broad as the beginnings of projects through to the ordering of simple lists in the Book

To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum” / Princeton Architectural Press

including the notes of Pablo Picasso, Joseph Cornell, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Andrew Wyeth and Janice Lowry, among dozens of others —

— revealing their personal habits, priorities and decision-making schemata through the lens of the seemingly mundane and, in the process, demystifying artmaking and the creative life.

At Amazon:

Discovered at –

3On going practice:

– various ideas on the go.

–       practice in context – visualisation for presentation.

Imagery for S. Humphries – The Module boxes – The Visualisation of Metaphors

Having looked at the idea of creating visual metaphors in order to reinforce/”thicken” an idea (see example below) and following the various discussions in the workplace on possible curriculum restructure that may include a simplification of Module “shape”, I produced this test imagery, in order to help illustrate the difference between Modules and Projects as differentiated by courses who run alternative strategies to the one Project per Module system.

i.e that one Module if defined broadly enough may contain many projects in order to satisfy small elements of the over-arching Learning Outcomes, and from a variety of disciplines, while projects (if expansive enough) may run through two or more Modules and satisfy all the learning criteria therein.

This was directly related to some earlier work I had been looking at whilst developing an adaptable and transferable mini-project structure for the Craft & Media Technology Course I had been involved in.

…and further development of curriculum development plans, including more Venn diagrams and jigsaw models.

Imagery for J. Goodman – The Presentation Slides

Imagery for TEDX/Dave Windass – The Illustrated IdeaProcrastination

Producing a single visual to comment on the TEDx lecture by Dave Windass in which he looked at the possible creative benefits of the act of procrastination.


The visually holistic overviews and Holistic Learning:

Tufte also encourages the use of data-rich illustrations with all the available data presented. When examined closely, every data point has value; when seen overall, trends and patterns can be observed.

Tufte again suggests these macro/micro readings be presented in the space of an eyespan, in the high resolution format of the printed page, and at the unhurried pace of the viewer’s leisure.

The Vietnam Veterans memorial (designed by Maya Ying Lin, 21 yr old architecture student from Yale) with all the names on… powerful due to its unreadable vastness but yet still readable on an intimate search level…

This and the need to develop my Visual Gateways into the dense information laden handouts that are sometimes given students caused me to test some of image based pieces.

Below is the first of two tests designed to supplement (not replace) written checklists given to students for a written assignment.

The following piece was designed to help a visually biased student whose written checklist proved too dense with text to be penetrable.

I had in conversation summarised the problem of both students by suggesting, “You say that reading and processing some of the dense information within your assignments is akin to learning a foreign language, yet you insist on writing your plans and planning aids in that very foreign language you find impossible! Why?”

Why not map out your journey through the process visually?

In the “map” some of the images acting as visual cues as to what is being sought or asked for in the assignment, for simple location within the broader brief (this piece was pulled together rapidly in a moment of need, more planning would have resulted in a much more efficient flow to the image no doubt).

On the surface, this takes some specialist knowledge, though to be honest surprisingly little.

SketchUp has an online resource of models, and here I used none of my own, and just what was available through a quick search in the 3D Warehouse. This principle could be extended to a piece of tutor oriented software that deliberately accesses a similar database, in order to allow teachers and tutors the ability to develop plans and learning maps for their own students without having to become an expert in a piece of software beyond their usual remit (i.e one design for 3D model creation).

Here you can see the wire-frames of the imported models…

Below is the sheet in use, items being ticked off, just as they would have been on the original document…

4Fine Art versus design mentality when looking at research in practice.

5 The hierarchy and cycle of influence between fine art > design > society/the World

“The leading edge in evidence presentation is in science; the leading edge in beauty is in high art. “ – Edward Tufte

Much in the same way that High or Couture/Catwalk Fashion can a be seen to be developed into an abridged or more practical user-friendly form before it becomes high-street fashion, and in turn then influence social phenomena (social groups, particularly amongst youth groups are very often intrinsically linked to fashion and vice versa).

These social phenomena, in their turn, then feedback in a new form into High Fashion and the cycle begin again.

Reducing the Visual once again to a secondary position behind a concept so vague or obfuscated that a written text is needed as explanation.

The exact oposite of Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling  or other highly complex, narrative gravid and truly conceptual* – in that it seeks to explain an actual concept or complex idea – art.

The high-jacking of this nomenclature for poorly executed and content-shy experiments in composition and material use is plainly reductionist in itself.

6 A case against implied visual causality and a case for it:


Many things that on the surface look like they have a causal relationship do not.

The Kuleshov Effect –

…the assumption due to the juxtaposition of imagery that their is some inherent spacial or causal relationship between the the images.

It is akin to a moment of apophenia or the belief in sympathetic magic that we have occasionally associated the ruddy round apple and health and the so by extention the ruddy complextion and round faced apoplectic condition with “health” also.


The visualsation of familiar or easy to grasp metaphor is a useful tool, particularly when your audience may not be made up of your peers and so outside the boundaries of shared information (see Venn diagram below).

Obviously this can only work for broad themes and subjects devoid of subtle or personal context.

Which is an issue as subtle contextual detail is our stock in trade as highly visually perceptive and responsive upright apes.

The simplest of verbal cues can result in a “projected” assumption that proves wholly inaccurate or misleading, even between to people who share much common experience such as friends or colleagues.

The same projected errors can begin to unravel when assuming the images your create as information mean the same to you as to your audience.

i.e The Cultural disparity in the Meaning of Images (every side issue or notion begins to sound like an essay or dissertation title in itself) – See this article on an interesting piece of “app” technology that looks at this.

7 – “The search for an original voice” and “the devaluing of craft as a marketing construct”.

 A recurring theme when looking at case studies and other research as practice creative is the devaluing of craft, and creative skill in the light of apparent ‘conceptual’ discourse within fine art.

See earlier post:

8 Critical Theory in Visual Arts and the confusion of beauty, creative merit and scale:

Some notes:

9Technology – Augmented reality – Powerpoint versus Flash – Prezzi – etc.

Including the RSA Animate/TED lectures:

10 – Comics & the Power of Sequential Art (inc Kuleshov?)

“Comics offers tremendous resources to all writers and artists faithfulness, control, a chance to be heard far and wide without fear of compromise.”

 – Scott McCloud.

Again, from the fabulous book on narratives and the relationship of image and word in this underrated medium – Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

“We thought everybody read comics. We didn’t know we were weird. We didn’t know people that collected comics were strange. It was as normal as listening to rock music on the radio.”

– Gilbert Hernadez

More then anything, now I need to focus my attention to a final proposal that suggests a fixed outcome of “products” to sit alongside my experimental pieces.

Out of interest… Words used frequently in this document identified in two ways… Visual and List, which is easier to grasp?

Word Frequency
image 31
visual 25
design 24
information 18
student 13
process 13
book 13
art 12
through 11
look 11
research 10
creative 10
idea 10
learn 10
high 10
thought 9
written 9
develop 9
imagery 9
one 9
project 8
text 8
simple 8
piece 8
practice 8
order 8
data 8
use 8
map 7
visualisation 7
includ 7
tufte 7
thing 7
part 6
science 6
below 6
plan 6
every 6
ie 6
turn 6
theory 6
see 6
much 5
people 5
essay 5
dense 5
behind 5
create 5
concept 5
metaphor 5
disappear 5
“the 5
language 5
way 5
model 5
fashion 5
visualization 5
particular 5
just 5
presentation 5
arrow 5
work 5
find 5
above 5
issue 4
again 4
same 4
plann 4
ideas 4
know 4
critical 4
foreign 4
well 4
broad 4
ne 4
form 4
many 4
subject 4
god 4
system 4
further 4
possible 4
field 4
long 4
example 4
beautiful 4
violence 4
follow 4
techn 4
might 4
comic 4
complex 4
versus 4
poster 4
mean 4
module 4
achiever 4
help 4
still 3
aesthetic 3

~ by hesir on May 8, 2012.

One Response to “Masters Degree – Assignment 2, b – Reasons, Key Texts, Inspirational Research & Practice. (…a Thought Avalanche)”

  1. […] these: From My Masters Study, examples of SketchUp Illustration to help students navigate dense swathes of […]

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