Community, communication and cross-cultural issues
This year’s MRes RCA: Communication Design pathway is made up of 11 female designers and researchers, who are employing unique approaches to diverse topics – from gender equality in football and metal music to environmental concerns and the visual communication of scientific knowledge.
‘We just happen to have 11 female students from around the world who have found shared opportunities whilst studying on the pathway’ explained Professor Teal Triggs, Postgraduate Research Lead for the School of Communication. ‘It's a pretty special group of women who are passionate about communication, community and cross-cultural issues.’MRes RCA: Communication Design is practice-led and experimental. Students on the programme critically reflect on their practice – whether that be graphic design, typography, zine making, illustration or moving image – situating themselves within contemporary approaches as well as social, historical, cultural and theoretical discourse. ‘Collaborative practices feature extensively in our pathway’ Professor Triggs commented. ‘It's also about building a research and social community which these students have excelled in doing.’
Women in progressFor the work in progress exhibition earlier this year, the students chose to exhibit collectively, celebrating the importance of their community. One of the students, Clara Searle, discussed their approach:
‘Exhibiting work, especially that in progress, requires a process of identifying who you are as an artist or designer, and what you want to communicate about your practice. Sitting together in the cafe of the School of Communication, the 11 of us, all female designers, realised that the progress we’ve made since September hasn’t been individual but has been a collective experience.’‘Focusing on the development of research, we’ve spent hours together sharing ideas and theory, supporting aims and causes, and sending moral support when work has caused stress and a lot of questioning of who we are as researchers and practitioners. Our research posters are the results of our shared discussions, feedback, and ability to create and curate together.’
CommunitySeveral of the students are using communication design as a tool to engage with specific communities, contribute to feminist debates and create positive change.
Burnley F.C. Women's team are paid £10 a match and not permitted to play in the town’s football stadium. Roxanne Bottomley is working with other fans to explore how communication design can help build fan culture around the women's team using the visual vernacular of football fan culture such as banners, fanzines, posters, and pies. Through this process of co-creation she is hoping to create a greater visual fan presence in order to develop female agency and amplify their voices.
Ming Ling’s research focuses on another community perceived as male-dominated, the contemporary underground extreme metal music scene. As a female musician, visual artist and researcher, Ming has observed that despite gender inequality, there are a number of excellent female musicians working in this genre. Through taking photographs at gigs, making collages and interviewing musicians, Ming will consider how female underground extreme metal musicians present their gender identities in live performances and promotional band photographs.
CommunicationMany of the students’ projects examine the specific mechanisms through which ideas, information and social or cultural values are communicated – from the book as an object of representation to the decisions made in typographic design.
Clara Searle is investigating how people interact with the paratextual elements, such as covers and typeface, of the photographic monographs published by Taschen – a German art publishing house known for affordable and accessible monographs as well as lavishly produced collectible books. Relevant to the fields of publishing and material culture, her study considers these art books not only as vessels for text and images, but as objects of cultural and social representation.
Drawing on her background as a designer, Melissa Lu’s project focuses on the decision making and judgement process of design. Melissa is asking what it means to ‘design-in’ or ‘design-out’ imperfection and the impact this might have on the contemporary notion of aesthetics and values in typography. Through reflective practice she is evaluating past and present grid systems, books, and technology in design and typography.
Information, particularly scientific knowledge, is often presented in a way that is either too complex to understand, or simplified so that it lacks intrigue and nuance. June Huebner’s research aims to bridge the gap between the two. She is using MC Escher’s application of science knowledge in the creative arts to challenge ideas of how knowledge is captured, produced and perceived.
Cross-cultural issuesSome of the students have chosen to focus on culturally specific problems, which have resonances or implications within broader issues from sustainability to the impact of global travel on local communities.
Joss paper, also known as spirit money, is burnt during religious Chinese festivals to make offerings to gods, immortals, ghosts and ancestors. However, this ritual burning contributes to air pollution. Through interviews and visual ethnography with Chinese immigrants and descendants, Parinda Sakdanaraseth is exploring the core values of this tradition. Balancing the desire to protect the environment with the wish to pass on traditions to future generations, Parinda will propose a new concept of joss paper that is environmentally friendly and more suitable for contemporary lifestyles.
The Quadrilatero is a food market in the historic town of Bologna, Italy, with many traditional bakeries, butchers greengrocers and fishmongers. The area has an uncertain future due to the rapid and continuing tourist boom. Xiaojuan Pang is considering how these cultural and social changes can be understood through looking at food culture. Through participant observation and reportage illustration she is creating a culinary portrait that will explore regional identity and propose new ways to balance global tourism with the conservation of local communities.
MRes RCA: Communication Design is part of the MRes RCA programme which is the first to be taught across all four Schools of the RCA, offering training in practice-led and practice-based research methods in art and design.
Find out more about how to apply.