Brad Tober /
Experimental Interface Lab


Design / Research Statement

As a designer and creative researcher, my work contemplates the future of design practice—emphasizing the areas of graphic / visual communication design, interaction design, and information design / data visualization. In particular, I engage in research activities that aim to respond to two interconnected lines of inquiry:

  1. How might the increasing accessibility of design-applicable digital technologies shape the future role(s) of design professionals and other creative communicators?
  2. How should contemporary approaches to design pedagogy evolve in response to the need to prepare designers and other creative communicators for these roles of tomorrow?

Design and technology have long been inextricably linked. The cave paintings at Lascaux, the invention of moveable type / the printing press, and the original Macintosh personal computer all represent milestones in the history of the relationship between (what is now recognized as) design and technology. Contemporary developments suggest that design is now in the midst of another such milestone period. Andrew Blauvelt, a leading figure in design discourse, notes:

"Today's world of open source computing, social networking, crowdsourcing, user-generated content, app store platforms, and other manifestations of the participatory culture of Web 2.0, suggest systems that are more radically open in nature, soliciting input from and empowering creation by many users. Although the rhetoric of decentralized authority pervades these endeavors, the question of control as an expression of authority (and design's role in it) lingers. It is not simply a question of no control or no design, but rather a question of where control and design happen in an open system."

If professionals are to maintain relevancy in such an open system—a world where the democratization of design-applicable digital technologies empowers creation by many users—then they must expand conventional notions of design practice to encompass other approaches to asserting control over the design process. In response to my first line of inquiry, my research frames meta-design as one such approach. According to Fischer and Giaccardi, meta-design can be described as "a conceptual framework defining and creating social and technical infrastructures in which new forms of collaborative design can take place," with the first level of meta-design focused on "establishing the conditions that will allow users to become designers." My research builds upon these characterizations, examining the way in which meta-design shifts the professional designer's role from that of executing processes in which the objective is producing finalized creative output (in the form of designed content) to engaging directly with the development of innovative tools / platforms that facilitate the creative processes of others.

Much of my work investigating meta-design takes the form of speculative and exploratory practice-oriented design projects; rather than serve as commercial or client-based commissions, these endeavors are primarily intended to represent part of a potential model of meta-design practice for other designers to reference. Parallel to my modeling of meta-design through practice-oriented design projects, my research also considers how meta-design principles may relate to contemporary practice more broadly. For instance, I have investigated—through the lens of meta-design—the way in which existing design tools are situated within both the maker movement and motion design. In addition, my work examining the role of the designer has been presented in a number of settings focusing on digital culture and academic collaboration.

My second line of inquiry relates directly to the first; that is, if my research is to present a viable future vision for design practice, then it must also propose a path by which such a vision can be enacted. As the designers and creative communicators of tomorrow are the students of today, my research strives to construct a foundation (both practical and theoretical) that furthers the development of innovative pedagogical structures and strategies facilitating meta-design.

One facet of my work in this area has involved establishing and supporting an argument for comprehensively integrating computer code / programming into design curricula. Code is a critical proficiency for meta-designers, as it is a tool for creating other tools. I have also explored the logistics of such an argument, as well as modeled practical approaches to the curricular integration of code and related principles. Additionally, my work has investigated curricular frameworks that may potentially accommodate a comprehensive integration of code. In particular, I collaborated on building a theoretical basis for the vertical graphic design studio, informing the implementation of a new and innovative graphic design curriculum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Some designer friends and colleagues