THE DISCURSIVE PRACTICE OF FIGURING DIAGRAMS

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Nov 29, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)

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Drawing and Visualisation Research

Published in
TRACEY
| journal

Drawing
Knowledge

May 2012


www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/
sota/tracey/

tracey@lboro.ac.uk







Graphic design is not a practice
recognized for generating artefacts that
ask questions. Even when a piece of visual communication appears at
first glance to be ambiguous it is often foremost a provocative strategy
designed to promote, sell or inform others about a service, product or
eve
nt. Distancing itself from this emphasis on the utility of the
communication artefact in a commercial context, this paper presents a
design case study that examines the act of drawing for exploring and
advancing ideas that are still under negotiation. The
propositional
diagrams of the case study embody a way of drawing that I have named
‘figuring’.

THE DISCURSIVE PRACT
ICE OF
FIGURING DIAGRAMS

Lisa Grocott
a


a

Parsons the New School for Design, New York, USA

grocottl@newschool.edu




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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

THE INTRODUCTION

Graphic design is not a practice recognized for generating artefacts

that ask questions.
Even when a piece of visual communication appears at first glance to be ambiguous it is
often foremost a provocative strategy designed to promote, sell or inform others about a
service, product or event. Distancing itself from this emp
hasis on the utility of the
communication artefact in a commercial context, this paper presents a design case study
that examines the act of drawing for exploring and advancing ideas that are still under
negotiation. The propositional diagrams of the case
study embody a way of drawing that I
have named ‘figuring’.

As a first year student at art school I fell for the field of graphic design precisely because no
one seemed to care that I was inept at drawing. My narrow understanding of the practice
led me to
associate the act with a technical mastery that I could recognize in others but
knew I didn’t have. Predictably I went on to become one of those design educators who
when discussing admissions criteria would down play the value of drawing and advance the
m
erits of critical thinking. Needless to say, I did not conceive of drawing as a fundamental
tool for thinking.

Decades later the technological, social and economic changes shaping higher education
have created a paradigm shift that requires designers to no
t just generate material objects
but to also design systems, services and experiences (Davis 2008). As the design
community teases out the distinction between designers who operate strategically and
those who make, the dematerialized realm of design appear
s to support the redundancy of
designer’s learning the craft of drawing. Yet as Burdick underscores the domain of
design
thinking

is too quick to reduce the ‘embodied act of designing’ to the ‘abstract concept of
design’ (2009). As a practitioner
-
researche
r I chose to investigate this tension Burdick
identifies by exploring how the process of designing visual essays about design thinking
might provide new insights into how we understand what designers’ know and how
designers’ think through making. It was wi
thin this landscape that I came to research the
cognitive attributes of drawing as a tool for negotiating incommensurate or unresolved
ideas.

Drawing, in the context of this paper, is a reference to a graphic language that is part map,
part proposition sk
etch and part diagram. To cast this familiar act of diagrammatic drawing
as a tool for strategically navigating complex situations was quite straightforward. In this
respect Schön’s notion of being in a ‘reflective conversation with the materials of a
situ
ation’ is a concept that resonated with how I already understood the act of designing
(Schön 1984). The real challenge was to see the potential of the diagram as more than a
preliminary step toward a finished outcome or as the mode for communicating (a
sup
posedly) unambiguous message. Instead I set out to research the value of sharing
exploratory, never
-
to
-
be
-
resolved diagrams


not as a critique of work
-
in
-
progress but as a
communication strategy for generating discussion.



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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

The Research Program

The method
ological approach of this practitioner
-
led research project can be equated to
Findeli’s model of “project
-
grounded research.” Findeli’s model seeks to “build a genuine
theory of de
sign by adopting an epistemological posture more consonant with what is
spe
cific to design: the project…[The] epistemological figure is that of em
bedded,
implicated, engaged, situated theory” (1999, p108). Findeli characterises this approach as
a “kind of hybrid between action research and grounded theory research…that reaches
b
eyond those methods, in the sense that our researchers in design are valued both for
their academic and professional expertise” (1999, p111). Findeli’s respect for the
expertise the academic and professional brings to research particularly resonates with t
his
study that was undertaken by the author as a practitioner
-
researcher working in an
academic institution.

The case study presented here is grounded by the professional context of a large art and
design school and the practice
-
based insights are substan
tiated by a multiple method
approach to reflective practice. The heuristic approach I adopt has at its foundation
Mason’s concept of the
discipline of noticing

(2002). The discipline of noticing offers
tactics for maximising the reflective conversation wit
h the design projects and the research
practice. The design
-
led orientation privileges playing with appropriating grounded theory
and other reflective strategies in ways that worked with the visual expertise of the
researcher. Narrative enquiry provides co
mplementary strategies for pulling far enough
back from the situated context to observe the self
-
as
-
other. In creating a hybrid reflective
practice that triangulates insights from across and between these various method
ological
approaches I hope to compen
sate for some of the limitations of reflective practice while
maintaining the integrity of offering a practitio
ner’s perspective on designing. The ambition
is not to produce theory but to generate designs and reflect on that experience in a way
that produ
ces a critical form of exploration
for theory
, specifically the scholarship that
surrounds the practice of design (Landin 2005).

Framed by the context of graphic design this research is shaped by two specific questions.
First, how might the ele
ments of
a graphic language intentionally promote multiple
readings and critical discussion? Second, what might be the purchase of a detailed
visualisation for figuring complex ideas and promot
ing discussion around not
-
yet
-
fixed
concepts? The first section of the
paper introduces the design projects of the research
case study and outlines the process of figuring with respect to the visual language adopted.
The second section focuses on the initial research question and discusses the research
insights with respect t
o new forms of practice and the graphic language that emerged
through the period of the study. The next section addresses the second research question
by discussing how these reflections of a situated practice may inform our understandings
of design more b
roadly. In conclusion, the paper elaborates on why this new knowing offers
a different way of capitalising on the purchase of drawing within the practice of graphic
design.



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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

THE CASE STUDY

At the centre of this case study is the practice of ‘figuring,’ figu
ring being the name I have
adopted for a particular way of drawing. The theoretical basis for figuring loosely builds on
Rosenberg’s characterisation that the ‘fragile balance’ of creative practice comes from
negotiating the centripetal and centrifugal for
ces at play (2000). Adapting Bakhtin’s idea,
Rosenberg describes the centripetal impulse as the pull toward what we know, to draw
connections with established practices. In contrast the centrifugal impulse is motivated to
explore the unknown, to deviate fr
om the normal and seek new possibilities. Rosenberg
argues that the push and pull of designing is negotiated by this ‘creative tension’.

As a practice, figuring calls for disturbing the already fragile balance by introducing
elements into the process of de
signing that consciously pull the designer in two directions.
In this way, the case study proposes the potential behind amplifying this creative tension to
heighten the negotiative, discursive aspect of designing. Distinct from conventional
communication g
oal of promoting, selling or informing, the stated goal of the case study
diagrams is to intentionally sustain the period of speculative reflection. The aim being to
sustain the designer
-
researcher and the audiences’ engagement in a critical conversation
w
ith the ideas/situation the diagram is proposing.

In the case study, I have used the practice of figuring to explore a form of drawing that
seeks to intentionally disrupt the designer
-
researcher’s creative process. I have called this
a proposition diagram.

The term refers to the coming together of two modes of drawing that
Lawson describes as being at the heart of the design process: the
diagram

and the
proposition

sketch (2004, p45). This visual language integrates the
diagram’s

reflective
ability to provi
sionally fix certain elements

so the designer can navigate complex moving
pieces, with the

proposition

drawing’s speculative capacity to put forth possible ideas for a
situation the designer is still making
-
sense
-
of. The design projects within the case stu
dy
embody a visual language that repeatedly adopts the proposition diagram as a strategy for
thinking
-
through
-
making.

The projects included in this paper are visualisation studies designed within a professional
context as part of my everyday practice as a
n academic administrator at a large, urban
design school. The visual language and critical practice were developed in parallel to a
more speculative and reflective series of visual essays published in academic journals. The
explicitly identified research s
pace of the visual essays had led me to attend to the
affordances of visualising as an inquisitive tool for exploring the elusive nature of design
thinking and design process. Over a period of five years I had come to understand ways in
which the propositi
on diagram could meaningfully help the design school where I worked to
envisage new cultural, structural and pedagogical futures for the institution. As the
visualisation studies offer an applied context for examining the potential of figuring, this
paper
chooses to focus on these professional projects. However, it is important to note that
without the insights disclosed by the more research
-
oriented visual essays the


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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

transformative shift in how I understood the role of graphic design would not have
surface
d. The parallel contexts allowed me to observe the ways the visualisations
advanced the designer and his or her peers’ understanding of the subject being
investigated, whether it be a poetic exploration of design thinking or an applied negotiation
of curri
cular changes.

The Visualisation Studies


FIG. 1: VISUALISING
TO EXPLORE THE RELAT
IONSHIP BETWEEN CONT
EMPORARY CONDITIONS
AND CURRICULAR MOVES
.

The early visualisation studies were generated because I simply valued how they helped
me think through and co
mpare competing ideas. However, I quickly found myself
tentatively sharing them with immediate colleagues. The utility of the diagrams seemed to
lie in being able to explore ideas by putting half
-
formed propositions out into the world that
were too complex

or political to write up. The design school where I was working was in the
process of negotiating substantive changes as we collectively envisaged new models for
design education in the 21
st

century. The agency of the proposition diagram in a change
-
manag
ement role was three
-
fold. First, the designer is able to critically imagine, through
visually speculating and proposing, possible futures for the organization. Second, to
provide an accessible platform for sharing material propositions with colleagues for

critique
and evaluation. This is a distinctly different social transaction from emailing a white paper
around for review and comment. This leads to the third point (which is more specific to an
art and design school), to cultivate an environment where the

community can collectively
engage in the discursive process of designing by speculating upon the potential disclosed
by the diagrams
-
in
-
conversation
-
with
-
the
-
situation.



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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012


FIG. 2: VISUALISING
TO MAKE SENSE OF DIF
FERENT ORGANIZATIONA
L STRUCTURES.

The initi
al diagrams share the modest ambition of simply helping me get my head around
the conditions or variables of the situation. The diagrams begin to propose new ways of
seeing the institution both from a curricular perspective (fig. 1) and with respect to
org
anisational structure (fig. 2).


FIG. 3: VISUALISING
ALTERNATIVE APPROACH
ES FOR FOSTERING RES
EARCH COMMUNITIES



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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

In the second phase, there was a level of mindfulness with regard to how I used this
speculative space of diagramming. The diagrams that explor
ed and proposed different
ways we could foster a culture of research in relation to expertise, methodology or schools
intentionally set out to use the process of drawing to make sense of ideas that were only
just beginning to form (fig. 3). As I became mor
e comfortable with the understanding that
these diagrams did not have to fix, but to propose, the more openly speculative they could
become. These visualisations, emboldened by the insights from the visual essay research
but grounded in a real situation, n
o longer were defined by a brief to communicate what
would be, but instead could envisage what could be.


FIG. 4: VISUALLY PRO
POSING NEW WAYS OF T
HINKING ABOUT THE CO
MMUNITIES WITHIN AND

ACROSS THE UNIVERSIT
Y.

The diagrams that propose a radical
restructuring of the design school intentionally chose
to move away from defining the school by its reporting structure to proposing ways we
might imagine and understand the organizational culture (fig. 4). The considered and
consultative process of develo
ping this last sequence of diagrams further asserted how the
diagrams were more than a quick
-
and
-
dirty sketch in both form and spirit.

Figuring Conversations

Multiple contexts for exploring the practice of figuring enabled me to develop an approach
to draw
ing that operated as a form of critical thinking through action. By intentionally
working with this notion of productive disturbance I had found a way to deepen the
designer’s reflective conversation with the situation. This section offers reflective insig
hts
from case study conversations to illustrate how the practice of figuring facilitated the
discussions generated by the diagrams.



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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012


FIG. 5: DETAIL FROM
CURRICULAR VISUALIZA
TION STUDY.


1. CURRICULAR VISUAL
ISATION STUDY: CONVE
RSATION BETWEEN DESI
GNER AND
THE
AUDIENCE

When sharing early iterations of how we might rethink the school curriculum with other
design educators, I was struck by how little my colleagues tried to read what I had intended
the diagram to say, immediately beginning to offer their own i
nterpretations. My frustration
quickly diminished when I became engaged by the opportunistic potential proposed by their
misinterpretations and the subsequent speculations that the discussion provoked.

In the beginning this was just an initial insight trig
gered by a professional experience. Yet
through consciously exploring the idea further in the visual essays, I was challenged to
reconsider my implicit understanding of the function of diagrams. I came to stop assuming
that the intended meaning of a diagra
m is the most important one. This is an obvious
insight in the context of visual art, but more confronting within the world of graphic design.
Presented with this newfound perspective, I could recognise the productive potential of
designing ambiguous commu
nication that intentionally elicits readings alternative to my
own. The possibilities this new perspective represents have liberated me from the
limitation of communicating a fixed position. Learning from the arts, my perspective has
shifted from thinking
in terms of ‘communication’ to embracing ‘interpretation’. And, in
embracing multiple readings, a new central role for the audience is defined.



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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012


FIG. 6: DETAIL FROM
THE RESEARCH CULTURE

VISUALISATION STUDY.


2. RESEARCH CULTURE
VISUALISATION STUDY:

CONVER
SATION BETWEEN DESIG
NER AND
THE DESIGN PRACTICE.

When designing the research culture presentation on models for how we institutionally
situate, promote and support research, I became aware of the increased mental focus
‘figuring’ required compared to my re
gular design work. It was intellectually a challenge to
mentally juggle a number of factors that at times represented incommensurate conditions
while considering how to visually temporarily fix ideas that were always going to be more
complex than the abstr
actions I was exploring. The task of abstracting ideas enough to put
forth a proposition for discussion while navigating the complexity of the situation seemed
often not just beyond explication but also beyond visual representation. What I had come to
reco
gnize though was the purchase of a visual language that allowed me to deepen my
interrogation by temporarily fixing a position and reflecting upon what this position
disclosed.

This insight challenges the assumption that I needed to ‘know’ what I am commu
nicating
before I begin designing


which presents the possibility that I can learn through the
complex task of designing abstract notions while working in unfamiliar terrain. With this
knowing I could use the conversation with the design situation to visu
ally identify the
opportunities and challenge of each proposition (fig. 5). My new perception allows me to
value the designer’s speculative move as a valid strategy for reflecting upon and
interrogating the unknown as an end in itself


not just a tool for

preliminary states of
designing. This in turn promotes the value and validity of designer
-
researchers deploying
the process of designing as an inquisitive method for researching. This shift in perspective
proposes that designing can
intentionally

manipula
te a speculative approach to exploring
the unfamiliar. Specifically, this understanding discloses the potential of visualising for
tentatively communicating a practitioner’s previously tacit knowing.



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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

NEW FORMS OF PRACTIC
E


Since I intuitively recognise th
at the process of designing the visualisations is a
productively challenging experience, I sought to better understand how and why the design
process deepens my own enquiry and animates my conversations with my peers. In
analysing how the visual language w
orks, I have focused on how the disrupted process of
designing a proposition diagram heightens the critico
-
discursive potential of creative
practice (Rosenberg 2007). Or, to be more straightforward, my analysis proposes that the
process of designing a prop
osition diagram offers a design
-
led strategy for framing a critical
practice
-
led discussion. These insights have led to the emergence of ‘figuring’ as a
visualisation practice and have further underscored the central role negotiating plays in
facilitating
the reflective conversation of designing.

The Proposition Diagram

The combined visual communication practice that evolves out of the visual essays and
visualisation studies uses a representational, diagrammatic visual language appropriated
from the aesthe
tic of mapping and information design. Resonating with the ambitions of
this research, the proposition diagram allows the designer to get his or her

head around
the forces at play, while the act of making a proposition provides a discursive space for the
back talk of the reflective conversation with the situation.

In creating the proposition diagram I have developed an intentionally ambiguous visual
l
anguage. This notion of the proposition diagram as an instrument for proposing ideas for
the sole purpose of critiquing and speculating anew the next move is central to the
visualising practice of figuring. Of specific interest here is the way Cross articu
lates the no
-
tion of ‘co
-
evolution’ of the problem and solution (2007). Related to Schön’s idea that the
reflective conversation can lead to a reframing of the situation, the notion of co
-
evolution
works with the designer’s capacity to make a move into a s
ituation as a strategy for
understanding what he or she is dealing with. Working with this notion of a designer’s
propensity for simultaneously proposing solutions to better understand the problem, the
drawing creates a forward
-
looking yet reflective proce
ss for the designer to move into. This
design
-
led approach deploys a designer’s expertise in speculating, by way of proposing
solutions, as a strategy for reflecting on the subject of the visualisation. The drawing
practice of figuring builds on the design
er’s expertise to propose a solution in order to
better understand a situation by using the propositional act of designing as a reflective
tool.

Relevant to this paper’s proposition is the observation that the diagram’s utility is related to
the visual and

cognitive slippage from one drawing style to the next. Normally a practitioner
would choose between the possibilities
-
driven agency of the proposition drawing and the
reflective utility of the evaluative diagram. Yet, with the hybrid nature of the proposi
tion
diagram, the design experience resists any easy negotiation of the propositional push and
reflective pull of creative practice.



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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

The Visual Language

The design projects identified with this case study were developed within a five
-
year period.
Over tim
e the projects regularly came to work with a representational visual language
appropriated from the aesthetic of mapping and information design, casually borrowing
marks and symbols from weather systems, road maps, business graphics and subway
diagrams. Ye
t, repeatedly, the authoritative connotation of the aesthetic was subtly eroded.
The secondary and tertiary color palette consistently undermined the assertion of the
visualisations’ hard vector lines. Formal grids became overtaken by organic flow charts.
Organisational charts were transformed into metaphorical network diagrams. To ensure
that the designer and the reader knew that these were not straightforward diagrams, the
visualisations used a range of rhetorical material devices to create a fissure in t
he
confident diagrammatic aesthetic. The distinctive qualities of the proposition diagram’s
visual language point to the particular ways in which the language communicates the
potential of ambiguity.


FIG. 7: DETAILS FROM

PROJECTS THAT REPRES
ENT THE VISUAL LANGU
AGE AS APPLIED TO TH
E RESEARCH
-
LED VISUAL
ESSAYS (LEFT) AND TH
E PROFESSIONALLY SIT
UATED VISUALISATION
STUDIES (RIGHT).

The adopted aesthetic can be characterised as similar to information design,

a language
that, in relation to graphic design, is associated with transforming data, facts or systems
into clear, accessible information. Yet conversely, the visual essays and visualisation
studies are not concerned with stable systems or objective data.

Essentially, the practice of
this case study sought to visualise elusive, mutable relationships rather than hard,
concrete information. To use the precise graphic language of information design to explore
tentative content was one of the strategies for de
liberately troubling the designer and
audiences’ negotiation of the ideas under construction. This decision to work with a visual
language known for asserting ‘truth’ in representation (Tufte 2003) was an intentional
move to put the initial read of the vis
ualisation at odds with the experiential nature of the
content and the desire to avoid an authoritative reading. In denying the promise of clarity,
the diagrams further highlight the tacit, conditional or speculative nature of the content the
studies sough
t to visualise.



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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

Within the projects of the case study yet another layer of disruption was being played out.
The visualisations appear to effortlessly work with a refined visual aesthetic for content
that is seemingly still under consideration. This visual

assertion of tentative ideas works
against the conventional wisdom that the level of formal refinement should reflect how
resolved the proposition is (Lawson 2004). Designers often associate gestural mark
making with poetic, provisional content, yet in th
is case these conventions are seemingly
disregarded. The diagrams appears to confront the uncertainty of the visualisations subject
head
-
on, requiring the practitioner to be decisive and not smudge over ideas that are still
being worked through. Yet, a clo
ser reading reveals arrows that lead the viewer astray and
transparent layers and slightly misaligned patterns that announce the provisional nature of
the diagram. The inclusion of these simple visual tactics effectively dispels any
presumption that the id
eas being presented are resolved, as in fact the imprecise
representations have been included to emphasise uncertainty (Gaver et al 2003).

NEW UNDERSTANDINGS O
F DESIGN

The Speculation
-
led Reflective Practice of Figuring

I have adopted the phrase ‘speculat
ion
-
led reflection’ to refer to reflection inflected with
the designer’s impulse to speculate. If speculate, as a synonym for reflect, can be defined
as the capacity to think deeply

about something, then in using this term I am also alluding
to its second
definition: to take a risk. In this way, speculation
-
led reflection can be
understood as the design
-
led act of attempting to figure out and contemplate while also
venturing out to playfully explore possibilities. The word ‘reflection’ evokes the centripeta
l
impulse to make connections back to what we know, with the word ‘speculation’ more akin
to the centrifugal desire to explore what we do not (yet) know, or what the dictionary would
call conjecture (Random House 1987).

The notion of figuring seeks to main
tain a state of ‘becoming’ by intentionally extending the
process of negotiating the push and pull these opposing forces provoke. If conventionally,
in creative practice, the desire to deviate is moderated by the impulse to stabilise, then
when a designer
is figuring I would propose that this negotiation is intentionally disrupted
by a call to simultaneously wrestle with both impulses.

Negotiating the Space between Speculation and Reflection

Coming to see visualising as a generative space that is in a con
stant, recursive process of
proposition and reflection led me to a newfound appreciation for the negotiative nature of
design practice. Even though theorists have credited designing as an act of “making
continual adjustment and attunement…through the conti
nual process of positing
possibilities” (Dilnot 2005, p10), I have previously conceived of the negotiating
-
to
-
disclose
-
potential as having a limited function. The conversation between the theoretical discourse
and my practice allowed me to articulate my ex
periential understanding of the capacity of


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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

design to negotiate the
needs

of the subject, the
limits

of the possible and
transformative

action (p11). Locating this insight in design literature, I was further able to perceive how
central the idea of negotia
tion/mediation is to identifying the contribution of design for
navigating the incommensurable.


FIG. 8: DETAIL OF WO
RK
-
IN
-
PROGRESS PROPOSITION

DIAGRAM WITH COMMENT
S, HIGHLIGHTING HOW
THE REFLECTIVE
CONVERSATION BETWEEN

DESIGNER, AUDIENCE A
ND ARTEFACT ADV
ANCES THE IDEAS AND
DIRECTS FUTURE
VISUALISATIONS.

In addition to the internal negotiation of designing, there is also the potential for inviting
the research audience into the negotiative process of interpreting the visualisations for
themselves. We accep
t that the artist creates multiple entry points into the work by
democratically inviting the audience’s to construct their own readings (Rust, 2007). But
within the more utility
-
oriented fields of design there are fewer precedents for seeing
ambiguity not
as a problem but as an opportunity. Figuring as a practice recognizes the
discursive potential of actively negotiating how to read a diagram in a similar way to Gaver
et al’s argument for intentionally interrupting an easy interpretation so audiences are
r
equired to interpret a situation for themselves (W. Gaver, J. Beaver and S. Benford 2003).

CONCLUSION

The desire of the proposition diagram to not permanently fix what they are communicating
keeps open the possibility of different interpretations, so that
through discussion the
potential of unforeseen perspectives can be proposed and critiqued. This is more than a
democratic invitation to shift the authority away from the author. The cognitive value of the
diagrams is wedded to the capacity to engage the au
dience to negotiate their own
understanding of the visual essay’s subject or the visualisation’s academic proposition. In
turn this paper’s proposition is that the incongruous visual language and open
-
endedness
of the message engages the reader into his or

her own situated negotiation and
renegotiation of meaning in the never
-
to
-
be
-
resolved diagrams (Lave and Wenger, 1991).



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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

This practice of figuring promotes a tension that comes from a speculation
-
led approach to
reflection. The productive tension is made
manifest through a discursive, material
conversation with the conflicted visual language of a proposition diagram. This
transactional and open
-
ended practice of figuring was fueled by the constant interplay
between the following elements. First, the type o
f drawing, affords an experiential space
that comes from creating and sharing a material proposition. Second, the graphic
language, allows the temporary fixing of not
-
yet
-
resolved propositions. Third, the
communication objective, promotes multiple readings

that come from purposeful
ambiguity.

The practice of figuring troubles the ‘fragile balance’ between the centripetal pull of the
diagram to fix and understand what we know and the centrifugal push of the proposition to
open
-
up and explore what we cannot
name. The destabilized practice that emerges
heightens the tensions at the core of designing. And by maintaining a state of becoming
the practice of figuring seeks to extend the process of negotiating the push and pull of
designing to amplify the ‘back tal
k,’ to make the designer more mindful of the internalized
chatter that comes with being in reflective conversation with the design situation (Schon’s
1983).

In conclusion it is pertinent to consider the relevance of this research for the field of
graphic
design. The visualisation case study generated insights that seem immediately
relevant to some graphic design educators and practitioners. The idea with the greatest
resonance builds on making explicit the agency afforded to the forever
-
provisional
visuali
sations. The always
-
unresolved character of the visualisation presents a paradigm
shift for how we might strategically understand the potential of the ‘communication’
artefact. Many designers would claim to implicitly recognise the discursive value of
comm
unication, however the potential stated here lies in this knowing being more explicitly
understood. For, if graphic designers could articulate the potential of designing as a
process that can negotiate uncertain, yet
-
to
-
be
-
known content, it is possible tha
t a new role
is defined for the practitioner. This would position the graphic designer as someone who
can facilitate and lead launch
-
stage discussions rather than predominantly being engaged
to communicate an already determined idea. In making explicit the

potential of figuring for
collectively advancing the audience’s understanding, the graphic designer could promote
to clients the value of deploying visuals to facilitate learning across community networks or
engage stakeholders in productive debate.

In r
etrospect it is obvious that drawing is about more than life models and charcoal sticks.
As I came to understand the discursive agency that comes from negotiating the
conversation between the materials, the audience and the situation it also became clear
t
he ways in which drawing could well be a fundamental tool for generative and reflective
thinking across a diversity of practices.



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TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

REFERENCES

Burdick, A 2009,
Design Without Designers
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15

TRACEY | journal: Drawing Knowledge 2012

Tufte 2003,

Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities,

Evidence and Narrative
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A more comprehensive account of the case study and the broader research project,
Design
Research and Reflective Practice: the facility of design
-
oriented research to translate
practitioner insights
into new understandings of design

can be found online at:
www.lisagrocott.net.