Converge: A Sneak Peek

One of the advantages to organizing the AIGA DEC Converge conference has been seeing the wide range of research practices and scholarly approaches of our peers. Reflecting Converge’s focus on digital scholarship, we’re publishing abstracts on our conference website on May 1, 2017 with opportunity for commentary and discussion. Our goal is to facilitate dialogue on many of these projects before, during, and after the conference.

To entice members of the Design Educators Community to Los Angeles, we’re giving you a taste of what and who you might see at Converge. We posed the following questions to a few of our confirmed presenters: What are you going to present about at Converge? Why is digital scholarship an important topic for design educators? How do interdisciplinary practices impact your teaching and scholarship? What do you hope to learn at Converge?

From emerging publishing practices to collaborative research at the fringes of design, we’re pleased to present a sneak peek of Converge. We look forward to seeing you in June!

Anne Burdick, Chair of Graduate Media Design Practices, Art Center College of Design

Graphic designers love words housed in books (housed in libraries). But when designers focus solely on the materiality of books as printed objects, they limit their own ability to understand books and libraries as components of sociotechnical systems of knowledge production and management. How on earth could one be a design educator in 2017 and NOT deal with the “digital” and/or “scholarship”? It’s the medium/context/platform/infrastructure within which any educator does their work and therefore should be subject to inquiry and interrogation.

The most interesting questions to me are the design questions that arise when concepts core to the production of knowledge are in flux: the status of information, authorship, originality, dissemination, dialogue, argumentation, participation… How do the concerns and roles of the graphic designer change when the library (real and/or virtual) is understood as a system comprised of words, books, robots, algorithms, institutions, epistemologies, ontologies, and physical spaces? How might we teach the interdisciplinary design of texts, particularly digital texts, as the material manifestation of such systems?

I am frequently in the role of being an ambassador for design among non-designers. I teach my students to be prepared to play that same role. Articulating precisely what your expertise is and how and why it is relevant to the project at hand, or the team being formed, is always a powerful moment of disciplinary self-awareness. At Converge, I hope to learn what my colleagues are up to and find others who share my obsession with writing technologies and the role of design in scholarly production.

Anne Burdick will be presenting “Books, Robots, Algorithms, and Architectures” at Converge.

Brad Tober, Assistant Professor of Design + Visual Analytics at Boston University

Contemporary society is predicated on the digital (whether one likes it or not) and, as such, I would argue that the vast majority of designers simply do not have the luxury of ignoring the implications of digital technology on their work. To that end, design educators / scholars are responsible for the future of design—both in terms of preparing the students of today for professional practice and by otherwise shaping the discipline through their own research and practice—and so it is absolutely critical for them to remain in conversation with this topic. I’ll be giving two presentations at Converge: one individually and another with my colleague Andrea Marks. My individual presentation will address some of the issues design researchers face in interdisciplinary academic collaborations, informed in part through my experience working on such a project involving the development of a digital humanities publishing platform. The collaborative lightning talk will discuss our early progress on a new research project investigating the potential of data visualization as a tool for use by the backers of crowd-sourced projects (such as those on Kickstarter).

I have always considered my own work to be interdisciplinary, due in part to my own interdisciplinary path toward becoming a designer (I have undergraduate degrees in both design and mathematics). However, having moved into a new academic position this past year—one located outside of design proper—I feel as if it is critical for me to have a heightened (and more deliberate) awareness of interdisciplinary practices. This is important for my students as well, as more and more non-design students are recognizing the potential for applying design-relevant principles and practices to their work in other disciplines.

I’m most intrigued by the opportunity to see and engage in discussions around the way(s) in which other participants interpreted and responded to the overarching theme and call for proposals for the conference. Based on some of my conversations with colleagues, I have the sense that many design educators/scholars aren’t necessarily thinking about their work through the lens put forward by Converge, and so I think this conference is potentially shaping up to be one of the most exciting in some time.

Brad Tober will be presenting “The ‘General Contractor’ of Academia? How a Meta- and Systems-Oriented Perspective May Position Designers as Facilitators of Cross-Disciplinary Academic Collaborations” and also “Predictive Data Visualization Models for Crowd Sourced Projects” (with Andrea Marks, Oregon State University) at Converge.

Kate Sweetapple, Visual Communication Design Academic, University of Technology Sydney
Jacquie Lorber-Kasunic,
Design Academic, University of Technology Sydney

The embrace of critical making by digital humanities enables us as design researchers to more confidently use practitioner methods for scholarly research. The impact of this on our teaching is the ability to name many studio practices as research methods that offer ways of knowing unique to designers. Our Converge panel titled, ‘Deformance’, is an investigation into how the graphic and spatial alteration of text can be used as a research method rather than a communication strategy. Co-panelist Jentery Sayers uses deformance to ‘prototype or experiment with history’, as a method for researching material culture. We are interested in thinking through/identifying, from a design perspective, the role of graphical, spatial and structural materiality in the process of deformance.

Design educators, particularly those working within the field of information design, information graphics, etc could play a critical/leading role in digital scholarship because unlike other disciplines they already understand and engage with the visual (and its many properties) as an argument in the literal sense. This is something that can be characterised as a rhetorical device, capable of making meaning.

There are very few domains where scholarship that falls between the disciplines of design and the digital humanities can be discussed. Converge opens up this space for interdisciplinary conversation.

Kate Sweetapple and Jacquie Lorber-Kasunic will be presenting their panel “Designing Deformance” with Jentery Sayers, University of Victoria, at Converge.

AIGA DEC Converge takes place June 1–3, 2017 at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Los Angeles. Full details and registration are available at


 AIGA DEC Converge Organizing Committee:
Jessica Barness, Kent State University
Vicki Callahan, University of Southern California
Heather Corcoran, Washington University in St. Louis
Sarah Lowe, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Amy Papaelias, SUNY New Paltz
Holly Willis, University of Southern California

By Jessica Barness and Amy Papaelias
Published April 21, 2017
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