Assignment 2: Theoretical Framework

Research question

In Assignment 2 I refocused my research question in the light of my reading and research on digital software, incorporating tutor feedback on Assignment 1.

How can community visions and strategies for empowerment be ethically ‘translated’ into powerful visual communication for a global audience in a way that ‘frees, transforms and multiplies rather than possesses, controls and defines’?

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Subsequent changes

Assignment 3: As I moved forward with Assignment 3 I found this question still too broad and also wordy and theoretical. Also I decided to focus very specifically on short textless animation to make things less vague and focus on the skillset I want to develop most of the possibilities (logos, infographics etc) I had initially considered.

I realised that – consistent with the bricolage approach – each part of my work would throw up new specific questions that would need to be interlinked. The question from Assignment 2 became therefore an underlying set of criteria for assessing my translations rather than the key question for the timebound research project. What these questions mean in practice will be reassessed in detail in Assignment 5 Participatory VisCom.

My visual research for this module builds on my professional work skills and aims to address key gaps in my digital skill set (specifically Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Animate and After Effects) in relation to graphic design, illustration and interactivity to make much more engaging and impactful pictorial materials based on community visions and drawings produced from participatory workshops. The final version also develops my skills in interactive web/blog design to incorporate the different styles in html coding and different interactive media for WordPress.

Subsequent changes

Assignment 3: Due to RSI and work pressure I decided to focus much more on drawing with pencil/pen/marker on paper and using iPad software. A further issue was updates in Adobe software that would not work properly on my older graphics cards, requiring finance to update my system and only possible in the longer term. As I progressed with my research into contemporary animation and iPad animation software, given that I would only have time to produce very short pieces, I decided that I should be able to produce some interesting work using iPad alone. And focus on developing my understanding and skills for a range of animation styles and approaches. Leaving more complex pc software needed for longer more complex pieces to a later date. The focus on locally-available media also makes my working process more relevant to other designers within communities themselves who do not have access to expensive software. Interactivity could then be introduced using Adobe Acrobat/InDesign as interactive pdfs rather than my original idea to use Adobe Animate.

‘Translation bricolage’ framework

My main work for this Assignment has focused on going systematically through the research frameworks suggested and using concept maps as a way of linking and thinking through key issues and relationships between different frameworks in order to clarify my questions. I started to look at bricolage and translation theory as new but very relevant ways of thinking about the challenges I have experienced so far in attempts at community-led advocacy. I am aiming to bring these two frameworks together:

see: ‘Translation bricolage’

The Bricolage approach takes a flexible, non-linear and emergent theoretical approach and contextually contingent mixed methods that adapt to empowerment requirements to privilege inclusion of marginalised people. This is consistent with what I see as my role as:

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I use this framework to examine potential interlinkages and possible tensions between:

Concept Map: Empowerment

Empowerment advocacy as the overarching aim of my work – but where inherent tensions between universalist and individualist definitions of ’empowerment’ mirror in many respects the divisions in Visual Communications theory.

Concept Map: Semiotics and Semiology

Post-structuralist semiotics:focusing on relationships and elements in a conceptual system but (following postmodernism) exploring the challenges of potential plurality and instability of pictorial (as well as verbal) meaning across cultures and contexts. Taking a qualitative and open approach, mixing different artistic styles and media.

Visual Communication theory: the principles and methods by which information is conveyed based on largely Western audiences and research, but increasingly including illustrators and designers from the global South. Only a limited range of potential styles and approaches are currently used by development agency visuals and info-graphics.

Visual and written work plans


As my tutor pointed out in Feedback to Assignment 1, my plans for this module were very ambitious and not everything needs to be done at once. So part of my work in this assignment has been to think about how to efficiently sequence my learning, bearing in mind my work also for the Visual Communications Advanced Practice module where I am developing skills in the same software for more documentary and imaginative work. Following the principles of bricolage, I am proposing to maintain a relatively wide set of possibilities for now and then focus down in a contingent and emergent way driven by what I think I need for ’empowering translations’ of the specific visuals I select in Assignment 3.

The module responds to a professional need to develop digital and on-line ways of working because earlier allergy and breathing problem caused by air pollution and cleaning products/insecticides have now become much more restrictive on my travel abroad. There are a number of related challenges I need to bear in mind that may require further adjustments as I proceed:

  • I will have to develop ways of working digitally while continuing to manage my long-term RSI. This means that a key focus of this module is on simple graphics and animation and exploring a range of software to develop the most RSI-friendly integrated way of working. I will need to build my skills over time, and my style will need to bear these limitations in mind, particularly during the learning curve.
  • Travelling to Asia and Africa will not be possible in the time-frame of this module so I am dependent on on-line feedback from colleagues and English-speaking friends in communities. I cannot predict how reliable/extensive this will be.

My work for this module focuses on my own visual ’empowerment translation’ innovation, using community empowerment drawings for advocacy as primary sources. Research on other artists and illustrators in driven by this in an emergent and contingent ‘bricolage’ manner. The visual work – translations and interactive info-graphics – will be brought together in the ‘on-line interactive empowerment experience’ produced in Assignment 5 below.


Given my need to focus, and also get feedback on my visual work from people in projects on the ground, following Assignment 2, I decided to wait for final confirmation of a consultancy contract with Oxfam Novib to produce visual resources on leadership and movement-building for a project to change attitudes and practices around child marriage in Mali, Niger and Pakistan with later expansion to India and Bangladesh. make concepts of leadership my main focus in order to get buy-in to provide feedback. Because of delays in the project because of a worsening security and visa situation in all three countries, and other logistical reasons on the ground, that confirmation did not come until late December and my work was then further delayed until end of January and contact with people on the ground in early March. Meanwhile I proceeded with my work on the other Advanced Practice module. By March I also had another contract with IFAD for Nepal and Kyrgyzstan that potentially provided further opportunities for dissemination and feedback from colleagues.

But once the project started then this provides a coherent basis to provide concrete focus to make my research more manageable and also have a practical use for the visual work itself. On the other hand tight deadlines and work pressures meant RSI would have to be very carefully managed, limiting my digital work on pc in this module at least in the short term. I addressed this through focusing on iPad animation as outlined above.

Broadening conceptual focus: the main focus on empowerment and gender remains, but I added visual resources from Tanzania on leadership and movement-building for the Oxfam Novib project. Partly also because I started to have some very clear ideas about story-line and humorous use of Toontastic as a very different translation style that is quite RSI-friendly.

Visual work 1: review of primary sources – exploratory/emergent

In Assignment 1 I did a preliminary review of primary source material from community participatory workshops and development agencies. This primary source review will be further developed as I progress through the translation experiments, annotated in sketchlogs and summarised in linked blog posts as relevant to my innovation work.

Subsequent changes

See: Primary and Secondary Sources

Assignment 3: Primary sources now focus includes leadership drawings, as well as community empowerment and gender drawings as a source of inspiration on drawing styles. I also added a series of role play photographs as the basis for experimenting with narrative manipulation and roto-scoping.

Visual work 2: development of digital workflow – exploratory/emergent

In Assignment 2 I started to upgrade my technical skills in Adobe Draw, Procreate, Illustrator, Photoshop, Animate, After effects and Premiere using 2019 software, and test some of the potential integrated digital workflows. I tested Adobe Animate for producing animated information graphics for the post: Message and Meaning: Visual Communications theory. I also established how these can be embedded into the wordpress blog see: WordPress embed. From this it became clear that Adobe Animate is not the most RSI-friendly base software and that a more integrated approach would be best, using Illustrator symbols and styles as the main link. With Adobe Draw, Procreate and natural media in sketchlogs as the best media for initial experimentation. My software discoveries and workflow will be documented in blog posts and linked as relevant to my innovation work.

Subsequent changes

See above: although I put quite a bit of time into learning Adobe Animate and After Effects, I decided to leave further work with these until Module 3 Sustaining Your Pracfice, or after this degree. Because of consultancy pc workload and RSI. The focus is now on natural drawing media and iPad work in Procreate, Fresco and iPad animation, until Assignment 5 when I add interactivity as interactive pdfs.

Visual work 3: Visualising Empowerment – core work Assignment 3

I begin with semiotic and visual analysis of what I consider to be the most interesting community drawings from participatory workshops where I was directly involved or where there is good documentation for me to understand the meanings intended and the visual communication process that led to the visual outputs. The aim will be a comparative study of ‘universals’ and ‘specificities’ of empowerment visions and communication styles and how these are affected by different media, contexts and participant backgrounds. Some examples so far that I will develop further are:

Good and Bad Leadership Drawings: Tanzania
Tupa Tupa: What Happened to the Coffee Money? DRC

I plan to use Adobe Draw Fresco and/or Procreate on my iPad to analyse and make vector copies from photographs of selected community drawings, then send these to Adobe Illustrator on my pc to produce a series of symbol and style libraries that produce a range of possible ‘translations’ of the original meanings. Selected graphic symbols will be available for download from this blog as png images for others to use in Word and Powerpoint.

Part of my aim will be to significantly broaden the range of graphic styles that might be considered as ‘professional’ by people in development agencies through referring to styles employed by artists and illustrators. As is consistent with the bricolage approach, I want to leave this selection open and contingent on requirements of the content being translated. But is likely to include:

Subsequent changes: Lines Walking

Changes in plans went through a number of iterations while I was waiting for confirmation of the consultancy contract. First changes are shown as crossings out on the original text on the left.

The focus on producing visual resources on leadership led to some significant changes in Assignment 3 to make it more manageable. At the same time, owing to delays in the project for security of participants in conflict zones, and other logistical reasons on the ground, that would make keeping to assignment deadlines problematic, I decided not to rely on visuals from that project. I decided to continue to use visual outputs that I already had from other processes in Pakistan, India and East Africa – also because I had already started to work with these.

Assignment 3 was re-titled ‘Lines Walking’ to focus on a detailed exploration and experimentation of communication in animating line drawing styles using media used in the participatory workshops. , based on community drawings and work of illustrators:

  1. The visually diverse empowerment and gender drawings from Pakistan, India and Uganda continued as part of my artistic inspiration in different community drawing styles and forms of semiotic representation. This being the main focus of my work for the assignment.
  2. The Tanzania leadership drawings were added because they were conceptually interesting as the basis for humorous narrative, though not so interesting in terms of drawing and communication styles. Development of resources on leadership is also a key work priority.
  3. I also added a series of role play photos of the consequences of men controlling money from coffee to provide a simple community story sequence to start my playing with narrative in Assignment 4.

After my research into iPad animation software I now use a range of iPad software as relevant to the particular style and requirements of the translation.

I looked at a broad range of contemporary animation for artistic inspiration, focusing on approaches and styles that I thought could be manageably adapted for my work on an iPad.

Visual Work 4: Telling Empowerment Stories – core work Assignment 4.

The next part of my visual research in Assignment 4 will be to look at ways of producing alternative translations of three community empowerment narratives from the drawings, and also from photo series and video of role plays:

SUBSTITUTED: Narrative on child marriage from work with Oxfam

Here I will work with Adobe Animate, After Effects and Premiere Procreate and other tablet animation software looking at a range of graphic styles from line drawing, coloured cartoons and more ‘realistic’ image sequences, digitally converting photos and videos and/or redrawing depending on the type of source document and type of style produced. Working with photography and video will enable me to carefully analyse and observe body language and posture, and how to draw people from different cultures based on how they present themselves.

I will experiment with different narrative treatments, experimenting with different framing, composition, timing and sequencing and different formats eg:

  • strip cartoon comic pages with simple panning and sound effects
  • stick drawing animated gifs compiled as an interactive ‘what’s next’ game in Adobe Animate
  • cartoon-style animation video in Adobe After Effects, including animation to music and write-on techniques

NOTE: Animate, After Effects and Premiere no longer work with the older graphics card on my pc and laptop and I will not be able to upgrade my pc until much later this year. I am not planning to replace my laptop but switch entirely to iPad for mobile work. Animate or InDesign/Acrobat can still be used to add interactivity in my final presentation in Assignment 5. But for animation and storytelling I am now proposing to use the much improved animation features for tablet and iPad (click on the links for my preliminary search on other peoples’ work and tutorials) :

Stick Nodes for tweening of stick figures that can be done in quite a range of styles just using different line widths and shapes, colour and size
Toontastic that has animated lego type figures that are easy to manipulate to create different characters from different cultures and construct a range narratives with your own image backgrounds
Procreate 5 for a wide range of styles with short frame by frame animation

with supplementary software:
Flipaclip for storyboarding
Rough Animator for fine tuning the animation

The added advantage of using tablet software is that this is also accessible to use for many staff and also people in communities if they so choose.

Selected animations will be uploaded to a You Tube channel and embedded in this blog. Less ‘successful’ work will be placed in this blog or on my Adobe account and linked for reference.

This work will be draw on examples from other illustrators and animators. I want to leave my investigation of other designers and illustrators somewhat open and contingent on emergent requirements of the question as my research progresses. As well as the artists and illustrators from Assignment 3, I envisage including:

  • flash stick animation styles like those of Raymond Bollinger
  • illustrators and animators producing sequential narratives who have innovated with framing, layout and narrative sequencing: manga, Chris Ware and ‘Introduction to…’ graphic guides consulted on theoretical frameworks for this Assignment and/or being studied for Visual Communications Advanced Practice.
Subsequent changes: Transforming Tales

Changes went through a number of iterations while I was waiting for confirmation of the consultancy contract. First changes are shown as crossings out on the original text on the left. But these changed by the end of Assignment 3.

Assignment 3 rethink: Initially I thought of refocusing all my visual work to produce resources ‘Leading Tales’ on leadership for the Oxfam project. With the idea of producing a ‘Leadership Game’ but that would require use of Adobe Animate. Then the Oxfam project changed to more of a gender review and I got the IFAD contract as well looking again at gender and empowerment.

My review of iPad software and animation styles also indicated that as long as each animation was short, that it would be more interesting for myself and also users of the blog, to do series of very short animations in different styles and different iPad software. My initial experiments indicated that this would also be manageable.

So I decided to broaden things out again as ‘Transforming Tales’ incorporating further research on narrative and story-telling approaches in short animation. Considering particularly importance and techniques for humour as well as shock, and differences between animation and printed graphic stories.

To be updated in Assignment 4.

Visual work 5: On-line ‘interactive empowerment experience’ – core work Assignment 5.

My work for the final part of the module will bring all this together as an integrated animated on-line experience. This will require further visual work and upgrading my understanding of html coding and how to customise WordPress themes to reflect the empowerment styles and content developed. The animated experience will be hosted on the front page of this blog and/or linked from my Adobe account and/or a separate website depending on what proves most efficient in rendering the styles and animation.

My selection of styles and content and interactive design will be based on period of consultation with English speaking friends in communities with whom I am in WhatsApp and/or Facebook contact and colleagues in development agencies.

This top web page will link to sections on the blog that contain my sources and background research selected from a series of 3 Sketchlogs (see blog sections and green sketchlog outlines in diagram above):

  • Sketchlog 1: ‘Translation bricolage’: (A3 ring bound) containing the hand-drafted Concept Maps and info-graphics from Assignment 2 and graphic design experiments and sketches for further refinements for Assignment 5. Also my design maps for interactivity of the final on-line experience.
  • Sketchlog 2: Empowerment translations: (A3 ringbound with glued-in sheets or sections from cheap local notebooks and printouts from my digital work). This will include annotated examples from other illustrators and my experiments with visual dynamics of sketch-noting and doodling to produce new ‘translations’. Physical sketching is a freer RSI-friendly way of working that will be done alongside my digital work.
  • Sketchlog 3 Empowerment stories: (A2 with flipcharts glued-in sheets or sections from cheap local notebooks) will include annotated analysis of storyboards and layouts of other animators and illustrators and sketches of some of my own ‘stories’.

This visual on-line content will be accompanied by a written downloadable pdf, summarising my conclusions about:

  • theoretical ‘translation bricolage’ framework encompassing semiotics and visual communications theory and potential interlinkages and tensions between theoretical/methodological clarity and flexibility in a global context.
  • the ways in which different media (drawing, photography and collage) have been, or could be, used for wordless narratives.
  • innovations and challenges faced in translating community empowerment visualisations and narratives for a global audience discovered in my own visual research and earlier practical experience.
  • experience and possible ways forward for participatory on-line feedback in terms of both visual critique and dissemination/impact for advocacy
  • overall conclusions about community-led participatory visual communication practice for empowerment advocacy and issues for further innovation.
Subsequent changes

Assignment 3: My format remains development of this blog as a resource for people working in development. But focusing now on animation and also developing a new skillset that I myself can offer going forward. I now intend to use interactive pdfs in Acrobat and/or InDesign instead of Adobe Animate in presenting the final outputs.

I started to develop the Sketchlogs:

  • Sketchlog 1: Participatory VisCom: Theories and Practice : (A3 ring bound) containing the hand-drafted Concept Maps and info-graphics from Assignment 2 and graphic design experiments and sketches on Participatory VisCom for further refinements for Assignment 5. Also my design maps for interactivity of the final on-line experience.
  • Sketchlog 2: Empowerment Voices: (A3 ringbound) with glued-in images from the community drawings, linkages to work and style of other animators and illustrators with my own annotations, sketches and draft storyboards for translations.
  • Sketchlog 3 Animation Doodles (A4 old ‘scruffy’ lined exercise book with gouached pages over old text) for me to freely practise my own character animations and just ‘doodle’ as I explore different styles and ‘think outside the box’.
  • Sketchlog 4 Transforming Tales (planned A2 with flipcharts for roughs and sheets for charcoal and other experimentation) for me to experiment ‘big’ with storyboards and layouts of other animators and illustrators, and develop my own ‘transforming tales’ prior to or in parallel to my iPad work.

Draft literature and resources review

I will be using a range of primary sources that I will examine in sketchbooks as the basis for developing my own ‘translations’:

  • Primary sources from communities (see above)
  • Primary sources from other illustrators and designers (see above)

I have developed quite a large bibliography – mostly my own books that I have collected or articles I can easily access on-line.

See Primary and Secondary Sources for an Assignment-wise time plan.

Subsequent changes

Key addition to the resources for the theoretical framework are papers on translation theory selected by Bryan Eccleston and frameworks for critical analysis of artworks which provided the basis for checklists of questions for semiotic analysis and assessing my translations in following assignments.

My reading for Assignment 3 and 4 came to focus much more on animation, and ranged outside the sources initially envisaged. Following up on leads as they came up.

Reflective Commentary

I am confident that the above choices will enable me to produce some very innovative ’empowerment translations’ in answer to my research question. The question itself, with the subsidiary narrowing questions, is still quite broad as is my list of possible primary and secondary sources. Following the contingent approach of bricolage, I do not want to narrow this down at this stage. I will review and dip into these and other relevant sources I come across as I progress further with my visual work, focusing only on those sections and sources that I feel are most relevant for producing impactful translations. Although this will be a lot of work, and I will need to pace myself to manage RSI, it builds on and upgrades existing skills and I am motivated by its importance for future professional work with development agencies.

I think that my research covers quite well all the assessment criteria of:

  • creativity: the translations and interactive on-line experience.
  • research and idea development: semiotic analysis of community drawing and exploration of different visual translation possibilities in the Sketchlogs and digital work.
  • visual and technical skills: digital drawing and animation across Adobe Draw, Procreate, Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects and Animate linked to parallel software skills development in VisCom Advanced Practice.
  • context: theoretical frameworks and researching illustrators and animators and work of other designers and illustrators in development agencies.

Subsequent changes

Assignment 3

  • creativity: the new plans for more but shorter animated iPad ‘translations’ opens up much more possibility for developing a broad range of creative responses and experimentation that will then be carried forward to the final interactive on-line experience.
  • research and idea development: contextualised semiotic analysis and visual comparison of five different community data sets, exploration of the approaches and techniques of early and contemporary animators to broaden the range of visual and narrative inspiration, together with fpcused experimentation with different visual translation possibilities in the Sketchlogs and digital iPad work.
  • visual and technical skills: new iPad drawing and animation technical skills, and further development of drawing/sketching/concept drawing skills and addressing a weakness in narrative and storytelling skills.
  • context: theoretical frameworks and researching illustrators and animators and work of other designers, illustrators and animators in development agencies, Africa and Asia as well as Western traditions.

Reworking the assignment

In general my tutor seemed fairly happy with my theoretical work and the way things are progressing, except that I seemed to have taken on too much and would need to focus down for a dissertation at this level.

In answer to specific questions:

A2 Exercise 1
– Reflection on previous assignment 1 feedback is given in red at the end of Assignment 1: Research Questions and Plans
– See comments on Excellent Dissertations text
– Yes this is’ a career-oriented area of focus that might generate data’ ie:

  • Assignment 3 ‘Lines Walking’ : the semiotic and visual analysis of community drawings, review of animation approaches, principles and techniques relevant to my iPad animation practice
  • Assignment 4 ‘Transforming Tales’ study of narrative principles for 30 second animation and their use in my experimental animated translations for training and advocacy.
  • Assignment 5: Participatory VisCom overview of translation issues and audience responses to my animations and implications for my role as ‘translator’ of community voices for training and advocacy resources.

A2 Exercise 2 and Exercise 3
I will need to think carefully as I work through Assignments 3-5 about ways of avoiding different types of bias at different points (mine and that of others and the assessors). To some extent I have enough experience I think to anticipate some of these, and in my Assignment 3 posts on community drawings and Assignment 3 Gathering Data: Lines Walking, I highlight the ways in which people were involved at different levels, and the potential biases that might be involved. Inclusion and comparison of responses from different people involved (community people, NGO staff and consultants at different levels and VisCom forums) through my work and associated social networks will help reduce bias. My conclusions in Assignment 5 Participatory VisCom should also bear this in mind.