Opening reception May 19, 2015 6pm – 8pm. Open daily May 20 – 30. See the Grad Show website for more information.

01 Christina Webb, 02 Minkyoung Kim, 03 Ojus Doshi, 04 Prin Limphongpand, 05 Soohyun Shin, 06 Rachel Harris, 07 Amanda Pickens, 08 Kelly Walters, 09 Conrad Fulbrook, 10 Jamar Bromley, 11 Viviane Jalil, 12 Michael McDermott, 13 Kyle Green

During our time at RISD, our individual thesis inquiries have co-existed in parallel practice. These practices make up a whole that shares methods such as iteration02,06 , appropriation05,07,12, abstraction05,08,09, disruption01,03,05,11, and ironic commentary04,06,07,08,10. Our work investigates speculative fictions04,10, communication tools02,03,09,11,13, identity01,08,10,13, geopolitics04,08,10, pop culture07,08,11, consumer culture07,08,10, collaboration01,09, spatiality01,03,13, site01,03,12,and authorship01,06,11,12.

The visual essays herein frame our line of thinking, making evident our connections and adjacencies – highlighting the complexity and fluidity of the field of graphic design today.

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This thesis investigates my operations as designer. It seeks new ways to extend areas of research and critical practice in public spaces, physical and virtual. Within these spaces, we share experiences that both define and divide group identities. Using a dialogic approach to activate interpretation of a social condition at hand, I ask not only of a viewer, but of myself: “How do we see ourselves here?” I disrupt superficial readings of these conditions, digging beneath patterned behaviors to call out and challenge displays of power defined by the sociological status quo. This approach functions to short circuit the patterns, instigating confusion, but also redirection and discovery in order to reveal the tension, complexity and messiness within these sites. A counter-condition is created, eliciting empathy and a more profound experience.

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As visual production in digital culture becomes dependent on the mass-archive online, the designer’s role is now more that of making a visual statement by collecting and compounding existing materials on a single surface. It further enters circulation in networks and becomes a part of the archive, thus drawing an infinite loop of reformation. In this constant flow of visual production, is it possible to comprehensively represent shifting contexts without privileging a single version?

If a design product is a fixed frame of an idea, a series of its versions is a moving frame tracing changes in the idea. As a designer, I’m interested in creating a framework to generate multiple versions of a form by adopting fluid digital strategies. In my work, the variables constantly change. I change the principles of the framework by observing the previous outcomes. Continually changing variables, the previous structure alters the predictable outcomes thereby stimulating momentum. In this way, the initial information is transformed and the variables accumulate, eventually forming a co-relationship of design decisions.

This framing and iterating pattern, which I call Versions, parallels the process of an early navigational system called dead reckoning, a process that calculates one’s current position based on a previously determined position. Subject to unexpected variables, the course alters the destination of a journey. My framework also builds connectivity, leaving signs on the path to follow. By serializing all versions, my thesis suggests reading a product as a new thought where no one version is more valid than another.

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This thesis proposes a methodology and a mindframe for designers to rethink our contract with the digital screen as a 2D framing device. The contract dictates that the best way to communicate is to transfer information within the boundaries of the screen. I challenge the terms of this contract in order to understand the process of mediation within a spatial context. What happens when one considers the z-axis of the screen?

Through insertions, interruptions, and unconventional interactions, the thesis creates an inventory of mediations between space and screen. In this inventory, body and screen merge through the unexpected placement of the human form, both in front of and behind the screen. Reconsidering the nature of screen as architectural canvas, content is also shaped through projection mapping to reveal stories embedded within existing space. Additionally, in exploring the computational power of the technology behind the screen, the work harnesses the sensors in the devices we carry with us at all times to enrich the on-screen experience.

But partially subverting the flow of screen-based communication does not come without consequences. Questions arise as to the morality behind how and what we watch on screen today, as well as the potentially dangerous implications of allowing anything from our seemingly private vantage points to enter the confines of the screen. By demanding more from our screen-based communication experiences, my inventory of work serves as a beginning step for comprehending these questions and consequences, so that we can better evaluate how comfortable we are with the increasing number of screens in our lives.

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Speculative Politics—Fictionalized Spectacle posits an alternate model for design practice. Borrowing from the genre of science fiction, this design approach activates consideration of possible realities and cultural forms. It raises questions and invents problems instead of solving them. By imagining technologies, policies, laws, and conditions that do not yet exist, design becomes an agent of investigation to highlight current and future social, cultural, and political conditions.

The projects within this thesis reconsider our present situations through methods of speculative documentation. The act of documentation becomes a process of manipulating notions of truth to render fictions from reality. Using subversion, instigation, satire, and a “What If” methodology, elements from traditional graphic design media are reframed as plausible and possible narratives. Some projects begin as self-reflexive investigations of a particular medium. Others propose possible futures of political organizations through fake collateral, creating documentation out of the unreal. What if the flags of America represented fragment iterations of our sub-nationalities, or if the United Nations was untied from its present, and contradictory, identity. It’s all open to questioning and up for debate.

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Communication is bi-directional. Similar to a game of Ping Pong, it’s a constant exchange loop between two entities, two minds, and two perspectives. As a designer, I bring attention to the components that make up this exchange as a dynamic system. I envisionhow graphic design reflects these temporary qualities as a model for visual communication.

Just as we never throw the ball in the same way, I begin by observing the gradual nature of change. Even when change seems abrupt, it is a result of the hidden accumulation of small events. I am interested in how design can activate communication by paying attention to how we aim, and the gestural cues and conditions that shape the direction of each exchange.

On another level, my work is a way to make “fun” happenings, to bring us back to a state of childlike wonder, before expectations and objectiveness interfered with our view of the world. The videos, prints, sculptures, and interactive websites in this thesis are experiments to subvert expectations and set the ground for fresh conversation. The performances apply these experiments, as the intimate and private sites as a starting point for larger initiatives. I ignite the fire to an infinite response loop to break the hierarchy between the designer and the user, the sender and the receiver, and the world and my perceptions. It is an ongoing search to continuously understand my temporary existence.

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Fewer words, more images: a fundamental shift in the structure of communication is underway. There is a measurable upswing in the flood of images in our media, from infographics in our news to the pictures, emojis and videos we text to our friends. Our collective quest for information is frenetic and impatient. As our language expands to incorporate the influx of images, we will need to call upon graphic visual systems to structure and edit visual content. Designers will contend with overarching issues of qualitative versus quantitative information, complexity versus reduction, of what to amplify and what to discard.

Understanding the intricacies of these visual cues extends far beyond the field of information graphics, and addresses the fundamental questions of how to build pictorial narratives. Graphic tools allow designers to function as storytellers, relaying narrative through diagrams, bar graphs, data maps, interactive visualizations, iconography, iterative vignettes, and poetic distillations. Formal relationships of scale and proportion, quantity, color, sequencing and pacing are essential in lending order to complex structures. Iterative processes are also key in demonstrating change over time.

Designers can dramatically alter the shape of a story by determining the aggregate relationships of these visual questions. I am interested in both the collection and creation of unexpected stories, and using the illustrative qualities inherent in infographics to build clear and accessible narrative structures. My thesis explores a system of methodologies, defined here as juxtaposition, inference, reduction, substitution, filter, and amalgamation. There is also an examination of influential artists and designers whose works exemplify these underlying principles of pictorial narrative. It is my hope that by folding in this compendium of allies, this thesis document may serve as a resource for any subsequent readers who share a common interest in shaping the stories of our future.

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As a culture, we are seduced by brands — the façade and fantasies they portray. We are drawn in without warning, wanting to believe in the allure. But are we being willfully manipulated? As a consumer, I delight in the glamour and gloss, but as a graphic designer, I have the power to shape brand rhetoric.

This thesis, WOW! Shop, Flip, Copy, exposes what lies beneath the artifice of the luxury world by appropriating the formal language of the industry itself. From designer clothing and fashion magazines to grocery store circulars and vinyl window signage, my work exploits the media and the visual vocabulary of the consumer world. Inspired by Chinese shanzhai (counterfeit) culture, my thesis embraces the notion of a Robin Hood-esque redistribution of wealth and goods.

My work celebrates the designer’s role as brand stylist, while critiquing consumerism. Through parody, juxtaposition, and appropriation, my projects strip the luxury world of its pretense, while finding value in and paying homage to fake markets and designer knock-offs. From China’s shanzhai markets to the online marketplace of eBay, I explore the consumer realms in which the rare and luxurious comingle with the ordinary and attainable.

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As an avid consumer of American mainstream media, I am excited yet perplexed by the visual representation of black culture today. From highly stylized portraiture in print magazines, to heavily edited reality show confessionals, to the numerous hashtag name drops on Instagram selfies, the current media landscape has complicated the “authenticity” of what it means to be black in 2015. Sitcoms, Slow Jams, & The White Cube maps multiple entry points into a complex conversation about identity formation, representation, as well as the value systems and shared language in and around black culture. This thesis offers a wide array of design responses: websites and posters based on the language of popular black music; videos highlighting fine art in prime-time sitcoms; identity-based exhibitions; and live performances that challenge institutional conventions. Using methods of abstraction, isolation and magnification, the work offers an editorial reframing of the explicit and implicit ways in which cultural vernacular switches to conform to these spheres.

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I question what I suggest is a western conception of 'things' as the site of design-activity, and argue instead for an understanding of design as a relational epistemology in which 'things' are the far more complex, unstable, and dynamically constructed effects of perception and agency, both of which are embedded in wider cultural and ecological frameworks. Rather than regard space as ‘surface’ for representation, I explore the notion of ‘field’ for enactment, and the implications of this shift: from a perspective that conceives of an assumed axiomatically-existent ‘other’, to one that radically democratizes all discourse and incorporates the ‘projective’ (Olson). Through the etymology of ‘gest’—the old French root of words such as ‘gesture’, ‘suggest’, ‘gestate’—meaning in between, I explore design with the notion of wandering/wondering: a reflexive, symbiotic and transformative process for both ‘designer’ and ‘viewer’. Theoretical frameworks include Latour’s ‘Actor Network’ theory, as well as the relational epistemologies of Buddhism and animism; previous artists working in this area might include Robert Irwin, April Greiman, Sol LeWitt, Maya Lin, and arguably many members of the Bauhaus, among others.

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I produce speculative work that navigates and nests within a variety of identity spaces. My work tampers with, manipulates, and heightens the behavior and psychology of my audience by populating these systems with information that could liberate, or restrict responses to particular stimuli and situations—effectively creating mythos, fictitious cultures, or extensions of our cultures through graphic design. For example, a board game reveals the frailty of our cities in the face of natural disaster, a survival guide questions the categorical nature of black profiling, a wearable technology catalog offers devices to expand information receptors at the expense of our comfort, and a propaganda campaign unfolds a message of prosperity across multiple media outlets, surfaces, and products. Combining infinite play with hyper-stylized form and explorations of weird technology theories, my thesis provides insight into alternate social imaginaries both dystopic and utopic; favorable and unfavorable; hasty and torpidly complex.

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The relationship between language and tools has always been one of influence. Our devices—pens, keyboards, smartphones—make language visible and affect its form and structure. But this exchange goes both ways: all acts of reading and writing are mediated by both our expectations of a content and the instruments used to access it.

As modes of communication evolve, so too do the ways in which we think through language, creating a dynamic of perpetual adaptation. With the growing impact of technology upon our behaviors, this dialogue is becoming imbalanced, affecting how we engage with others, how we approach our machines and how we produce and receive messages. Through my work, I intentionally redesign interactions between us and the apparatuses we employ, in order to shift the dynamic of exchange to one of collaborative performance. Multiple Influences is a commitment to rebuild an intimate and more rewarding relationship with language through conscious negotiation with our tools.

The projects in this thesis make the physical labor of writing and reading visible by emphasizing its inherent motion. Flipping a page or typing on a keyboard become interpretative acts made by choice: writers and readers are made aware of their motion. Showing the impact of the tools we use on our language, I draw attention to the mechanisms at work in the background of our communication—the invisible gestures and subconscious responses as we share and access content.

Ultimately, Multiple Influences invites a reframing of our role in this process, making the performer visible. By setting the parameters to explore, subvert, reverse, and at times, mock the dynamics of the tools, I empower us to understand and shape language on our own terms.

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This is not new. It is not original and it is not mine. Somewhere in this text, and in this work, there are traces of influence, some subtle, some obvious. I am less the author than an archiver, assembler or intermediary navigating the overwhelming flow of words and images that are presented to us everyday.

Substantially all ideas are secondhand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, so let us embrace this fact. This work establishes a methodology around that principle. I work with what is around me, although around me can have a broad interpretation, and my process involves disassembling and reconstructing the material remains of the past. This thesis investigates how contemporary modes of design complicate ideas about creation, authorship, and ownership, making an argument for appropriation as a method of working.

What difference does it make who designed it? Man can never expect to start from scratch, so you, reader, are welcome to these words, forms and ideas, for they were never mine in the first place.

ATTRIBUTED ABSTRACT

The words in what “I wrote” came from many places. Below are the words and their sources except for the sources I forgot along the way. Many of the words I revised slightly, either for voice, to fit my ideas, or just because.

“... overwhelming flow ... everyday.” is taken from the abstract to Adrift with a Draft by Erin Zwaska (2014).

“Substantially all ideas ... outside sources,” is taken from The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem (2007).

“... and my process ... reconstructing ...” is taken from the abstract to The Shape of Fiction by Justin Chen (2013).

“This thesis ... method of working.” is taken from the abstract to In Any Form or by Any Means—Communication as Copy by Wael Morcos (2013).

“What difference ... designed it?” is taken from Graphic Authorship by Michael Rock (1996).

“Man can ... from scratch,” is a quote from the American artist Marcel Duchamp in an interview with Katharine Kuh (1960s).

“... so you, reader ... first place.” is again taken from Lethem.

The beginning of this attributed abstract “The words in ... or just because.” were also taken from Lethem.

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Imagine that as a satellite captures a photo of you from space, you upload a separate image of yourself to Facebook. Two representations are created by two alternate perspectives. The identities captured within these representations are fractured and blurred by traveling through the temporalities that manifested them. Residue from these temporalities wrap around the representations and alter them through visual or conceptual means.

At this point in time, the identities of objects, people and environments have become increasingly layered through the shadow of adjacent space. This thesis examines representation within different spaces and the residue objects pick up as they move between spaces. Using existing media to surround a subject, I collect multiple perspectives to activate their hidden identities. Through pushing a subject between different perceived spaces, I examine the artifacts and meanings the subject inherits during this alteration and spatial change. This methodology seeks to use this multidimensional view of the content to create a larger context for forming narratives.

Researching a subject and creating narratives is inherent in the field of graphic design. My approach towards design proposes that the narratives created can be enhanced by examining the representational, spatial and transmutative aspects of subjects. This method becomes a starting point and the basis to explore how we interact with and experience our surroundings with new representational freedom.

Parallel Practices