Research & Theory
This morning I asked my husband a question about how to correctly identify an object. When he didn’t have the answer, he suggested I ‘Google it’!
It’s very easy to turn to ‘Google’ when we need an answer to our questions, but what did we do before ‘Google’? We can’t (or shouldn’t) always rely on the internet for all our knowledge. The internet is an amazing tool, but it shouldn’t replace our natural curiosity to discover information or be relied upon as a device to do all our research.
This week’s lecture by Martin Hosken, was all about ‘Research Methodologies’.
Hosken says near the start of the lecture “The aim is to change the balance of power. Instead of being intimidated by the weight of language and knowledge, I want to approach our relationship to research as a very human process.” This is something that struck a chord with me.
He goes on to talk about ‘Etymology’, the study of the origin of words. ‘Philosophy’, how knowledge is arrived at and ‘Methodologies’, the process used to collect information, but what I took away most from the lecture was that when conducting research, as Hosken describes, ‘the act of research is as practical as opening a book, engaging with an experience, and then reflecting and recording your observations’ – engaging with experiences – something ‘Google’ can’t give you!
The hardest part about any research is probably ‘what is the question I want an answer to?’, without this, it is hard to know where to start and with all the knowledge and information that is available in the world, you could easily get lost amongst it, if you don’t narrow down your investigation.
When I first started my design business, I spent a couple of years mainly designing wedding invitations. I didn’t have a collection to choose from, my service was to offer a bespoke design to every couple. After initial contact, it was very important for me to have a second meeting with the couples together and chat to them about their wedding, how they met, what they liked doing together and find out a little bit more about each of their personalities.
Through this process I was able to observe the couple together, recording any information they gave me and to reflect on the whole experience, once I sat down to design some ideas for their invites.
My aim was to make the invitations personal, to bring in elements that meant something to them or was special about their wedding.
If I hadn’t taken the time to do this small about of research, maybe the final designs wouldn’t have been anything special.
I love the idea of being able to have a project that would allow you to take weeks to do copious amounts of research, to delve into history books, visit the archives and libraries of famous museums or just investigate the history of a company, talking to ex-employees. Unfortunately, I just don’t get that opportunity, especially when a client needs the work asap!
One company rebrand that I really liked recently (a did a blog about it www.eleydesigns.com) was ‘Glenlivet’ whiskey. In fact, the redesign was created by design practice ‘SomeOne’, who has featured on this MA course.
What I loved about this particular rebrand was that the designers took the time to conduct research about the name ‘Glenlivet’, the history of the company and where they were based. They uncovered that the name ‘Glenlivet’ meant ‘The valley of the smooth-flowing one’ and refers to the River Livet, which flows through the distillery estate and whose water is the source for the whiskey.
The River Livet passes under an old smuggler’s packhorse bridge. The bridge was allegedly used to smuggle whiskey from the estate in the 19th century by early bootleggers.
This information was then used to replace the current logo (a Scottish thistle) with a logo of the smugglers bridge! ‘SomeOne’ worked with illustrator and craftsman Christopher Wormell to create the new bridge and flowing river logo.Wormell used sketches and then a technique called Linocut to create the logo. Linocut is a printmaking technique, a variant of woodcut in which a sheet of linoleum (sometimes mounted on a wooden block) is used for the relief surface.
I really like the design, but I love the story of how this came to be more. It’s like ‘wow’ that’s so fascinating. Had the designers at ‘SomeOne’ not taken the time to do this research, discovering all this information, the rebrand may have just consisted of a reworking of the existing logo and a typeface update. As our tutor Harriet mentioned in one of our previous lectures about ‘authenticity’ – this brand is now authentic.
There is that saying, ‘History will teach us nothing’, but I disagree. There is a wealth of knowledge, information, experiences all waiting to be discovered and used to help us with our own development of knowledge and learning in these very modern times.
This week’s challenge was to ‘choose an object you feel has a story to reveal and write a 300-word text acknowledging the texts that link to your writing’.
I have chosen my ‘Royal’ typewriter that was given to me as a birthday present a few years ago. It is one of my favourite items in the house because I think it’s beautifully made and such an important and vital piece of history which seems to evoke, due to my brief research, a huge sense of nostalgia amongst the people who used to use them.
I am sure my personal typewriter has its own story to tell but just imagine all the stories that typewriters across the world have told!
So yes, I did ‘Google’ my typewriter and found out about the company that made it and their history. I found out that Ernest Hemmingway and Ian Fleming (who wrote the James Bond novels) used a ‘Royal’ typewriter. It also features in popular culture, Stephen Kings, ‘Misery’ and fictional character Jessica Fletcher used one to write her novels with on the TV show ‘Murder She Wrote’.
However, what I really wanted to find out about my typewriter was who used them, where did they use them and what was the environment like when they were being used. When I think of a typewriter, a picture an office full of journalists ‘Tap, Tap, Tapping’ away trying to meet a deadline in a smoky, crowed office in New York or a writer isolated in a cottage, with a log fire, overlooking a lake in Scotland, creating a new best-selling novel!
I sent out a quick request locally, asking if anyone had used a typewriter in a previous career and I got a big response. The common theme I picked up on for all the responses, was one of nostalgia. I did contact a few of the people further, with more specific questions but given its only been a week, I haven’t had any come back yet.
For my editorial piece I wanted to use photos I had taken of my typewriter along with some closer up images of the mechanics.
I know it’s really obvious to have a typewriter font for the text but for this short piece, I wanted it to look like it might have actually been typed on a typewriter. I would have typed it out on my own typewriter but unfortunately my ink had dried out.
I wanted the overall piece to have an old-fashioned look about it – that it might have been a document from a long time ago hence the faded coloured paper.
I also wanted to highlight the ‘querty’ keyboard and ‘the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’ as these both came about due to the invention of the typewriter.
I wanted the final piece to be more like a poster and I feel that it may have ended up a bit too busy and maybe a little difficult to read, but I am happy with the finished result.
In summary, researching the ‘Typewriter’ as a project would be huge – due to the impact it has had on our history throughout the world. It would be a lot of fun though and there would be many various avenues to explore.
However, before commencing a project like this, I have learnt that whatever question you start with, it has to be interesting, relevant, clear & simple. Once you have established this question then there are many options available to conduct research. The main things I believe, which is similar to what Hosken was talking about in his lecture, is to be curious, engage with an experience, talk to people and record and reflect any observations – something I feel I might be better at after I have completed this Masters!
Hosken, Martin. How do you approach research methodologies for your academic journey? 2020. GDE710 for MA Graphic Design. Falmouth University.
Design Week. ‘The Glenlivet Identity, by SomeOne’. 1st April 2015 https://www.designweek.co.uk/inspiration/the-glenlivet-identity-by-someone/ Last Accessed 8th November 2020