Graphic Design in the Expanded Field

Last October I traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to the Mid America College Art Association Conference held at the University of Cincinnati. I was part of the panel “Polymodal Sites: Graphic Design in the Expanded Field”. The session was chaired by designer Silas Munro. I presented a paper titled Towards Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Research and Teaching in Graphic Design. Also part of the panel: Sondra Graff from Fashion Institute of Technology; Greg Riestenberg; Design Consultant; and Liese Zahabi; University of Maryland, College Park.

Our holdings and collaborations are so massive and multiple we have created new districts at our transdisciplinary fridges to deal with graphic design’s evermore porous edges such as: user experience design, interaction design, social design, human centered design, critical design, speculative design, service design, and transition design. So does this make graphic design an imperialist enterprise encroaching on other fields with intentions of a hostile takeover? Or perhaps graphic design is a series of rebel factions leading a nomadic, co-creative existence with the altruism to solve the world’s (and other field’s) wicked problems? Might we be a practice that has post-colonial problems?—Silas Munro, excerpt from the panel’s abstract

Here’s an excerpt of my paper:

There is a consensus between design scholars and practitioners about the necessity to imagine the future of our changing and expanding disciplines. At the same time, in diverse economic sectors there is an unprecedented belief in the power of design to deal with complex problems, drive innovation and affect change. With the increasing democratization of technology and the blurring boundaries between producers and consumers, the context for graphic design practice is rapidly shifting. The Amsterdam-based design and research office Metahaven in White Night for a Manifesto argue that designers will not regain their once central role based on the mastery of tools and services, before unavailable to users. Aware of the changing landscape, scholars suggest that still-to-define research and interdisciplinary collaboration will lead design to adopt more proactive and involved roles for the future.

Graphic design educators have the challenge to adapt academic programs to the currents of the design professions where the creation of physical artifacts is surpassed by the development of platforms, tools and systems for involved users (Davis, 2012). In our networked economy, the communication infrastructure oriented towards participation and exchange strongly permeates the way in which design is produced today. Therefore designers are operating more often in multidisciplinary environments where their integrative skills bring great value. I argue that a structured interdisciplinary approach to graphic design education will empower design students to be autonomous critical thinkers able to define their own problems, manage complexity and create bridges between disciplines for a more collaborative future. This presentation surveys interdisciplinary collaborations in academia focusing on the digital humanities looking for models that could inform transformations in the traditional graphic design curricula.