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Communication Students Research, Design and Publish

The Research/Design/Publish (RDP) Symposium showcases the work of 14 first-year Communication students, who – for the last two terms – have been developing research projects exploring a diverse range of topics. 

The RDP elective, from which the symposium springs, is a teaching pathway within the Visual Communication programme, and aims to encourage students to move away from an inward-looking approach to their practice by stipulating that they must chose a non-autobiographical subject. 

Given an open brief, students were encouraged to follow their personal interests across social, political and cultural spheres. The only requirement was for the outcome of their research to take a publishable form, although the definition of this also remained open, with publishable being defined as 'anything that can be disseminated.'

Ted Yoon chose to tackle a topic with a tangible global relevance. He is creating a visual lexicon of statues of dictators focusing on the former Soviet Union, North Korea and China. Having realised that many sculptural clichés are repeated and mimicked internationally through these statues, Yoon is collecting images of them in order to compare hand gestures, poses, facial expressions and clothing. During his research Yoon discovered Mansudae Overseas Projects, a company based in North Korea, which produces monumental statues commercially, in similar poses, for a market predominantly based in Africa. 

For the symposium Yoon is producing a publication containing over 100 images, through which he hopes his selection and arrangement will enable others to identify and decode trends across these propagandist icons.

Stella Malfilatre’s research is positioned at the intersection of the social and the radically political, exploring the legacy of girl gangs from the 1990s, such as the Dirty Girls, who were influenced by the international Riot Grrrl feminist punk movement. She sums up her project as 'looking into a movement that used to be very present and needed among women and investigating the role it plays for females today.’

Malfilatre found that due to shifting priorities and a lack of time, much of the feminist girl gang attitude and activity is now being expressed online, facilitated by blogs or sites such as Etsy, through which individuals sell hand-crafted items. At the symposium Malfilatre will present the results of her research in a print publication that borrows from the DIY, cut-and-paste, zine aesthetic associated with the Riot Grrrl movement. Accompanying her publication, Malifatre has also customised a leather jacket with badges, patches and emblems, acquired through Etsy or sent to her directly by their makers.

Discussing the RDP elective, senior Visual Communication tutor Adrian Shaughnessy said, 'Designers are instinctive researchers but this is not something that is always acknowledged or valued, as they are often carrying out research in a visual way that is hard to articulate. The RDP elective aims to celebrate the importance of research, while exposing students to a diverse range of research methods.'

Rory Gleeson saw taking part in this elective as a means to strengthen his research skills, and appreciated the input from tutors with both an academic and graphic design focus. He has taken an anthropological and ethnographic approach to his research, meeting and interviewing various individuals in order to create a short film about ‘Furry Fandoms’, a unique sub-cultural pastime that involves the creation of fictional anthropomorphic animal characters, often enacted online through avatars.

Another student who has taken a hands-on approach to their research is Hannah Ellis, who has been investigating the causes of low GSCE pass rates in failing state schools. Alongside theoretical research, studying governmental reports and policies, Ellis has also gained first-hand experience as a classroom assistant in the Harris Academy Battersea. Here, she realised the importance of positive role models, in particular adults from professional backgrounds outside the school context. From this she has developed a proposal for a series of workshops in schools involving people from various professions, through which pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds will be able to link their classroom learning to real life applications and widen their understanding of career opportunities.

The RDP symposium and exhibition gives students the opportunity to present their work publicly, and they are encouraged to devise ways to maximise audience engagement through the design and presentation of their projects.  Through this process they are able to test ideas, receive feedback and directly witness the impact of their work.

Find full details of the symposium and exhibition here, and follow updates from the students on Twitter.