Ask The Designer: Visual Research?

How would you describe the research process for visual design?


There’s legit reason for everything the creative designer does throughout their research for a given project. Any particular technique, tool, or way of thinking is each used to achieve a specific result. It’s quite a scientific step-by-step process, according to Ian Noble and Russell Bestley who wrote “Visual Research, An Introduction to Research Methods in Graphic Design.”

In my view, research is the survey of the land before the road gets mapped. Different designers explore in various ways how best to arrive at a solution to the client’s needs. Their styles can move through many factors from pragmatic to poetic, with varying influences of training, experience, philosophy and personal idiosyncrasies. While others are more interrogative and work through a deductive process to come up with a better question, rather than a solution.

Both approaches are not necessarily exclusively used by one designer or another, nor is one method better than the other. They are more a significant part of the many approaches to the process of visual research. There are vast libraries of text books and educational courses developed to teach the methodologies of visual research.

But, it all begins with a problem that requires a solution. We start by examining the need within the terms of its reference and then proceed through a cycle of critical thinking and reflection. We analyze and compare. We consider art theory, the audience, materials for delivery and the form that will follow the function. We communicate, we plan, we examine and we circle back to do it all again.

Ellen Lupton wrote in the forward for Noble and Bestley’s text book that, “A designer is a creative intellectual who makes systems and things, studying the world of objects, users, and information in order to create living acts of communication.”

Though the research process is quite a hodge podge of methodologies that lend to critical thinking, it is also as abstract as the clouds sweeping the skies from day to day. To each his own, more or less.


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