Assignment 1: Research Question and Plans

Which design and story-telling principles used by animators and illustrators creating textless narratives are most important in converting farmer drawings and photos into powerful representations of farmer voices on empowerment and leadership in development?

Why I selected this research question

I want to explicitly link my visual communications visual experimentation and research with my professional consultancy work on participatory visual methodologies for development agencies in order to increase my ability to communicate the voice of farmers across contexts and to powerful people.

See: Research rationale

Key interests are the integration of textless design and storytelling principles of illustrators and animators with theories of change and stakeholder participation in international development. This is obviously a long term and multi-faceted process – particularly because my professional work covers a range of issues and I work in a wide range of media where I am keen to improve my skills.

A key challenge was therefore to narrow the question down to focus on specific technical skills most central to communicating the voice of farmers. For that reason the main focus is on Adobe Animate as a way of collating drawings and worked photographs of farmer role plays. Improving also my skills in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I also selected empowerment and leadership as crosscutting issues for my work and for which I have the most interesting cross-cultural farmer visuals.

Visual work options

My visual work will start with selection of a library of the most powerful drawings/concepts of empowerment and leadership and photo series of role plays from different cultures and selection of which farmer images to work with.

These images will then be digitised and worked on in different ways that aim to keep the energy and immediacy of the originals.

These images will then be collated into textless visual narratives as:

  • one page comic/infographics
  • 60 second animations
  • Interactive presentations combining the two

Experimenting with different solutions applying different principles from other illustrators and animators who have produced powerful textless narratives.

A selection of these will then be shared with farmers and development agencies for feedback of which solutions they find most powerful.

Finally a selection of 2-3 of the most successful solutions agreed under each head will be finalised for on-line publication.

Key texts, resources and gatekeepers

The key texts will bring together:

  • visual communications theory and participatory development theory to provide a framework for participatory visual communication for empowerment.
  • in-depth analysis of the work of illustrators and animators who have produced powerful textless, or nearly textless, infographic comics, animations and interactive experiences.

This will be combined with cross-cultural comparative analysis of:

  • drawings and photographs from participatory empowerment and leadership workshops in  Asia and Africa

My own visual research will draw on inputs and feedback from colleagues on the ground in Africa and Asia and in international development agencies as well as visual communications networks and OCA VisCom students.

For a list of resources collated so far see: Bibliography and the links in the menus in the righthand column of this page.

Time scale and plan of campaign

For further details see Narrowing down your topic Question 4.2 Action Plan

  • Mid January Assignment 1
  • End February Assignment 2 theoretical framework from VisCom and development literature, including analysis of design and animation principles used by other illustrators and animators and collation of bodies of images to be used from farmers.
  • End October Assignment 3 upgrading of technical skills (particularly Adobe Animate), drafting of infographics and animations and sharing with development networks.
  • End December Assignment 4 refining most successful infographics and animations and sharing with VisCom networks, reviewing and extending reading and consultation of background resources,
  • End March 2020 Assignment 5.

Strengths, weaknesses and strategies

Key strengths and opportunities for this proposal are:

  • my professional development experience and links. I have a good body of farmer drawings and photographs from which to select images to work with.  Because the project addresses a key challenge in my work I am hopeful that I will get the feedback I hope for.
  • I am not planning to take on so much professional work this year for a range of personal and professional reasons. So I should have a lot more time to devote to my degree.

Key weaknesses and threats

  • Although I plan to take in much less professional work, I do need to earn some income. This means I may unexpectedly need to alter my schedule.
  • I suffer from RSI that I have managed since 1994. This means that I have to be careful how much computer work I do at any one time. I have to diversify my activities and limit computer work for my degree if I have a lot of paid computer work.
  • I am doing this module alongside the Advanced Practice module. This focuses on physical skills and so should help diversify my activities. But I need to sequence assignments carefully.
  • I tend to have very many ideas and get intensely interested in things. I will need to be careful to keep focused and not take on too much. Exactly how I do this will become clearer once I have done Assignment 2.
  • Although I have postdoctoral research experience in my field, I am much less familiar with VisCom research and not so good (or motivated) at theoretical debates and critique in VisCom. Coupled with my RSI issues I will have to pace myself and spend quite a lot of time on reflection. Concept maps of theory will help.
  • I do not need to finish this module before end September 2020 and my work plan leaves plenty of time in case of overshoot.

Review and analysis of progress

I started this project with a broad idea of the types of ways in which I could integrate my work interests and visual communications work. With very many ideas. Initially doing very many maps appeared to be a bit repetitive. But as I continued I found that each idea thread could become more focused.

I think the research question I now have is reasonably clear, and can be answered in the word limit of the written assignment. Bringing all these maps together in Question 4 was particularly useful – and the collage process one I can use for other purposes in future in my work.

The topic is very important to the alternative participatory visual communications framework I am trying to develop in my work. I am  very therefore fully motivated to go into detail on the relevant visual communications theory. I am planning to increase my design proficiency in concept mapping software in my syntheses of VisCom debates – but starting with pencil/physical draft maps and moodboards in my sketchbook – and seeing how far I can also represent some of that visually.

The visual research is also something I am extremely motivated by I will need to do a thorough review of all the various processes I have been involved in to see which drawings and photos are most interesting to select. This may lead to either a broadening out of the topic from empowerment/leadership to include value chains to focus on cross-cultural comparisons, or a narrowing down to just gender or leadership or another topic.

The actual visual outputs I produce are not yet completely specified. I can see a logical progression from drawings and photos  1-page layout to 60 second animation to interactive experience using Adobe Animate. Using selected material on one issue in 2-3 cultural locations. But depending on my in-depth review of the materials I have, I may decide to focus on one set of drawings/photos and take that through. Or a broader set of drawings/photos/issues and do a cross-cultural comparative set of experiments in only one of these.

I think that my understanding, and maybe the research question itself, will continue to evolve and be refined and re-focused when I have gone deeper into the theoretical framework and had time to review all my secondary material from farmers and development agencies. And now also the relevant literature from development theory.

It will not be until the end of Assignment 2 that my plans, blog structure and thereby resources/gatekeepers etc will be completely clear. I will have to set that as a time limit, and leave any pending issues at that point for another project.

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