Joana's Thesis Outline

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My research project explores compositional methods in graphic design and dance performance. By investigating diverse graphic design methods, and a selection of post-modern choreographic approaches, I aim to research what performative qualities could be implemented and explored in design. And what powers of invention or transformation it sets free.

My interest in choreography comes from my dance background, beginning with classical ballet, at the age of five, and later involving in contemporary dance. The primacy of movement and concepts such as spatial representation and perception, rhythm and flow have been emerging and influencing my thoughts on designing design. Reformulating my question of designing to: Could I choreograph design?

During my experiments and reflection upon this subject matter, I will be simultaneously investigating on the concepts of phenomenology, movement perception and virtuality in both dance and design. My two main sources for these topics are the dancer and philosopher Maxine Sheets-Johnstone and the media theorist Brian Massumi. I will also be referencing texts from Sher Doruff, Geoff Cox and McLean which raise theoretical and as well as practical questions on creative processes and mediated performance practice. My most specifically related reference to communication design is the typographer Karl Gestner. Author of a collection of essays "Designing Programmes”, who created a new method and approach to design, similar to computational systems, a design method based on a set of conditions.

Graphic Design and Performance pieces are a product of a process, by which general rules and concepts are represented by means of abstract structures. When simultaneously looking at both disciplines, it is possible to draw a parallel between its different methodologies. For instance, the choreographer Trisha Brown, draws complex diagrams to specify the directions or points in space and create dance patterns. This is simmilar to vector drawings which are determined by a set of coordinates and a direction, leading to a creation of a path. Vector also seems to be a good example for understanding the positioning of graphic elements assigned to the “potentiality of movement”. As an event that unfolds from the moment of being read by the computer until its been read by our eyes, in Massumi’s words: “ An object’s appearance is an event, full of all sorts of virtual movement. It’s real movement, because something has happened: the body has been capacitated. The action of vision, the kind of event it is, the virtual dimension it always has, is highlighted.”. A more subtle comparison is when in graphic design it is defined a grid layout, in which the baseline (space between sentences) sets the rhythm and gives more or less space for the page to “breath”. The units specified for this structure are either relative or absolute, turning it into either a flexible or rigid design. Yvonne Rainner also defines moments of suspension or pause in her dance pieces, as “breathing” instances, which duration is dependent on the dancer's performance. Algorythmic programs also call for performance (by machines), which nonetheless follow many of the same ‘operations’ define by choreographers, like William Forsythe, who used a script to generate a choreography out of a list of 135 movements.

(Other examples have been compiled in a ‘inventory’: and will be further mentioned throughout the thesis)

The first part of the thesis will explore further the common links found in compositional methods in both graphic design and dance choreography. There are, nonetheless other variables used in choreographic techniques in post-modern dance, which could be explored while designing. These being, amongst other examples, a deeper consciousness of the presence of the body (embodiment) in design, which would highlight the condition of users as being temporally present, spatially aware, and considering ephemerality and improvisation strategies as an integral aspect of designing. The second part of my thesis will investigate further how this more unlikely aspects could be applied to design, and will serve as point of departure for my project.

Overall in my considerations and experiments I mostly refer to digital media tools and formats for designing. While the media environment is constantly changing, shouldn’t communication methods and the meaning and role of design respond in the same continuous mutation, acknowledging its performative stance? And this way, reconsidering design as the unfolding of a series of events, and conditions, establishing temporary grounds for new principles to arise.

I believe processes in design can learn from processes in performance, challenging the conventional design thinking. This cross-referencing system opens the possibility to unveil new aesthetic, energetic and social dimensions of design production processes.


Fluid or hybrid compositional methods Transdisciplinarity / cross-modal fusion? Dynamic unfolding of the here and now? Eventness- footnotes. Performativity Ephemerality Virtuality/ potentiality? or Intangibility?

Thesis Structure





The Common Ground

The common structures:

- - - Composition (time and space): Design and Performance rely on decisions of how to organize and distribute elements in space, how these elements relate to each other and how they inherently set a specific rhythm and flow, which is then perceived in the moment which is accessed/performed.

Eg.: (to be selected from inventory)

The common languages:

- - - The choreographic scores developed by these different dance performers to communicate movement, use an extensive use of language such as - graphic / numeric / alphabetic complex systems. = Design Language/Tools/ Methods. For eg. to combine mathematics (geometry) and linguistics for communicating the position and relations between different elements, the properties of space, and time attributes. An exercise of code and decoding, writers (designers/ programmers/ choreographers) and readers (public /computer programs/ dancers).

Eg.: (to be selected from inventory)


A New Hybrid Form

How to translate performativity into design?

- - - With the current hybridized status of design, embedded in a technologic and socio-economic ever-changing stability conditions, is it still possible to discuss about static/fixed elements? When fluidity is taking a major role in design practices, how can these aspects become subject of discussion in first place? Design as … conditions / an event or phenomena.

- - - The project currently exists of a series of experiments that try to translate performance to design, divided in categories to traverse: embodiment, ephemerality, improvisation and movement. As the process continues I hope the categories with its experiments merge into one single piece, which reflects on the conclusions I will take out of theoretical and practice based work.

1. Embodiment (spatial and body consciousness) - Units for measuring space and time..

2. Ephemereality - Being temporally present, spatially present - composing durational spaces: The same applies for stable spatial ordering and disruptive eventness. Intensity of experience and extension of it. Perception and action. Objective perception and semblance. Object perception and perception of perception. Self-referencing and function. Presentational immediacy and causal efficacy. Appearance and reality. Actual form and non-sensuous perception. Vision and narrative re-vision. Site-specificity and dispersion. These are not dualities. They are polarities, dynamic orientations in an abstract qualitative map of potential experience. It’s always a multi-polarity.- Massumi

3. Improvisation (vs determinism/ choice)

4. On movement (virtual / actual)


- - - Integrating a new set of variables in the method/logic of design. Design with a performative caracter because of being the unfolding of a possibility / an event / a phenomenon. (An analyses of the results. critical reflection.)

From process to expression (possible outcome): Thesis a compilation of the experiments into one single piece / collection OR to use my thesis as material for experimentation and presentation ? (Multiple/ Hybrid Publication : installation (3D) / epub \ html / print \ live coding)

List of References

The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens, Brian Massumi Phenomenology in Dance, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone The Translocal Event and the Polyrhythmic Diagram, Sher Doruff Cox, G. and McLean, A. (2013). Speaking code. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press. Designing Programmes, Karl Gestner