Noble and Bestley take their readers through a guide that covers a wide range of research methodologies in everything graphic design (investigation, analysis, synthesis, communication, experimentation, audience, craft, production, materials, systems, method, process, semiotics, semantics, rhetoric, and design).

WHY AND HOW? The role of research in graphic design.

Graphic design is relatively referred to as a “problem-solving” activity in the industry, reducing the function of design to just a business and commercial profession to the clients. While this function has legitimized the business use of design, this definition used in the industry has excluded other roles where design is pursued. A broader interpretation of the term ‘problem solving’ could describe it as a process of analysis and synthesis.

According to designer and historian Richard Hollis, graphic design’s language is a language with uncertain grammar and a continuously expanding vocabulary. For a long period of time, graphic design discussions were left to external voices, those who received design, like journalists, historians, and cultural theorists who write about graphic design with terminologies of their own profession. Nowadays, the relationship between graphic design and its expanding vocabulary relies on graphic design and technology. The most recent and significant development in graphic design vocabulary is the invention of the Apple Macintosh computer which brought new language related to design and electronic production rather than mechanical.

METHODS: Ways of Thinking

Research methods can be defined as ways of approaching design problems or investigating the context of work. Systematic research methods encourage designers to develop a personal and critical point of view with the help of recording and documentation.

A designer’s first task is to identify what they are trying to achieve with the project. The application of the first step can be communicated differently depending on what you’re trying to achieve. In the commercial context, a designer is required to communicate through a brief (applied research). In an academic context, the aim may be broader such as a concept proposal or a visual investigation (pure research).

Any design brief can be broken down into three areas: a field of study, a project focus, and a research methodology.

FIELD OF STUDY: Acquire knowledge of what already exists in that area and the visual languages with the specific target audience or market of design.

THE PROJECT FOCUS: After the designer has researched and become familiar with their intentions, they enter the stage where they should describe a specific message which is to be communicated to a specific audience.

THE RESEARCH METHODOLOGY: A set of self-imposed rules in which the designer will engage with a project. An outline of how the designer intends to develop the project and test ideas in order to create an effective solution to the brief.

VISUAL RESEARCH: Theoretical and practical models

Visual research is work that requires the designer to understand many materials that are already existing in his world. This material includes the different vocabulary that is borrowed from a range of disciplines outside of graphic design, understanding the context within which the work is placed, and understanding the range of visual language and texts.

Quick review:

In big, I feel like reading this book has introduced me to ways of visual research that will always be at the back of my head now when looking at something. I feel like everyone can learn something useful and get an idea of how humans look at visual elements and how they process that information into knowledge that they can use in their methods of thinking.

Nobel, I and Bestley, R. (2005). Visual Research, An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design (1st ed.). AVA Publishing SA.