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This paper outlines an approach developed for teaching research methods in a graphic design program, working in an interdisciplinary context with cultural researchers. Initially, the Digital Cultural Atlas (DCA) is introduced, as a 'work-in-progress' web site, which locates a diversity of geographic and place-based cultural resources across Greater Western Sydney. The initial information architecture consists of ‘bird’s eye view’ cartographic maps and cultural project resources. Through a teaching project in design research, students consider ways in which experiential ‘on the ground’ visual stories can be included.
Initial student research identifies a diversity of observed cultural community contexts and situations. This is followed by a second smaller scale study of fewer sites, using an understanding of participatory design research. In this stage, each student researches an individual community context using two 'voices' of the self - as participant, and as observer. These engagements with the self as 'actor' are recorded in a journal format across a specific time period, with reference to reflections prior to, during, and after 'action'. These provide the basis for the new visual stories in the DCA.
This paper describes and critiques this approach to teaching design research in visual communication, based on the DCA. In so doing, it links design research with human experiences of community and culture to engage with wider debates about the design of digital mapping spaces as information systems. The paper concludes with some reflections about the project's possible future as an ongoing participatory community resource which engages with both geographic and experiential web content and form.
Design Education; Participatory Design; Visual Narrative; Digital Mapping Systems; Community Identity; Designer As Actor
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