Contemporary Practice – Week 7: Research & Theory

Week 7 Lecture & Resources

Thoughts on Resources

My notes on Visual Research: An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design

…Design is… a means of organising ideas. Design is thinking made visible.” – Andrew Howard

In reading the extract from Visual Research: An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design, I came across Andrew Howard’s “Manifesto for Higher Learning,” originally published in the Design Observer in 2013. I discovered that he is a course director for MA Communication Design at Escola Superior de Artes e Design in Matosinhos, Portugal and he shares this manifesto with his students each year.

I think it raises some very valid points about both practicing and learning about design, and these wise words are something I intend to keep in mind throughout my studies and beyond.

I also found the case study evaluating designer Matt Cooke’s “transferable research method” an interesting read. His framework proposes a very defined design process with clear, distinct stages, borrowing approaches from the methodologies used the fields of marketing and advertising.

This framework was used a working model during his time designing for a major UK-based cancer awareness charity to develop materials giving information on the link between obesity and cancer in young women.

He observed that after he left, although the project was successful, the charity did not maintain this working method. Despite this, he used the technique as he migrated towards the fields of UI and UX, which are more scientific in their overall approach to the design process and measuring the effectiveness of a design project.

A nuanced, detailed, and structured process such as his would potentially work well in a larger company with more resources and the luxury of time in addition to a reasonably large budget, and I’m sure the thorough approach would definitely have the potential to produce high quality results. In my own experience however, organisations in the third sector especially (as well as smaller organisations in general) rarely have vast resources to dedicate to any one project and are more likely to seek a method (or designer) that gets the job done in a timely manner in the most cost-effective way possible.

Thoughts on Lecture

Lecture notes.

This week’s lecture had me questioning how I have approached design problems in the past. Sometimes I have felt quite keenly that not enough time is dedicated (or allocated) to the research stage of a project. Particularly on commercial briefs, I’ve found what can happen is a lack of time to thoroughly research and fully examine different options or approaches before having to dive headlong into the actual creation of designs.

I try to maintain a sense of curiosity about the world around me, which can inform and inspire my work, and I do think this helps me see things that others perhaps would miss.

Having learned a few languages over the years, I think etymology is a really fascinating avenue to explore, and can present some ideas that lead to interesting results. I decided to include the origins of the word whisky in my workshop task this week as a result, which I feel added an interesting dimension and another layer of history.

Workshop Challenge

My chosen object(s): A set of traditional ceramic Scottish whisky jugs.

For the workshop challenge this week, I’ve chosen these traditional ceramic Scottish whisky jugs (technically three objects but they are of the same ilk). They’re a family heirloom of sorts belonging to my dad – my paternal grandmother worked for Ballantine’s Whisky in Dumbarton, a town on the outskirts of Glasgow. I believe she was given these as a gift. 

Editorial design

My final editorial piece. (click to view the full size PDF)

I started initially with a fairly monochromatic colour palette, to keep the design simple and clean. This evolved into borrowing from the blue coloured glaze on the whisky jug itself – and a nod to the Ballantine’s brand colour. I kept the colours to tones of blue to reflect the influence of water on the story. In terms of the imagery, I felt it helped to add a photograph of the distillery for context, along with an example of one of their vintage adverts showing the famous flock of geese that guarded the precious whisky stocks.

As for the typography, I wanted to evoke the classic style used by Ballantine’s whisky for their branding, so I used a mixture of Playfair Display for headings and Museo Sans for the body copy.

Second draft of my editorial piece.
First draft of my editorial piece.


As part of my research, I conducted an interview with my dad to find out a bit more of the story behind the whisky jugs and my gran’s days working at the distillery.

Notes from interviewing my dad about the whisky jugs.

I also researched more broadly around the subject and history of Scottish whisky, including its word origins, which I understand to have derived from the Scots Gaelic term “uisge” – or “uisge-beatha,” meaning water of life.

The Ballantine’s distillery itself used local water from a nearby renowned beauty spot, Loch Lomond, to make their whisky in Dumbarton.

The Ballantine’s distillery in Dumbarton, Scotland. Image via Master Quill.

During my research into the history of Ballantine’s, I discovered that the distillery famously had a flock of guard geese! They even appeared in the company’s advertising campaigns in the 1960s, as shown below:

Geese on guard duty at Ballantine’s Dumbarton distillery. Image via
A 1963 advert featuring the famous “Scotch Watch” geese. Image via Vintage Ad Browser.

Reflection on the week

This week felt quite challenging at times, partly because I was also attempting to catch up on the previous week’s work as well.

I learned a lot about different categories and approaches to research, something I am sure will be useful in the near future.

I’m relatively pleased with my solution for the workshop task, as I feel it’s a fitting tribute to my family history and I think the editorial design conveys a sense of heritage. If I had more time, I would like to have developed the visual elements a bit more and perhaps experimented with a few alternative layout options.

Reworked design for workshop task

After some feedback from Harriet in a tutorial session, I wanted to revisit my editorial design and rework the layout to make it look more contemporary. Click here to view the updated PDF.

My reworked editorial layout. Click to view larger.

Some intermediate points during the evolution of my editorial spread concept are also shown below:

Bringing down the body copy size to create more white space left me with an awkward layout (even after playing around with it) so at this point I chose to switch the format to a portrait spread, instead of landscape.

In the end I felt a white background colour was much fresher.
Trying a lighter blue background.


Noble, I.; Bestley, R. . 2016. Visual Research: An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design. 3rd edition. London: Fairchild Books

MacLennan, M. 1982. A Pronouncing and Etymological Dictionary of the Gaelic Language. Aberdeen: University Press.