This research proposes that the ‘geo/graphic’ design process—an original synthesis of cultural geographic and graphic design theory and practice—offers much to geographers and graphic designers in relation to the understanding and representation of place, and the potential of print based graphic design to create interactive, multi-linear spaces of exploration for the reader.
The understanding and representation of place is a central issue within cultural geography, with place itself a complex notion defined in contemporary geographic terms as ongoing and relational. This problematises both understanding and representation, as places, in a sense, are never ‘fixed’. Addressing this, and the contention that much of place evades representation, many geographers have begun to use methods that site the researcher, and their understanding, in more embodied, experiential ways within place, and are drawing on ‘creative’ methods such as film-making or sound recording. Yet, the predominant representation of place within geography remains the academic text, with few attempts to explore the communicative possibilities of type and image in this context. So, the pages of academic journals remain conventional, though research methods develop in multi-sensory ways. This research bridges the apparent divide between methods of exploring and representing place, and in doing so positions the graphic designer as researcher and develops a process that engages with the understanding and representation of place in a holistic way. Foregrounding graphic design practice, it highlights design interventions that re-situate the page as an experiential place.
A qualitative, naturalistic and reflective methodological approach is taken, drawing on social science methods and design practice. Ethnographic methods inspire a series of print based design test projects, each conveying a particular version of the London borough of Hackney—the testing ground for the research. Analysis of the design test projects, establishes key elements of the research and practice, thus articulating the specifics of the ‘geo/graphic’ design process.