This PhD project is an exploration through my graphic design practice, stories of other Thai graphic designers designing with people. The primary aim of this PhD project is to explore a designerly approach to research in graphic design which is rarely recognised in Thailand. This project was an experiment to learn how to develop my professional design skills in research practice in order to investigate interpersonal relationships through design.
This research project originally developed from my interest and professional background. I was personally interested in the emerging trend of social design in Thailand as a sub-field of design that encourages designers to tackle with current social issues and attempt to solve social problems. Numerous social design projects in Thailand often appear as charity works. During my experience as a designer, I have seen many Thai graphic designers work on projects that address social issues that were usually offered on a pro bono basis. My curiosity about this situation in Thailand was the impetus for this investigation into how the designers could engage in social design with this approach and still survive in a world where graphic design is largely related to commercial activity. Thus, this research project evolved from this initial curiosity.
My background as a Thai graphic designer and educator became a prominent factor in the methodology employed in this investigation. I intended to conduct the research from a designer’s perspective. Therefore, I employed a practice-led paradigm and decided to undertake the project through my graphic design practice. By employing this research methodology, a series of activities were undertaken during the investigation. The activities included reviews of existing documents, in-depth interviews, visualisations and reflections. Fourteen Thai graphic designers were selected and interviewed about their work on social design projects. The process of interview analysis and synthesis was undertaken through a series of visualisations which were called visual experiments. These experiments used various visualising techniques to interpret the interviews, and my reflections on the visualisations led to clarification and refinement of the investigation. This was an important process in the development of my research project which led to a refocus on the interpersonal relationships among Thai graphic designers undertaking social design. From my professional experience as a graphic designer, this later became the significant factor leading to the discovery and the contribution to graphic design research in Thailand.
By undertaking this research project through graphic design, I have discovered graphical methods were discovered and employed to interpret the complicated networks and relationships among the designers. To iterate, the series of visual experiments allowed me access to deeper dimensions and quality of the relationships relating to emotions and bonds that common research methods from social science can scarcely achieve. The graphical methods were a significant element of the process through which I learnt to experiment, create and develop my own methods to apply to my investigation. This research project demonstrates the pathway I took, along which I developed my perceptions towards graphic design as a research discursive object, rather than graphic design as only objects for communication. The findings of the graphical methods enabled extensive insights into methods in graphic design research. These insights contribute significantly to Thai graphic design as well as the broader design discourse.