PDP Reflective blog post for Constellation

So this dissertation talk all started in January 2017 with the planning of a dissertation proposal and the guidelines on which this piece of work was based. The dissertation has changed a little bit from the original proposal but it was good to have some form of loose structure. I remember when writing this proposal I was struggling of think to write and how to analyse resources, but there was one key meeting that has stuck in my head and has helped me in other practices of my work. My tutor sat me down and asked, “Are you interested in cars?” to which I said yes. So she said “If you were analysing a car and comparing them how would you do it?” To which I replied with something along the lines of “Look at the engine size, the price, top speed etc”. I was then told to do that when writing my proposal when looking at different sources. Look at them as if they were cars, see what is useful about the sources, what is not so useful and then compare this to get a good solid analysis of the sources that I was think of using.

During the previous years when studying constellation I would tend to leave my the shorter essays as late as possible. This was mainly due to the fact they were only shorter ones, so far less strenuous and smaller work load that this dissertation and that they were on topics I wasn’t greatly interested in like fine art etc which was interesting all the same but very difficult to try and find useful links back to subject. Due to these factors I would not always be putting all of my effort into the writing aspect up until the dissertation. Because I have had relatively free reign on what my topic of choice is, I have been able to pick something that relates to my course graphic communication and most importantly something that I enjoy and take an interest in. These two changes have had big implications on how I have worked during this project. It means I have actually wanted to sit down, research and write about my findings, a complete contrast to previous years.

While writing this thesis we had to submit a draft of what we had done so far. I submitted roughly 4000 words but this was rushed and obviously not fully finished, so what I submitted was not the best piece of work I could have sent. What I have now learnt from this is that despite that submission deadline only being there for our guidance and show our tutors where we were at, if I had but more thought into it at those earlier stages I could have possibly got more out of. On the other hand I did wish to outline all of the chapters and intentions in that hand in so I could get the most guidance on them. So at that point, despite the work not being the best or most detailed I had the skeleton so from there for me I could discuss how to flesh them out into full well written and informed pieces of writing.

Overall, after writing this huge piece of work I feel very satisfied with what I have written. At the very start I remember panicking because there couldn’t possibly be anything I could write 10,000 words about. That is why at first I wished to choose the 6000 words and design an artefact option. I had the mindset that 6000 words would be far easier to accomplish and designing something would be easy because that is what I do for my degree. But as I kept writing I was soon approaching that 6000 word barrier, still having a fair few points and chapter to mention. Not only this, the previous chapters were not in the best of detail, meaning I still had more words and development to come from them. This led me to change my mind and go into greater detail for what I was writing about. Deciding upon this was a big step for me because writing long, detailed pieces of writing is not my strongest point, so just for that I am very happy and proud that I managed to actually get to that stage and actually complete the dissertation.

Looking back, to help improve myself I would do more initial research into my topic. This would having given me more structure at the start and more material to work with, probably leaving me in a better, less panicked state. Additionally it would have meant that my essay wasn’t constantly being chopped and changed with different chapters and ideas being replaced, but I think that was always going to happen to some extent. On a big piece of writing things are always going to change in some shape or form, but if I had done that bit more initial research my mindset and plan may have been clearer.

Despite the ups and downs I do rate this piece as successful. Although it does not currently have a mark, I would rate just getting it done on time but also with a bit of time to spare is a success. Instead of frantically working up until the last minute, it means I have been able to look over and analyse it and get other people’s opinions on it. That in itself, for someone who hates writing as much as me is a success and I am proud of myself that I have been able to come over this hurdle, coming out the other end more confident in my own written skills and abilities, even if it has been one of the most stressful things I have ever done.

If there was one thing I would change for constellation over the three years I have been studying here at Cardiff Metropolitan University it would be the length of essays during the first and second year. In first year the word count was only 1000 or something similar, and during second year I think my longest piece of writing was only about 2500 words. Although at the time this was very pleasing, not having to write huge pieces of work, I feel like I could have been prepared a bit better for the ordeal that was this dissertation. The jump in the amount we had to write was huge and feel that if we were assigned a longer piece of writing during our second year I would have been better prepared, and would have known what to expect, instead of getting worried about those 10,000 words, which in the end did become easier as time went on but at the start I feel my previous years could have been spent more usefully.


Struggling to find chapters

As of recently I have been working on the current chapters in my dissertation and they have been going well. I think the main reason the are going well at these early stages is because is because I writing about a choice that I take a lot of interest in and can relate it back to my subject practice and real life situations, something I have not been able to do in the past when it has come to constellation.

At the moment I must admit I am struggling to find things to research and write about in a relevant and contextual context as this is not something that always comes naturally to me.

What I have done to help improve my work and situation is go and see my tutor and work from there. From this point I have been told to research semiotics and how the are involved with graphic design and branding specifically.

The Power of Graphic Design

Following from my last post I wish to do a sub chapter on on the unspoken power graphic design has and the power of designers. So far I have been satisfied with the work and research I have completed, but I am struggling to find sources and books which I can use as references and back up. Maybe one thing I can change is looking at different media sources to try and find more relevant sources.

By specifically looking elsewhere I have managed to find some interviews and articles including input from Warren Berger, giving me useful insight into how graphic design can change the world for good and bad and how its power almost controls us. By doing this this led me towards other useful research and resources, a book by David Berman, Do Good: How can Graphic Design Change the World which just shadows what was originally being said in the interview with some different points also, going into some specific cases as well that I can use in my work.


Finding a definition for Graphic Design

One issue I have found when researching this topic and when doing work in subject is that graphic design is a huge subject that involves more than just the few elements that the Oxford dictionary states: Graphic Design is the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines or books. This is not wrong but just from personal experience from subject I know that it involves more than this, forming the start of my research and initial argument.

When it comes to writing and researching a new definition and what is actually involved with graphic design I found a book written by Quentin Newark: What is Graphic Design? This has sections about finding a definition and what a being a graphic designer involves, another section that I wish to expand upon. All of this will be hopefully showing that graphic design is more than stated in the dictionary, giving me a good solid argument for this part of my essay.


Initial Research for Dissertation

So I have finalised my topic of choice for my dissertation after finishing my proposal. I essentially will be looking into the development of graphic design throughout time and more interestingly, where it might end up in the future. After some discussion with my tutor we decided as well that it would be good to have a common theme through out my topic. Something along the lines of why graphic design works so well and is so influential in a Neo liberal system and society.

Through out the year I will be adding short blog posts outlining chapter titles and sub chapters explaining why I am have decided to write about them, interesting and useful material that will help me back up my argument and the links between this topic choice and subject, the obvious one is that I am writing about the subject that I study, mostly because it is one of my biggest interests.

Constellation Second Year Review

Constellation has been a lot more interesting this year, as well as easier to navigate seeing as this is my second year here at the university I had a better idea of what to expect. For my topic choices at the beginning of the year I feel I had a limited range of  options that  I could pick in terms of my interests and things that relate to my course, graphic design. This at first made me a bit down beat about constellation this year. In the end I decided to go with Puzzling out Contemporary Art. My reasoning behind this was after speaking to some people I thought, “What the heck, if there is nothing really relating to what I do as a designer, I may as well choose something in a creative subject that I know very little about”. That is how I ended up choosing, Puzzling out Contemporary Art.

During the first session with Jon Clarkson we had a discussion about what we think make art contemporary. During this we debated about the date, particular style and if the art had to symbolise or mean anything. None of these points really got decided upon as contemporary art I found out can be considered as many things, something that later on interested and annoyed me. The first piece we had a look at Leonardo’s Cat by Isa Genzken. I found this a very intriguing bit of work or installation to start off with. It was a pile made up of mundane objects and at first it just looked a big random mess to me. To this day I still can’t really say what it is about, but I would like to think that it is  piece about challenging composition and structure. This was one of the good things I found while on this module. Contemporary art, unlike other creative areas like graphic design, product design and architecture, for example, can be interpreted in more than one way. Later on in the course I found this sort of work frustrating. Examples such as Damian Hurst, who would simply put things into tanks, his most famous the shark. For me to call something like this art might be a bit too easy, with little skill involved it may seem to someone like myself who does graphic design, which is all about a process and construction that exhibition pieces like this are infuriating. It almost feels like contemporary and modern art is just there for the sake of it. To this day I still find things like this annoying that they can pass as ‘art’, but I still do find them interesting to examine and try and find some sort of meaning behind what is happening and in addition to this I have felt his choice has opened up my perception of contemporary art.

The second part of the constellation topic was the summative assessment. Due to my slight dissatisfaction towards modern and contemporary art, I wanted to compare and contrast it to my course, graphic communication. This way I could research contemporary art more and broaden my horizons further by comparing the two subjects. At first I found it challenging to research the contemporary art side of the essay because the only experience I have had with the subject is the constellation course. As the essay took shape, I was able to gather a greater understanding for the subject and began to accept it more for what it is. Overall, I feel that is the biggest benefit I have gained from this, not an improvement in my written skills but being able to look at exhibitions and modern art and not judge it so negatively.

The final part of the constellation module was to write our dissertation proposal. After partly writing my summative assessment on graphic design, I wished to do a whole essay on it which is why I have eventually come up with the question/statement, “Graphic Design is the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines or books, which will be nonexistent in the future”, discuss. I have also chosen to create a visual representation of graphic design from my findings.

One of the key issues with graphic design and communication is that it is hard to pin down what it really is. Some people think it is one thing, while others believe it is something completely different. I feel that this is down to peoples’ perception and how educated they are on the matter. For example, the online Oxford Dictionary definition is  “The art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines, or books” (Oxford Dictionary, 2017). This definition is not wrong as these components are an important part of the industry, but people will argue that this is a very dated view of the subject, and in the modern day  a lot more different practices and thought is involved. From this introduction to graphic design there is already a few conflicting ideas about what it really is. This is why I wish explore this area.

Before this, I found it difficult coming up with a question. Because we could literally write about anything, I struggled with narrowing down what I wanted to do. All I knew at this stage was that I would like the question to relate back to graphic design somehow. At first I was desperate to do something on Star Wars, but was finding it rather difficult to link it back to graphic design in some way. After some more research I found that graphic design had no clear definition and everyone they asked would say that it was something different. Most people said things like, Photoshop, computers  and posters, but graphic design is much more than that which is why I wish to explore this topic.

Overall, constellation has been more interesting than last year and I think more enjoyable. It may have raised more questions in terms of contemporary art and my potential dissertation, but this has left me intrigued to find out and research them more.



Overview of Constellation

Starting from the very beginning my first experience of constellation was analysing a couple of different movie posters and deconstructing the meaning behind them. I have done similar stuff to this before at A Level on my previous subjects; Graphic Communication and Media Studies. So I found this process fairly natural but was useful to get back into the habit. This skill has always been very useful for my subject of Graphic Communication, it means I can quickly deconstruct and analyse pieces of work very thoroughly. What I found particularly useful about this first session was how it was structured and the method used on how to break down the images. This method is called ‘Cath’s Columns’. It is where you have three columns labelled ‘describe’ ‘analyse’ and ‘theory’, helping me break down the visual movie posters in a easier way to what I have been used to previously. The describe and analyse bits were fairly straight forward, but theory was a bit more difficult, which involves finding the suitable evidence to back up my claim. But to this day I still use this method and use it frequently in my own practice of work and subject area, probably one of the key skills I have gained from constellation.

My first term module was ‘Smells like Teens Spirit’ which was all about subcultures and how they function in society. This subject helped me with my image breakdown even further, so much so that I wasn’t looking at just designs of posters etc anymore and breaking them down, but just standard photographs as well.

During my time in ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ I took a particular liking to the punk subculture which I ended up doing both of my essays on. At first I found it difficult to connect constellation with graphic communications, trying to make links and similarities. A lot of the time I felt I couldn’t connect the two and although what I learned about subcultures was interesting I feel it hasn’t benefited me in terms of linking constellation and graphics. The one thing I did link though was during my assessments. For the first essay my question was “How does the God Save The Queen album design relate to punk?” This was good because it was relevant to what I was doing in graphics because I was focusing on a piece of design, but also got to learn about the context of the piece.

The most important bit of information I gathered from this part of constellation was how to structure my essay and reference correctly. When it came to the essay side of things I would make sure that my arguments were clear and sufficiently back up with specific referencing. As mentioned above I learnt  how to use direct quotes and how to paraphrase to back up my arguments. Although this is not linked to my subject of graphic communications it was still a vital skill that constellation has taught me to use, and use correctly.

In my second term we focused a lot on critical thinking which is a process that you actively evaluate sources of information, and the reasoning and actions behind it. Similar to what we were doing in first term but focusing more on the origin of the source . I learned that as a critical thinker I should never accept anything as face value. You should always ask questions like; Who has written/said this, Why are they writing/saying and are they biased. If you take all of these into account you can analyse the source of a piece of information albeit a piece of text or image very well. Through all of this though it is important to keep an open mind and better to give your strong opinion, rather than sitting on the fence which helped me have a clearer understanding of the topics at hand.

Thinking about it I have used this critical thinking technique in my practice of graphic communication, most recently when analysing magazine double page spreads. I would often look at the spread and question why the designer has put the ‘headline’ where it is and why the image is the size it is and not another side, which is similar at looking at a piece of text and asking the same questions, why has it been written this way and who wrote and what are their motives etc. By doing things like this, sometimes without thinking about it is what would make me a successful designer in the future and that is partially down to the critical thinking methods I have picked up from constellation.

On the whole the two main things that I have taken from Constellation is the analysis technique, Cath’s columns and the critical thinking. I feel I use the columns analysis more consciously as I am physically drawing the three columns out and making sure I do each step correctly, where as with the critical thinking I am doing subconsciously all the time as a graphic designer.