Visual Methods: Social Science and Information Design

Last June, I attended to a visual method workshop in Cardiff, organised by the University of Leeds. When I first knew about this workshop, I was really happy to find a workshop focussed on visual research techniques. Once in Cardiff, a friend asked me: “what do you expect from these two days?”, and, honestly, I said that I was there to learn more about visual methods and how to analyse and interpret visual material. However, for my surprise, he told me that the workshop was organised and given from an anthropological and ethnographic point of view, because most visual methods were original from the social science. Even though, after that chat I was quite worried about the content of the workshop, in general, I do think it was a positive experience.
From the workshop I have realised:

where graphic/information design is placed in terms of visual methods.
– that usually visual methods are more related to social science than to design research.
– that even though there are different kinds of visual methods, all are used by visual researchers to find out information related with the production, organization and interpretation of visual material.
– that it is essential to have in mind a clear definition of what a visual method means and why it can be a useful tool before starting a visual research project.
– that there are some interesting points about visual methods history:

Apparently, many years ago both social science and graphic design disciplines were working together with visual methods, but, since approximately the 60s, both disciplines have chosen different tracks. Currently, they are still working with visual research projects, but from different perspectives. With these ideas in mind, it is worth to highlight the strong concordance between this division and Conley’s theory about the designers’ laziness and the periods of time, both facts took place between the 70s and the end of the 90s.
Apparently, the reborn generation of designers concerning about design methods seems to be the same that is approaching again to the social sciences.

Probably, this reunion can be seen in the forthcoming 1st International Visual Methods Conference at the University of Leeds. Despite most presentations coming from anthropology and ethnography fields, there will be some lectures given by graphic and information designers who are working with and researching on visual methods. Undoubtedly, this conference will be an ideal opportunity to see if graphic/information design and social science are having points in common again.

Looking forward to it!

1st International Visual Methods Conference. University of Leeds. 15-17 September 2009 –
–  Building Capacity in Visual Methods. An Introduction to Visual Methods – Workshop. University of Cardiff. 25-26 June 2009

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