Visual mapping and meaning-creation: Making research visual for design-based thinkers



Design Education Research


  • autoethnography, design-based thinking, visual research, visual mapping


In exploring the significance of metropolitan open space systems in building meaningful city brands, the researcher utilised Visual Narrative Inquiry to explore the opinions, perceptions and lived experiences of Durban residents and its’ metropolitan open space system. As a design-based practitioner, the researcher grappled with finding suitable ‘meaning-making’ methodologies that would answer to both the academic rigour required of a master’s dissertation as well as their own needs to visually make sense of the ideas, theories, models, and metrices.

This autoethnographic study is a critical reflection on the research and meaning-making process of a design-based thinker, utilising visual mapping. Visual mapping helped the researcher to gain a deeper understanding of their problem and ultimately answer the research questions, embracing a meaning-making process that appeared to be logical, adopting and trialling various methods. Throughout the master’s process, the researcher utilised visual methodologies to make sense of their thinking, analysis and planning and utilised the same to share their thinking with their supervisor and mentors. Through the visual mapping process, the researcher was able to make sense of and articulate the connection between the literature, methodology, research, thematic analysis, and findings and through the visual mapping process, was able to further identify existing, potential, and implied connections exploring the topic at a deeper level. Through visual mapping, the researcher was able to create an integrated approach to visualising and analysing the scholarly research.

The contribution of this study is to recognise the significance of, and to encourage the use of familiar tools and methods, such as visual mapping for design-based thinkers, practitioners, researchers, and their supervisors in postgraduate research studies. Design-based thinkers often require visuals to explain their thought process while utilising visuals to work through their thinking. This autoethnographic study critically reflects on the research and creative meaning-making process as a design-based thinker and the methodologies explored, while reviewing the various artefacts from the dissertation. The paper concludes by sharing the key insights and significance of supervising design-based thinkers, arguing that familiar tools and methods and a tactile process such as visual mapping enable a deeper and more meaningful sense-making and meaning creation process for design-based practitioners.

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