Visual Exploration of Identity as a Critical Tool to Disrupt Traditional Canons in Design Pedagogy
This contribution discusses results from the implementation of undergraduate and graduate-level projects applied in traditional design studio settings to explore the visualization of identity. Since 2014, the author—a Central American woman of color teaching in public universities in Texas and Florida—has developed multiple hands-on class activities that focus on self-expression, self-awareness, memory, and positionality. In the undergraduate level, these activities start with the introduction of concepts and terminology from traditional design canons (i.e. principles from modernism, the Bauhaus, and other (mostly) Western European Avant Garde movements). Once students gain an understanding of these canonical principles, they embark in a self-discovery journey to determine whether these principles represent them, their context, background, and/or identity. Relevant discussions and reciprocal community-building occur during these processes in the classroom. In the graduate level, these visual explorations are based on introductory auto-ethnographic methods and studies focused on memory. At all times, these projects result in tangible design and art products—books, visual essays, collages, typographic compositions—, unveiling one-of-a-kind visual languages.
The author reflects on the disruptive potential of these design activities. She refers to how the unearthing and visualization of unique knowledges inform critical perspectives of design thinking and making. By facilitating design methodologies that are curious and inclusive of the multiplicity of existing cosmovisions, we help students to learn about and embrace pluriversal and collaborative concepts of design, giving them tools to formulate appropriate reactions to exclusionary, oppressive, marginalizing, and disrespectful design.
Keywords: pluriversality; visual language; design disruption; design pedagogy
Gaby Hernández is a Costa Rican designer, educator, and researcher whose activities focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and their connection with design pedagogy and practice. She employs a myriad of multidisciplinary techniques and theoretical approaches, making her practice collaborative, horizontal, pluriversal, and dedicated to working with people (users of the products, systems, and design speculations she (co)develops) in their context. She designs experiences and guides new perspectives that help address problems that relate to cultural marginalization, repression, injustice, environmental decay, access to education, and the effects of “modernity.” She brings her own experiences of social, gender, and economic struggle to inform conversations around diversity, storytelling, and coloniality/decoloniality in the design classroom, as well as at national and international design conferences, journals, exhibitions, and multiple other design events. For over 10 years, she has worked closely with AIGA (the professional association for design in the United States) through lectures, workshops, and as a leader in the AIGA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and the AIGA Design Educators Steering Committee.