Visual Research: An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design
Dawne Bell, Edge Hill UniversityNoble, I. and Bestley, R. (2005 and 2011), AVA. .......... As an owner of the first edition, I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to review the second and updated edition of Noble and Bestley’s Visual Research: An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design. As the authors explain; whilst well established within the fields of medicine, education, social science and the l...
Authors: Ian Noble and Russell Bestley
Publication date:2011 (second edition), 2005 (first edition)
As an owner of the first edition, I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to review the second and updated edition of Noble and Bestley’s Visual Research: An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design.
As the authors explain; whilst well established within the fields of medicine, education, social science and the like, until recently the value of ethical practice in research within the field of visual arts was rarely discussed. The value of methodological research within our field is undisputed; often, however, it can be difficult to find good, clear examples that not only explain the theory but provide a useful framework from which one can begin to understand how to apply it.
This book, which sits comfortably within a comprehensive suite, draws together a range of theoretical approaches and research methodologies appertaining to the field, and offers to the reader, through a series of case studies, practical application of the processes involved in visual research. As Ellen Lupton’s foreword explains, this book presents ‘theory as a tool’ to aid designers working within the field of graphic design with an introduction to the range of research methodologies that can be employed.
However, often a ‘sequel’ doesn’t live up to expectations, and as such is never quite as good as the original. This new edition carries a £37.50 price tag, so questions that have to be asked are what is different? And is what is contained within the new, alluring, and visually ‘slick’ cover, worth the money?
So what’s new?
For those owners of the original, this revised 2nd edition provides many fresh perspectives. The fundamental and pre-existing concepts contained within the original remain, but these have been revised and updated. In addition there is a completely new chapter on Design Literacy within design practice, which sits alongside eleven new case studies.
The organisation of the book
Turning to the organisation of the book, whilst I found the previous edition easy to use, through the adoption of clever visual refinement, the layout in this new edition has been further enhanced and improved. The layout is logical, with each ‘chapter’ adopting an easy to follow formula that is underpinned throughout by a clear supportive framework. Throughout, this text makes understanding the theories straightforward, and as you would expect the visual imagery adopted throughout is of the highest quality.
The introduction sets the scene, with the first chapter ‘Why and How?’ explaining the role of research; analysis, systematic approaches, semiotics, communication, semantics and discourse theory within the field of graphic design. Following these introductory chapters, contained within each of the remaining six, is at least one exemplar case study, a ‘key concept’ and exercise section.
The content of chapter two is new for this edition, and it is here that the reader is presented with a discussion on the relevance and effective use of visual literacy in design practice. The theory is explained simply and efficiently and, through the visual grammar case studies (Knibbs, O’Shea and Pecher), the authors illustrate how the theory can be embedded within the context of a creative process, in this case through iterative approaches to both problem solving and identification.
The subsequent chapters cover analysis and proposition, theory in practice, audience and message, process and materials and synthesis. Each chapter is well defined and the headlines clearly explain each section. In terms of context and content, the text provides a practical guide for those seeking to develop and secure an understanding of visual research methodologies appertaining to graphic design. The theoretical approaches described are supported with case studies that offer the reader the opportunity to see for themselves the ‘theory in action’. The case studies make the theory accessible.
Taking this approach Nobel and Bestley guide the reader through the theory, enabling the reader to see easily how theory and practice can be inter-woven. Each case study is of the highest quality, but my personal favourite has to be Dinham’s packaging design-based case study ‘The English’.
In addition to the ‘key concepts’ each chapter presents a series of exercises or ‘mini’ design briefs. These provide an ideal vehicle from which to begin to learn, through practical application, how to apply the theory to one’s own work. These sections of the text encourage the reader to critique and question their own practice and as such these could be easily used ‘off the shelf’ or adapted for use with students.
In the previous edition the glossary was located at the back of the text. In this edition there is a ‘running glossary’, which is most welcome. Now located on each page, specific terminology is presented for you ‘in situ’. So on the occasions when you seek to clarify or define a specific term, everything you need is to hand which saves you searching through the book to find it. Towards the back of the book there is a coherent section which recommends further reading.
The book offers a comprehensive, well-balanced analysis and highly focused synthesis of the complexities of theoretical approaches to visual research. The first part of the book brings together the concepts of ideology and discourse and links them to the practices of graphic design. Anyone interested in developing their understanding of visual research will be pleased to read this book. It is written in such an accessible style one that neither oversimplifies, nor avoids over complicating the issues.
This is a well considered and timely second edition that takes into account changes in the field and as such reflects them.
This book illuminates the potentially problematic issue of how to relate theory to practice. It then goes on to provide a framework that enables the reader to generate an awareness of the theories and, through reflection, question their interpretation and in doing so enhance understanding. This book is a useful tool which can be used to inform ones thinking in relation to research methodologies. I became absorbed in it on first reading, and now often find myself referring back to it, re-reading sections it in order to re-visit the notions, concepts and ideas contained within.
Literally from cover to cover, physically this book is a real pleasure. It is weighty with a solid proportion; the cover which is made from high quality material, is visually very pleasing. It has a tactile quality that is enhanced by the use of high quality print and the occasional application of spot varnish which adds texture. Inside the quality continues with the clever and well thought out layout, which makes it easy to read, and also to ‘flick’ through for swift reference.
Everything about this book oozes quality; it is a real treat and something I am happy to purchase and, whilst it does look great on my coffee table, it most certainly isn’t something that sits there untouched for very long.
Dawne Bell is Senior Lecturer in Art, Design and Technology, Edge Hill University.