Category: research

Research introductions

In today’s Baseline shift event, research division lead Alison Black, along with other members of staff including, Jeanne Louise Moys, Sue Walker, Gerry Leonidas and Eric Kindel, discussed and showcased a range of different research projects that they have worked on throughout their careers, as well as discussing current and ongoing projects. For Part 1 students, this was a first experience of hearing tutors speak about their personal research interests. Reading is a research-intensive university, and our Department is ranked 1st in the last UK Research Assessment Exercise for the quality of its design research. For many of us, this stat played a part in why we chose to study here.

Jeanne-Louise Moys

Jeanne-Louise Moy’s interest in research began in the 1990s whilst working as a designer in South Africa where, at the time, there were many design projects of national importance – for example, redesigning the flag, coat of arms and currency. Companies began redesigning their identities to align with the new democracy, and designers began to experiment and explore the possibilities of a new graphic language.

From this point, Jeanne-Louise formed an interest in how “good” newspaper designs, that embodied appropriate design theory, contradicted the emerging possibilities of newer publications, and how graphic language can transform across different platforms. With this in mind, Jeanne-Louise began research on the subject of how typographic presentation influences readers’ judgements. Her approach was to translate the complexity of the wide range of possible variations into artefacts, in order to undergo user testing. This research indicated that people tend to form consistent judgments of documents using similar levels of typographic differentiation, even when the typefaces are kept consistent.

Other research projects that Jeanne-Louise has been involved with include working alongside health researchers from the University of Aberdeen as well as working with the Cabinet Office, analysing complex legal documents and how these work as both printed artifacts as well as on emerging digital platforms. More recently, she has been looking at typographic differentiation within digital learning environments, and testing in real environments using real content.

Alison Black

Alison Black described her research approach in 5 fundamental tasks:

  • Examination of small parts of large problems
  • Taking a user-centred approach to problem solving
  • Producing communications that support end users
  • Evaluation to confirm that this support has been realised
  • Developing awareness of information design and discourse about its process

As an example of her work in action, Alison explained the process and execution of a research project that involved designing soil moisture forecasts for farmers in Northern Ghana. This project was carried out by Alison and Matthew Lickiss alongside a research team in the Meteorology Department at the University, who produce climate and weather models from which forecasts can be made. Alison and Matthew’s task was to find out how to make this data interpretable by a range of Ghanaian farmers, some of which were non-readers. This involved user testing with the farmers of northern Ghana to arrive at largely pictorial displays of data . The final product used illustration and limited text, which made it clear and easy to use.

Another research project that Alison discussed was providing information to support carers of people with dementia. Making information manageable, usable and appropriate was the main goal. Alison explained that she began her research by working in discussion groups with carers, which revealed that the had difficulties using the information they had received, with one saying that he kept all the information in a big carrier bag, but never used it. The next step was to make prototypes for user testing and gathering feedback to create a final handbook with clear and visually appealing information about dementia and how to care for for people with the condition.

Recently, Alison also completed a research project that explored the presentation of health claims on food packaging. For this project she worked alongside Lauren Quinn, a part 3 student, who completed this research as part of The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme. They aimed to find out whether or not the heavily regulated health claims influenced the buyer’s decision or whether the packaging design was of more importance. They designed three different variations of packaging, each time varying to graphic style and also prominence of health claim and completed user testing in order to collect data. Overall it appeared that the imagery and design of the pack had a larger impact and was more influential than the health claims themselves. After this event I spoke with Lauren Quinn (pictured below, presenting a poster about the project), who explained how beneficial this project was, and how she learnt a lot of specific research techniques such as collecting qualitative data efficiently.

“I would definitely recommend getting involved in a research project such as this one, as it was a really good experience and boosts independent learning.”

Sue Walker

Sue Walker has a particular interest in children’s books and how information is presented to young children. However, today she discussed a research project that focussed on how you can use an indoor environment to engage people with important topics, such as antimicrobial resistance, titled “IDAPPS – Information design and architecture in persuasive pharmacy space: combating AMR”. The team for this project included people from several different departments in the University including Architecture, Pharmacy and external partners, too. The aims of the project were to reduce antibiotic misuse which could, in the long term, lead to our being unable to use antibiotics to combat microbial infections. With the focus being on community pharmacies, they worked with the Day Lewis pharmacy in Woodley to develop and test design proposals. As Sue has a passion for using archives for research purposes, the Departments collection of Isotype posters detailing how to fight tuberculosis became the starting point for this project, and she began by looking at other examples of Isotype work from the 1920s.

Five different external design teams proposed solutions to the communication problem and Sue highlighted two initial proposals; the first being life-size cutouts of illustrated people which carried messages about antibiotics and were displayed in and around the pharmacy. The second solution were rotating cubes, which each told a different story about resistance when you twisted them. The cubes were accompanied by other communication tools, including knitted bugs, which were inspired by the large shelf of knitting wool displayed in this particular pharmacy. Some of these bugs talk and explain different information about antimicrobial resistance, whilst one of the bugs is made using a thermochromic wool and therefore it changes colour to show a good bug changing into a bad bug. Sue stated that this was a fairly risky and challenging project, involving people from different disciplines, and a lot of information to pull together in a very short time, in order to create a successful outcome.

Gerry Leonidas

Among other roles, Gerry Leonidas is the Programme Director for MA Typeface Design, and Enterprise Coordinator for the School of Arts & Communication Design. He began by explaining how much of his research involves typeface design, which he describes and “a social enterprise”.

Gerry took us through some of the history of typeface design and the research that he has done alongside colleagues. He described Fiona Ross’s current project, looking at the role of women in typeface design history. He explained how these women changed the world of communication, but their names were unfortunately never recorded.

Further discussion was made on how there are different factors that affect whether a typeface work well, and what criteria we can use to judge them. Fonts are to be looked at in the context of their use, and analysed based on their appropriateness.

Eric Kindel

Eric Kindel described always having had a love of graphic design and being interested in how information is presented graphically. In the early years of his research career, he also became interested in editorial design due to his passion for writing and history.

The three research pursuits he spoke about were: print effects, graphic information and stencils (which he claimed to be one of his “nerdy” devotions). Eric showed us some of his early writing on print effects in an  article about moirè effects in print, in Eye Magazine.

In terms of graphic information, Eric has worked with other researchers in the department on the Isotype Revisited project. Some of this research can be seen the isotyperevisited.org website and a number of different elements came out of the research, including an exhibition at the  in Victoria & Albert Museum. Another follow on from this project is the current Picturing science for children, which can be followed on its vibrant twitter account.

Eric has conducted detailed research into the use of stencils. He has been involved in reconstructing all the stencil maker’s tools and desks for stencilling and in order to understand the techniques that have been used historical to create stencil letters. He worked collaboratively with typeface historian, James Mosley, and typeface designer, Fred Smeijers, in this historical reconstruction project. Eric explained how Fred Smeijers made the stencils and Eric used them, as a stenciller would have done, for his research. He showed how combining letter stencils made in two halves make the letter look like it hasn’t been stencilled at all.  He also talked about Benjamin Franklin’s stencil set, and how he has traced the history of the Parisian stencil maker, Jean Gabriel Bery, who made it. Another element of this stencil research includes gathering examples of stencils used for advertisements on walls in 19th century, France. This practice arose to circumvent taxation on paper posters. The research topic is an ongoing one, with a plan for publication sometime soon. Updates to follow on typography.network!

Closing thoughts

Overall, this baseline shift event gave us a great insight into the extensive range of research projects that happen within our department, and it was really interesting to hear about all the different topic areas that staff members have been focussing on. Here is what some of the students who attended the talk had to say about their experience:

“I was quite absorbed by Eric’s research on stencils in terms of seeing it as an alternative to printing at the time and its potential commercial use …but what drew me in most was how the stencils were made. That is what really made me think “Wow this is cool I would love to have done this!””

– Pedro Martins, Part 3

“I thought it was really interesting finding out what research goes on in the Department. I see research staff around all the time but never knew exactly what research topics they are interested in and how they carry out their research. The research that Sue spoke about was really interesting. I also enjoyed hearing about some of the topics that PhD students are working on from their supervisors, as there are so many different routes to go down in design research”

– Katy Smith, Part 2

 

Science communication for children

A new AHRC-funded project begins today. Transforming science for young people: Marie Neurath and Isotype books for children aims to find new audiences for the approach to science communication taken by Marie Neurath in her books for children, produced in the 1940s and 1950s. The illustrations in these books, in series such as the ‘Wonder world of nature’ and ‘Wonders of the modern world’, were innovative in their approach to the design of complex information.

Following on from Isotype revisited, the project will make extensive use of the materials in the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection, to identify approaches to science communication relevant to teaching in primary schools today. We will work with teachers and teacher educators as part of the design process to ensure that their ideas and needs are taken into account. Pilot schools will be involved in evaluating the effectiveness of the resources to ensure they are relevant and effective.

An exhibition at House of Illustration in London in summer 2019, Marie Neurath: Picturing Science, will display examples of Marie Neurath’s illustrations from the children’s books, as well as sketches, drawings and correspondence that show the iterative nature of the design process.

Project people and partners

Prof Sue Walker and Prof Eric Kindel, Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, University of Reading

Dr Andrew Happle, Institute of Education, University of Reading

Dr Emma Minns (Project Officer)

Partners:

Design Science

House of Illustration

Activity in Antwerp

Our use of the Lettering, Printing and Graphic Design Collections in the Typography Department, and our distinctive approach to collections-based research, was exceptionally well demonstrated at the 2018 ATypI conference in Antwerp. We enjoyed top quality presentations by Typography staff and PhD students. In a conference with over 550 international delegates, who repeatedly mentioned the ‘Reading’ influence in conversations and comments, it was humbling to realise just how influential and significant our work with collections has been in developing new knowledge about type and typography, and in inspiring people to undertake research.

Typography staff

Fiona Ross and Alice Savoie introduced their new Leverhulme-funded project: ‘Women in Type
Eric Kindel: ‘Objet-type: the French stencil letter

AHRC-funded Design Star PhD students

Riccardo Olocco: ‘The success of Jenson’s roman type
Borna Izadpanah: ‘Early Persian printing and typography in Europe

Recently graduated PhD student

Emanuela Conidi: ‘Uncovering Arabic type history, informing design

Women in Type

Type Drawing Office of the Monotype Corporation in the 1920s. © Monotype

‘Women in type: a social history of women’s role in type-drawing offices, 1910–90’ is a new three-year research project now underway in the Department, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and led by Professor Fiona Ross. The project team includes Dr Alice Savoie and Dr Helena Lekka. For more information about this exciting and timely project, see the Leverhulme Trust’s newsletter for January 2018 (p. 11).

Professor Michael Twyman on forms design and the history of forms

(Cross posting from Centre for Information Design Research)

We are delighted to be able to point you to a video of one of a series of seminars for masters students and postgraduate researchers in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication. The seminars, covering a range of topics, are given during the academic year by Professor Emeritus Michael Twyman.

This seminar focuses on the design of forms and its history, and draws together the Department’s research interests both in the history of printing and graphic communication and in the design of information for its users. The seminar demonstrates the use of material from collections and archives, which has been a key part of the Department’s approach to teaching and research since the 1970s.

We are grateful to the Friends of the University for funding the preparation of this recording.

Breaking down Barriers wins CIOB award for innovation

Typography students use simulation tools to appraise whether information in everyday contexts are presented in visually inclusive ways

Breaking down Barriers (BdB) – our multidisciplinary inclusive design project – has received a Highly Commended Award for Innovation in Education and Training in the 2016 Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) International Innovation & Research Awards Scheme.

BdB champions a unique cross-disciplinary initiative to embed inclusive design across the University. Our BdB vision is to ensure Reading graduates across all disciplines advocate inclusion in their professional practices and bring real benefits to the everyday lives of all users, particularly people with conditions related to ageing and/or cognitive and physical disabilities. In Typography, we are engaging with inclusive design across a range of professional design contexts, including digital, packaging, print and wayfinding applications.

Typography students say that our BdB workshops have helped them “gain insight as to how thoughtful design can influence other industries and how we as designers must work together with these other industries in order to make the lives of the people that need a helping hand that little bit easier”.

CIOB Innovation and Research Awards highlight the importance of innovation and research in raising performance levels, enhancing best practice and improving the quality of the built environment. The CIOB judges said: “This innovation in education is a practical, engaging and demonstrable way to bring to life a real social challenge with widespread value and application. The innovation shows a genuine commitment to invest in the UK’s building stock and educate the next generation of professionals to ensure the needs of all users of a facility are firmly met.”

BdB began as an exciting collaboration between the School of Built Environment, the Henley Business School and the School of Arts and Communication Design in 2015. Since then we have been joined by staff within the School of Biological Sciences and collaborated with the Centre for Staff Development and, most recently, the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, as well as external partners.

 

A Partnership for Ephemera Studies

Typography is very pleased to announce an exciting new Goodwill Partnership between the Centre for Ephemera Studies (one of our research centres) and the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library (University of Oxford). Commenting on this new initiative, Julie Anne Lambert, Librarian of the John Johnson Collection said:

The John Johnson Collection is delighted to partner the Centre for Ephemera Studies at the University of Reading. Our joint aim is to further the academic and popular potential of ephemera to cast light on the everyday lives of our forebears through the documents they themselves saw and handled. We are particularly excited to work with the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication in exploring the materiality of ephemera in their (often innovative) design and printing.

The Partnership will include working together on exhibitions, symposia, funding applications, projects with postgraduate and undergraduate students, and sharing of expertise on cataloguing, conservation, and print identification and conservation. It will reinforce the potential of ephemera to engage academics from a wide range of disciplines as well as the public.

Professor Roberta Gilchrist, Research Dean for Heritage and Creativity at Reading supports the collaboration:

The University of Reading warmly welcomes the new partnership between the Centre for Ephemera Studies and the Bodleian Library, John Johnson Collection. The collaboration will highlight the rich potential of ephemera to illuminate the history of everyday life and to inspire new approaches to  printing and design.

The examples below are from the Rickards Collection and the John Johnson Collection.

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Isotype at the Science Museum

Loans from the Isotype Collection on display in the Mathematics gallery. From left: chart from the British Council Study Box on the National Health Service (‘Estimated cost and personnel, 1949–50’); Women and a new society (1946), opened to the chart ‘…’; original exhibition chart, ‘Infant death rate and income’ (1933).
Loans from the Isotype Collection on display in the new Mathematics gallery at the Science Museum, London. From left: chart from the British Council Study Box on the National Health Service (‘Estimated cost and personnel, 1949–50’); Women and a new society (1946), opened to chart 9, ‘Literacy in England and Wales’; original exhibition chart, ‘Infant death rate and income’ (1933).

The Department has made a long-term loan of Isotype work to the Science Museum, London. The loans are featured in the museum’s new Mathematics gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, which opened to the public today (8 December). Following a visit to the Isotype Collection, Science Museum curator David Rooney chose examples of Isotype that convey simply and directly the underlying application of mathematics to the production of pictorial statistics. Captions written for the items note Marie Neurath’s early training as a mathematician.

Have you thought about doing a PhD in Typography?

DS ind JB ws thinking TK DB LH

Our experienced supervisors welcome applications in the history, theory and practice of design for reading. Here are some of our recent and current PhD topics

If you have any ideas do get in touch with Sue Walker for an informal chat, and to discuss funding opportunities.

Why not join us as an AHRC-funded Design Star student?

Our Graduate School at Reading is excellent, and provides a stimulating environment.

And the experience we provide in Typography is world leading, not least because much of our PhD work is supported by our outstanding collections and archives, and the research training we provide.