Monday, 17 March 2008

Cutting off a limb

After a productive meeting with Kate and Naomi at the end of last week (my supervisors - I find combined meetings are really useful at planning stages), I finally have a chapter plan and (relatively ambitious) time line. Until now, I had the research divided into two parts:
  1. Theory – descriptive/analytical: history of illustrated fiction, describing the phenomenon with a typology of devices and taxonomy of their functions, which would lead to;
  2. Practice – speculative/experimental: a series of workshops and projects exploring the potentials for this way of working to affect the reading experience.
About half way through the meeting, I put an X through Part 2. It was a big moment - I wasn't sure if I felt a bit sick or excited (relieved?). This doesn't mean I'm cutting out the practice component, but that I have to stop thinking of the practice as an entirely separate entity to the theory. Because there is so little consensus on what practice-led research is/could be, it's difficult to determine what is just practice and what is practice-led research. I had a go at defining this a while ago (talking specifically about process, not necessarily design outcome):
I'll come back to this later, it's obviously inadequate.

I have always described the research as practice-led (I identified an issue in practice - while working as a book designer I noticed novels with images in them appearing more frequently but could find little written about this). I have described some of my methods as practice-led (the current exhibition of books experimenting with different typo/graphic devices, the mapping investigations and courses with both writers and designers I'm running at UTS and through the NSW Writer's Centre). I have always intended to mount my argument as piece of visual communication design - arguing that word and image combine to communicate something unique in words alone is illogical.

But for some reason, none of these elements seemed 'enough' to constitute a practice-led research degree. Is this because what I'm doing is so ingrained, so logical to me as a designer, that I don't think of it as design? Or because, as a print designer, my work looks like the research process anyway (working on paper as opposed to, say, a furniture designer making a chair)? My favourite question when I tell people I'm undertaking a practice-led doctorate is "what percentage is going to be practice?" Well, clearly if a drawing is worth a thousand words, so if I did 80 drawings I wouldn't have to write any words at all.... How is it possible to put a percentage value on practice? Is a table worth more than a chair? If the book I'm designing is the thesis itself, how do I 'count' what I've designed?


Timo Rissanen said...

Some very interesting points. In many ways my project echoes your Theory/Practice division at the top, but for better or for worse, the two fused into one a long time ago. I suppose my initial 'theory' was the historical investigations into the practice (no-waste design) whilst my current practice within the project aims to examine that 'theory', and hopefully generate new 'theory' about it. (Can you tell I'm nervous as hell about using the word 'theory'.)

Not to worry, us PhDs are like newts: you lose a limb, and a new one grows right back.

Zoe said...

We should talk about this more - I think the idea of where the theory and practice merge is a really interesting discussion for PLR in design, and also to look at where theory-testing becomes theory-making.

I like the newt analogy, but aren't they known for being alcoholics (drunk as a newt)?

Timo Rissanen said...

well spotted! (and my word verification below sounds like a hiccup!)

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