• Kylie Blair

What, Why, How, and So what?

In Carole Gray and Julian Malins book, Visualizing Research: A Guide to the Research Process in Art and Design, Gray and Malins discuss various important practices for art and design students, as well as teachers, to successfully position their practice-based work in research. Research in art and design is a relatively new field, making Gray and Malins' processes and discussions helpful for someone entering this area. In particular, in Chapter 1: Planning the Journey, Gray and Malins discuss the main questions of the research process: What?, Why?, How?, and So What?. Using these questions as my framework, I will explore my thought process so far in regards to my proposed thesis project.


Grays and Malins describe this question and process as:

"the identification of a 'hunch' or tentative research proposition, leading eventually to a defined and viable research question." (Gray and Malins, 12)

To put it simply, what might I research?

As someone who comes from a background in radio, television, and film, with a specialization in animation, I have always come to love the power of storytelling. Similar to Gray and Malins mention of Aesop, stories have the ability to give their audience various things simultaneously: entertainment, emotions, a new perspective, new insight, new information, perhaps an escape to a different world, or better yet an unnoticed story in their current world, to name a few. Furthermore, film has the ability to manipulate our understanding of time, space, and form: it can shift us away from our own, limited perspective and experiences, may it be through the construction of time (such as time-lapse film, slow motion, long shots, short cuts, montages, etc.); space (a change in the human's point of view, from shots that expand across various spaces, to those that get into small and confined spaces, and even a manipulation of small spaces into apparently large landscapes, as well as the reverse); and form (from a warp in the frame, such as fish-eye lens, tilt-shift effects, animation, visual effects, practical effects, as well as costume and set production).

Furthermore, I have always felt intrigued, inspired, and curious by physical geography, environmental science and ecological sustainability. Yet, as our world heats up from climate change, our water supply becomes contaminated, our fellow species are eradicated, and we are running out of space due to human overpopulation, humans continue to rampantly destroy the natural world for resources, profit, and space, all the while ignoring the ecological system that keeps our species alive. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 70% of US Citizens believe global warming is real, yet only 53% believe it is human-driven (Yale Program on Climate Change Communication). Furthermore, the majority of Americans (76%) say they hear about global warming less than once a month.

It seems that we are not communicating this information enough or effectively; why, when there is consensus in the scientific community for global warming, are citizens still wary that it exists? Is this hesitance only based on politics, capitalism, religion, and maintaining the political party agenda? Where has empathy for other humans, living beings, let alone our Earth gone?

Therefore, for my thesis, I am asking the following questions:

- What role can environmental science, mediated by information and data visualization as well as interactive storytelling, play in mitigating ecological crises?

- How can technology and digital media be used to make complex environmental information and data more accessible to broader audiences?

- How can storytelling be used to tell perspectives of other species, in order to emphasize our connection and need for these fellow beings in order to maintain the balance of the web of life on Earth?


According to Grays and Malins, the "why?" explores:

"the need for your research in relation to the wider context, in order to test out the value of your proposition, locate your research position, and explore a range of research strategies" (Grays and Malins, 12).

As previously mentioned, there is a gap in knowledge for interpreting scientific data, particularly when such data focuses on complex topics that cannot be illustrated easily through graphs and charts. Therefore, scientific knowledge is not easily accessible to the general public. In order to make this information more accessible, I want to take data visualization and adapt it to storytelling, to create an entertaining, educational experience for those that are not well versed in scientific concepts, ideas, and terminology.


According to Grays and Malins, the "How?" identifies:

"the importance of developing an appropriate methodology and specific methods for gathering and generating information relevant to your research question, and evaluating, analyzing and interpreting research evidence" (Grays and Malins, 12).

Currently, i am exploring an interdisciplinary methodology approach, as I consider design-oriented research, multimodal critical discourse analysis, and media analysis methodologies. I will use design-oriented research with iterative design methods, speculative design methods, storyboards and interactive media production to create an interactive art piece where participants are asked to maintain a balance in an ecological niche, as they switch perspectives, roles, and objectives between different species in a particular biome. This final thesis piece will be informed through my multimodal critical discourse analysis methodological approach, as I study the representation of the environment in media, how environmental data is visualized and understood by audiences, as well as conducting my own secondary data analysis of ecological data. Lastly, I am interested in using media analysis to explore the effectiveness of games and interactive media as a channel through which they have the opportunity to become a pedagogical tool.

So What?

Lastly, the "So What?" analyzes:

"the significance and value of your research contribution, not only to your practice, but to the wider research context, and how this is best communicated and disseminated" (Grays and Malins, 12).

As our actions have led to what some scientists are calling the anthropocene (the current geologic age that is marked by human influence on the globe, environment, and climate) it is important to inform citizens of the drastic changes in our environment that are leading to ecological destabilization, and how these changes will impact our lives. As populations increase, sea levels rise, temperatures rise, and species and environments disappear, our reliance on food, natural resources, and living conditions will become increasing difficult to maintain. Better yet, our future generations will have to endure the aftermath of our impact on Earth. Finding ways to inform citizens and motivate them to become active agents in the fight against climate change is an important step in combating the Anthropocene. As nature has been constructed through science, culture, politics, and our own personal experiences, my hope is that the combination of storytelling and interactivity in conjunction with environmental data can create a greater connection between humans and their fellow living beings.