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Visual Thinking and the Art of Research and Writing
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Visual Thinking and the Art of Research and Writing


Stacy Brinkman and Diane Fellows presentation for the "Collaborative Ventures, Collaborative Gains" session at the VRA + ARLIS/NA 2nd Joint Conference in Minneapolis, MN.

Stacy Brinkman and Diane Fellows presentation for the "Collaborative Ventures, Collaborative Gains" session at the VRA + ARLIS/NA 2nd Joint Conference in Minneapolis, MN.

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  • Intro slide
  • Context of M. Arch ProgramCentral concepts of course: defining viable topic, identifying valid sources + methodologies, contextualizing thesis through narrative lit review, developing better understanding of research and writing processLibrarian not a formal co-instructor, but embedded
  • 4-year Collaboration: developing course, developing assignments, drawing on each others’ strengthsCommon anxieties of students each semester (by survey and freewrite)
  • Key question
  • How can we take tools and methods architecture students are already familiar with—that is, visual tools—and use those to help them engage in something that is less familiar to them: research and writing?
  • First activity: Adaptation of sketch notebook into freewriting exercisesKey concepts: write without stopping for a given length of time, very informal, very low-stakes. Goal of reducing anxiety, developing comfort with writing. Develop a sense of habit. Sharing freewrites as an opportunity to discuss what is GOOD about each person’s writing, and to show how each voice is unique.
  • Film and multimedia – concepts of Audience and VoiceInitial assignment is an informal essay that has students write about their own cultures, backgrounds, voices, audiences, and intentions. Real value of assignment emerges later:Touchstone questions: Who is your audience? What voice are you using?Frame discussions of how to evaluate information, whether one should quote, paraphrase, or summarize, and how a discipline or field can have a particular type of voice.Film as an easy, familiar (and memorable) gateway to talk about these concepts
  • Hand drawing, concept mapping, critiques – Graffiti Boarding activitySTAGE 1:Public concept mapping on 3x10 paperDevelop habits of writing down questions/comments from AUDIENCE – consider how you are communicatingStudents continue to work off of the papers as they look for articles and resources, and develop a poster draft
  • STAGE 2:Preliminary posters over Graffiti BoardsCritiques (in class):How are you presenting your ideas, visually and verbally?What are areas that are unclear for your audience?Where did you get your information? Where might you look next?How do you know that your information is “good”?Did you cite your information/images in your poster??Librarian can play “bad cop” in this exercise
  • STAGE 3: Final postersNew posters on clean sheets of 3x10 papersOne more round of commenting/critiquing on each others’ papers
  • Final posters (cont’d)Students pin up articles they found
  • What emerges from this cyclical process:Increased clarification of ideas, questions, and keywordsSuggestions of new works that might be relevantIncreased awareness of how to communicate to an audience and the value of feedbackAccountability and encouragement
  • STAGE 4: “Soiree” poster presentations to all Arch facultyStudents must come with resources (articles, books, etc) in hand, in addition to their posters, to begin dialogues with facultyTeaching students to take a proactive approach to meeting with faculty
  • Activities described take place early in the semester: sets TONE for the rest of the course
  • Some of the Information Literacy goals ofthese exercisesContinue to clarify their topics and determine what new information is neededContlinually refine strategies for finding new information, through dialogue and presentationCritique and discuss resources about a topic—being able to talk about why they chose particular sources, who they were by, what audiences they were trying to reach, etcTake the information they already know and synthesize it into a preliminary visual presentation, and later, into a written paperEvaluate, through feedback, how effectively their visual and verbal presentation communicates their ideasBegin to understand, through image use, the process of citation


  • 1. Visual Thinkingand the Art of Research and Writing
    Stacy Brinkman, M.A., M.L.S.
    Diane Fellows, M.F.A., M.Arch.
    Miami University
  • 2. 2 or 3 year program
    12-16 per cohort
    Design and Research Methods course
    Thesis: conference-ready paper + design
    Librarian as embedded partner
    Context: M. Arch program at Miami University
  • 3. How do I know if my topic is any good?
    Writing doesn’t come naturally to me
    I’ve never really done serious research before
    I’m excited to do something original, but I don’t know what that will be
    I don’t know what to write about
    Common anxieties
  • 4. How can visual toolsand methods encourage design students to engage in the entireresearchandwritingprocess?
  • 5. Familiar Practices:
    Sketch notebooks, media,hand drawings, posters
  • 6.
    • 10 minute freewrites
    • 7. 40 per semester
    • 8. “Low-stakes” writing
    • 9. In-class freewrites are shared: developing voice
    “Sketch” writing
  • 10. Man on the Moon (1999)
    Milos Forman, director
    Scott Alexander &
    Larry Karaszewski, script
    Jim Carrey
    Danny DeVito
    Courtney Love
    Paul Giamatti
    Who is your audience?
  • 11. Graffiti Boarding
    Public, interactive concept maps and notes/sketches
  • 12. Preliminary
  • 13. “Final” posters in gallery
  • 14.
  • 15. Sensory / feeling space / non-visual…
    Is this about haptic design?
    Does atemporal = timeless?
    What makes something “playful?”
    How are these ideas [of empathy and community] necessarily related?
    See Michel de Certeau’s Practice of Everyday Life
    Liminal space as a PAUSE… “Ma”間 in Japanese theater
    Some student questions from poster/graffiti boards
  • 16. Student/faculty “soiree”
  • 17. Research process of graffiti boarding