'Thesis' topic brainstorming

nmilward's picture

Hi there,
I'm enrolled in the fourth, and final, year of a graphic design degree. In this year we're asked to work on one 8 month-long project; thesis. I would be very appreciative just to hear anyone's thoughts/suggestions/comments on my project idea.


An exploration of hand communication. It's evident that a large percentage of the world's population communicates more frequently via digital devices. This undoubtedly affects the shape of culture, language and communication.

Some of us spend more time and effort with the tools to communicate, than with the quality of the communication itself.

It is my intention to explore all of the ways we communicate manually, by hand, with the hopes of discovering an engaging medium to share this information. Most likely printed ephemera.


Any ideas or suggestions of what to look for are greatly appreciated!

afonseca1974's picture

My sugestion is "far from graphic design" itself, but if you are going to study the world’s population communication via digital devices there is a new study (I did not read it...) of the Portuguese author António Damasio about "Rapid-fire Media May Confuse Your Moral Compass". Occording to USC Annenberg media scholar Manuel Castells, Damasio’s study has extraordinary implications for the human perception of events in a digital communication environment.
More info here.

Hope that helps.

E.Jacobson's picture

Brainstorm rant:

Well, just make sure the actual thesis posits a question, and attempts to answer it. It shouldn't really be an information dump. Don't put the horse before the cart. ie. "I want to do this so I ask this question." In my experience, the strongest theses have visual component that complements the written component. Of course you can do it the other way around, but then the thesis ends up being a long artist statement for the most part.

I think your initial idea has a spark. Broadly speaking, well yes, technology always changes the way we communicate/relate/engage one another. In what instance is this a good thing or bad thing? ex. I'm going to the movies and I want to let someone know where I am. Text messaging seems appropriate, right? Ok, now, I want to break up with my girlfriend... see where I'm going?

The question ends up being, how do these technologies change us, change language, change the communication rather than simply stating that they change us. Because that answer is, yes. This is the common pitfall in most theses—the "this, therefore that" argument. Steer away from tautology.

You said the phrase, quality of the communication. It's worth exploring. But this word is loaded. What is quality in a communication? Concise? Explicit? These are things you will have to explain.

I think you have a nice start and plenty of time. Good luck!

Reading material: Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (it's a nice followup to Marshall McLuhan)
The Idea of Design by Richard Buchanon

nmilward's picture

Thank you Antonio and bleachmilk (especially). Quality of communication is an issue that has been playing a larger role in my research lately. Some questions along this line are:

- Is communication 'selfish' in social networking?

- How much of social networking is really mutual? How much of it is just entertainment?

- Does textspeak alienate people?

- Why do communication software tools hinder our creativity?

More to come, I gotta run!

Additional thoughts are welcome

Nick Milward, BDes
Ontario College of Art & Design

dirtcastle's picture

This sounds heavy on social pscyhology.

Where do you draw the line between design and other disciplines related to this thesis?

E.Jacobson's picture

These are all good questions. Glad I was able to at least trigger something with my rambling.

"Why do communication software tools hinder our creativity?"
John Maeda would probably say that Adobe products hinder creativity. (But I'm not designer-claiming.)

Another one is: Can social media be sustainable? But more importantly, should it (or can it) be?

nmilward's picture

You are quite correct given the information I have provided here. Much of my thoughts have revolved around the social aspect of hand communication. However, there is a large graphic side to this project, and to date I have a bank of provoking imagery in hopes that I'll be able to produce 3-5 great pieces of design.

But. I posted my idea so that I might also find some advice on how to marry the two. I always struggle at this step; my mind seems to work well in each individual type of thinking (textual/informational + visual), but can't quite make the leap from one to the other.

So to answer your question, I have no idea where to draw the line....I'm an obsessive philosopher and a last minute designer. Help?

Thank you for mentioning Maeda, I saw his book on simplicity a while back and will now check it out.

Can social media be sustainable? But more importantly, should it (or can it) be?

Interesting thing to think about.
It is clear that social media is not a true and healthy form of socializing. It will also always require a power source. These two statements are loaded, I realize, and require further investigation (so thank you for making me think of these answers).
I also need to think about how I can graphically relate this back to the hand.

Will keep you posted, and please I encourage more discussion here


Nick Milward, BDes
Ontario College of Art & Design

dirtcastle's picture

If this is a design program, I would avoid straying too far into the realm of behavioral science. That said, the interesting side of this topic (however amorphous it is) is on the social and behavioral side. For example, many studies suggest that handheld communication is fueling anxiety in young people and altering family dynamics. But any meaningful discussion on those topics requires some hard scientific data.

Instead of looking at how design influences behavior (which is more of a behavioral science issue than a design issue), I would suggest one of two approaches to this thesis.

1. Create your own design solution to this problem. Identify the shortcomings -- as you see them -- of all the different types of communication. And then tackle them with your design. That's not very scientific or thesis-like, but it's firmly in the design realm and it would be much more than simply re-packaging research.

2. Make the subject of your thesis a graphical representation of the subject matter and/or statistics, and then have the writing be about the best way to represent the topic.

Just a few ideas.

dirtcastle's picture

Oh yeah, and maybe delineating design from media, because a big question here is the role of design in the context of a particular medium. For example, different types of handheld phone/computers.

Syndicate content Syndicate content