This week’s theme is Research & Theory – Methodologies, Management, Catalysts, Theory & Fiction. The aim of this week being to explore how we approach research methodologies in relation to our academic journeys. Lecturer, Martin Hosken, taught this week’s lecture, perfectly summing up my own feelings regarding research.
We are seeking to reinvigorate our process of engaging with knowledge. At the centre of research is knowledge, and it is our approach to knowledge that we must first consider.Martin Hosken (2020)
Hosken describes how we spent a disproportionate amount of time and energy unpicking research terminology, time with which we could actually be planning, conducting and being excited by research. Early on in the lecture, Hosken asked us to consider what the word ‘research’ means, and challenged us to write our own definition of research.
In considering how I defined research, I noticed similarity between my definition here, and from definitions of the word ‘design’, as I myself have defined it, and that I have heard from practitioners and other students on the course. Some consider design to be problem solving, and therefore it is interesting to me that I have also used this expression to describe ‘research’, denoting how the two go hand in hand.
Hosken introduces etymology as a research methodology, and one I had not previously come across in my work. Etymology is the study of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning has changed over time. Words continue to change in meaning today, such as how ‘mouse’ can now refer to a computer cursor. Sometimes words can change meaning in a way that makes us think about them very differently, as can be the case with slang words, or change by becoming more general in meaning (Crystal, 2010. p. 165).
The word ‘research’ covers a much broader range of methodologies than I first considered. It is also a word that can be used across a multitude of industries, in academic, professional and personal capacities, working towards various goals. This realisation allowed me to revisit the week’s initial question better informed: how do we approach research methodologies in relation to our academic journeys? My academic journey as a Graphic Design student may require me to approach research differently to students of the sciences, for example. Research is broad and varied, and consideration of subject area when selecting appropriate methods is essential for making meaningful discoveries.
The challenge this week was to select an item from our surroundings that has a story to tell, using appropriate research methodologies to inform need within the project. I contemplated several items including; a necklace given to me by my (late) gran, a banker’s-style lamp bought for me by my parents’ when I left home, and a handmade macrame wall hanging I purchased from my best friend’s lockdown-inspired small business. I reflected on why none of the objects I had shortlisted were bought by myself; was their story not worth sharing, too? On further introspection, I can attribute my decision-making here to my sentimental nature, as explored earlier in the module. For me, the item’s story-worthiness goes hand-in-hand with my emotional response to said object.
I began considering angles for approaching these three stories, and which research methodologies could be employed. I was keen to conduct original qualitative research in order to gauge the other party’s feelings about the object, rather than just my own. I determined there were limited research opportunities for my gran’s beautiful locket, and for the lamp, in comparison to my best friend, Catriona’s, story behind her macrame-crafting.
I decided to conduct my qualitative research in the form of an informal interview. As I am in regular contact with Catriona, we were able to set up a time to chat properly the next day. From this research, I wanted to gain further insight into why she had chosen to specialise in macrame homewares specifically, as well as documenting the story behind her business and highlights so far. Conscious of the 300-word limit on my story, and keen to also include secondary sources, I set out with 3 questions for Catriona, chatted informally, and with her permission, recorded her responses.
During my design process, I searched for pages of craft magazines, books, and social media content from macrame lovers and makers. My secondary research led me to discovering interior designer, Emily Katz, and her glossy Instagram page, packed with macrame and other homewares. Her imagery style reminded me of The White Company’s beautiful interior design book; from which I took inspiration for my editorial piece. I was also inspired by the product itself, as I photographed the macrame wall hanging I began to visualise potential colour palettes and typography. For type, I considered how script and handwritten typefaces could compliment the hand-crafted item. However, the idea of contrasting macrame’s intricate knots and bohemian feel with a more traditional serif typeface also appealed to me.
Adorning the wall above my desk, the pink macrame wall hanging is still and constant, as the laptop below rings out in various tones, commanding attention. The art of macrame involves the knotting of cords, creating decorative patterns and items. Its origins are primarily attributed to two great cultures, with some experts believing 13th-century Arabic weaving techniques to be the inspiration of macrame as we know it today, while others believe the art dates back to third-century China (Timeline, 2017).
The rising popularity of do-it-yourself (DIY) and instructional literature in the 1960s brought macrame, and many crafts like it to a much wider audience of amateur and hobbyist crafters. However, this posed new challenges to professional artists, who faced an uphill battle to legitimise their art (Richmond, 2016. p. 317). Macrame enjoyed some of its most popular days in the 1970s, but has come around again as a favourable feature in modern homes. Interior designer, Emily Katz, describes the art as meditative, and explains its resurgence, “It’s handmade and natural, we’re so connected to technology and this is different” (The Guardian, 2016).
‘Meditative’ certainly reflects Catriona Hannah’s feelings towards the craft. Catriona is not only my best friend, but the creator of my wall hanging. Having been made redundant due to the pandemic, Catriona describes a desperation to fill her time with something calming and creative. Beginning as a hobbyist, she started to perfect her craft. She soon discovered the increasing demand for homewares as we were told to stay home, and began selling her creations on Etsy.
The wall hanging has travelled 400 miles from Catriona’s home in Ayrshire, Scotland, to mine in Brighton, England. Friendship bracelets exchanged as school children on the playground were often knotted and woven in macrame fashion, so it is extremely fitting that this piece is such a big signifier of our friendship to me. Speaking over the phone, Catriona told me “I love the way macrame homewares look, and have some of my first, earliest work displayed all over my room!”. She is doing what she loves, her excitement at each new sale constant and unwavering. My carefully-crafted wall hanging reminds me to not give up.
When I shared my work on the Ideas Wall, I was initially unsure about the pun I’d used in the title. My previous plan in using a serif typeface for the title was for a traditional look, contrasting the handmade macrame piece. I choose a close-up image of the knots, with the word ‘knot’ overlayed. I had concerns that the use of a pun in this way undermined my thought process or perhaps that it may not make sense before reading the story. I was really pleased to receive positive feedback on this from other students.
Looking back, I have really enjoyed this week, despite it being one of the more difficult weeks for me so far. At the beginning of the week, ‘research’ as a term felt extremely daunting. Martin Hosken’s lecture was really illuminating, showing how research approaches ought to be tailored to relevant disciplines, and the importance of identifying appropriate methodologies.
Conducting original research is not a task I have done for a while, and not one that I have previously enjoyed doing. Upon realising this would be required for my workshop challenge output, I cast my mind back to being a shy undergraduate attempting to collect vox pops at Glasgow Buchanan Street bus station, with rushed commuters less than thrilled to be interrupted by me. However, conducting an interview on a topic the interviewee was audibly passionate about really changed my attitude towards qualitative research. I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise and would not hesitate to conduct research using this method in the future.
The workshop challenge was perhaps the most enjoyable part of this week for me. Once I had conducted my research; interviewing Catriona, and collecting secondary sources on macrame, I was excited to begin telling the story of my wall hanging. The narrative of finding inspiration in times of hardship, and of exploring creative outlets during the pandemic, was one I was passionate about, which made writing incredibly easy. Overall I’m proud of my work this week, and am feeling extremely inspired to compile similar stories to create further editorials!
Crystal, D. (2010). Chapter 26: Etymology. A Little Book of Language. Yale University Press. pp. 163 – 168.
The Guardian. (2016). Rope tricks: meet the queen of modern macrame. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/mar/12/modern-macrame-craft-interiors-portland-emily-katz [Accessed 5 November 2020].
Richmond, S. (2016). Amanda Ross-Ho’s WhiteGoddesses
and the Afterlife of Vintage Macramé. The Journal of Modern Craft. Volume 9, Issue 3. pp. 313-332.
Timeline. (2017). Macrame is the knotty trend millennials Instagrammed back from the dead. [ONLINE]. Available at: https://timeline.com/macrame-knot-history-dc71dbb8e74d. [Accessed 5 November 2020].