My interests and work have always been interdisciplinary. Design and art as a hobby when I was a writer, reading media theory and philosophy when I was a designer. The reason I am now passionate about the academia is that I can finally combine all my interest together.
General research interests
Most of my work is quite interdisciplinary. Still, there is a red line that runs through it all. I suppose the easiest definition is that I’m interested in communication and especially visual media communication. But I’d rather not let that term dictate what I’m doing.
Because communication – even if you just narrow it down to visual communication – is such a complex issue, one must try to encompass related areas too. Psychology, biology, aesthetics, philosophy etc. But if I must, I can try to fit my interests under the following topics:
Visual media communication
After all our theories, how information is communicated is still an intriguing question. As my professional background is in newspapers, my work is often connected to issues in journalistic communication.
My interest is slightly more in how communication functions socially and not in the technical side. But these two are usually more or less inseparable. The technical communication theories don’t satisfy me. But then again the purely social semiotic models don’t feel right either. Both sides seem to be too radical. The truth probably lies somewhere in-between them.
>> PhD research
The overall goal of my thesis is to contribute to the understanding of contemporary newspaper design and newspaper genres. This is done by examining both quality and popular newspapers and interviewing art directors in the United Kingdom and Finland. The study captures a snapshot of the current state of newspaper design and offers comparative views between these two countries.
I concentrate on three main points of interest. The first examines the design itself and how it reflects the personality and genre position of the newspaper. The second investigates how redesign processes happen and the role of the art directors in this. Thirdly the thesis features a strong theoretical aspect. Because there is no commonly accepted paradigm for researching newspaper design, I propose a naturalistic reconceptualisation in my work.
I use quantitative content analysis to study the design of printed newspapers. The results show how design elements function as genre markers and how some of these display cross-national differences while others are international. Then I approach the redesign processes and the role of art directors through qualitative in-depth interviews. The results show, for example, how quality and popular newspapers are very different in how they conduct redesigns.
You can download the whole thesis here.
The communication which interest me is always mediated. In other words, it’s never a live situation from person to person, but happens through some form of media. However, there are many, many different kind of media research fields out there. One can concentrate on media studies, media culture, media technologies, media usage, and so on. Because of this ambiguity of what ‘media research’ actually means, I usually emphasise the visual communication aspect of my work. But media is always there in my work. Either in the forefront, or at least lurking behind the corner in some way.
Instead of just concentrating on one field of design, for example graphic design, it is often much more interesting and fruitful to approach the task from the point of view of information design. Here the main question is that how to communicate as effectively as possible. Only after this is settled, we can choose the right medium for the task.
Typography is over 500 years old, but the field of typographic research is not very developed. It is an interesting field connected to other areas of design research, aesthetics, and our everyday life.
Theory, history, and philosophy
I am deeply moved by theoretical questions of communication and design. They are always present even in the work of a regular designer but I want to go further. I am not interested in whether the theory has something to offer for the practical work. The theories can be important themselves. Without history the understanding of today’s design and theoretical movements would be impossible.
Philosophy could be said to be part of theory, but not all theory is philosophy. And that is why I wish to mention them separately. I am especially interested in branches like Husserlian phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind.
I always thought that I wouldn’t want to engage with the business side of design. But, it turns out, branding is very close to many philosophical questions which I find interesting. This is because branding is essentially about abstract ideas in the minds of consumers, and therefore it has links to phenomenology, philosophy of mind, metaphoric thought, and so on. Because of this branding became a major part of my PhD thesis and is likely to reappear in my future works as well.
Design research and meta-discussion
There is a quite a lot of diversity in what terms people and departments use to describe themselves in my field. For example, some talk of graphic or visual design, while others prefer wider terms like visual communication. All these things, as well as the ones mentioned in the sections above, can be put under the label of design research. Because of this I quite often use design research as a shorthand to describe what I do. This leads to another research interest of mine, which is meta-discussions. By this I mean that I want to participate in the contemporary debates about what design research (or whatever you prefer to call it) actually is, how do we do it, do we have a paradigm, how do we teach it, and so on.