Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Blind Maps and Blue Dots

This research explores the question of what contemporary mapmaking practices can reveal about the ever-evolving field of graphic design.

Joost Grootens

The shift towards digital modes of production has fundamentally changed the field of graphic design. The computer as universal tool, the interactive possibilities of digital media and the direct exchange of visual information through networks have led to a different relationship between the producers and users of visual information, to the extent that a clear distinction between the producers and users no longer exists.

In my view, the evaluation of graphic design’s recent developments is too strongly focused on what happened to the persona of the graphic designer. In this research, I propose an alternative model that focuses on the technologies that have shaped the field.

Graphic design and cartography have different origins and concerns, but their contemporary practices have much in common. Both use similar tools and the digitization of those tools has enabled new players to enter the fields. The impact of digital technologies on mapmaking seems greater and clearer than on graphic design. In this research, I consider cartography a testing ground to understand the transformations of graphic design. Three mapmaking practices of amateurs and technology companies were selected to survey, analyse and test that transformation.

In this research, I have adopted notions from post-representational cartography, which regards a map as a process rather than a fixed spatial representation. According to this theory, a map is in a constant state of becoming: ‘producing’ and ‘using’ are not consecutive processes but parallel tracks.

In my design practice, I have developed strategies of incorporating ambiguity as an antidote to the misalignments in the encounters between the producer-user and the graphic product. By incorporating the ambiguity and uncertainty of data, I highlight and challenge the manipulations in the design of visual information.

I did something similar in the artistic part of this research in which a series of visualizations embody an alternative documentation of the research. The development of alternative and complementary languages is, in my opinion, an essential aspect of artistic research. This parallel visual documentation of the research questions the discursive text, and all the prejudices and histories contained within it.


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