Re-storying design research: A case study in the context of postgraduate studies



Graphic Design & Visual Art


  • practice-led, postgraduate studies, specialisation, transdisciplinarity


In the recent five years, the predominant approach followed in the context of postgraduate research in the field of design at Stellenbosch University (SU) has been practice-led. This reflects the Visual Arts Department’s integrated, process-oriented philosophy of design. We regard design as an inherently relational practice that connects people, things, places, and ideas, among others. Through the integrated and applied use of multiple media formats. We do not focus solely on the outcome of our practice but are rather interested in using our practice to work towards a more just and sustainable future for all.

The research this paper reflects on engages with two specific practice-led research projects done in completion of the MA in Visual Arts programme at SU; both of which were situated in the broad field of visual communication design. The aim was to gain insight into the kind of structures, skills, and practices that can support and facilitate practice-led design research in the future. Research participants included the two graduates completing these projects and their supervisor. The research was approached from a new materialist perspective and a narrative methodological approach was followed. From this perspective, the cases in question are not merely represented as it unfolded. The projects have been collaboratively re-storied through creative play between image and text to focus on the transformation of future possibilities. It was found that, in the context of practice-led design research, research questions were predominantly geared towards how design practice can reach specific goals, all the while also affecting positive change in real-life contexts. Navigating the entangled relationships between theory and practice was a continuous struggle, as was situating the research within generalised and bureaucratic institutional structures. Finding the most effective way to ultimately present each project as a comprehensive, coherent body of knowledge was similarly challenging. Our story demonstrates that there lies value in participation, collaboration, reiteration, conversation and multimodal material and technological engagement. The subtle nuances emanating from our story indicate that postgraduate programmes engaging in design research at South African higher education institutions could benefit from simultaneously incorporating a more narrowly defined disciplinary focus and strategically situating their offering in an extended, transdisciplinary community.


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