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Reflections on an Arts, Humanities, & Social Sciences Academic Conference

In my 15 year tenure in the academic world – either as graduate student or professor – I’ve attended several conferences. Typically they entail themes explored by the design profession, sponsored by professional organizations or industry publications with significant funds put into bringing ‘rock stars’ of the design profession from all corners of the United States. This month, I traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii to attend my first international, and multidisciplinary, academic conference – a very different experience altogether.

My research, presented both in paper presentation and poster session format, contributed to an on-going conversation in the communication design world about the changing nature of graphic design. I shared some thoughts on the limitations of the name ‘graphic design’ via historical changes, contemporary observations, and an infographic timeline, which I shared in an earlier blog post. The topics I attended presentations or poster sessions on include:

• a ‘neutral breath’ technique for cleansing of unwanted emotions, presented by a professor of voice and theatre

• a case study of teaching typography in a hybrid setting, keeping grad students engaged despite the limitations of online hybrid instruction

• research on identity formation among women football players, the thesis project of a PhD. candidate in Kinesiology

• designing children’s clothing for biodiversity education

• a studio artist’s body of work exploring identity and the tension between being rooted in community and the desire for freedom found in personal movement and travel

• a service-learning case study through which graphic design students in South Korea worked to revitalize a traditional Korean market

• using improvisation to foster creativity in college students with background in the arts

• teaching design to non-designers

• collaboration between art and literature programs, specifically re-imaging and re-framing Shakespeare’s Othello in a print-making workshop in Venice

• historical segregation in the K-12 schools of Hawaii

• historical examination of the emergence and evolution of dance at the Burning Man festival, and the transformative, spiritual nature of dance at that festival today

• conversation patterns in native English speakers for the purpose of teaching ESL, specifically looking at the frequency of topic management strategies

• techniques for conquering the “I can’t draw” dilemma in students who believe themselves to be uncreative


While some topics are seemingly esoteric and unrelated to my role as graphic design educator, I was inspired by the passion and intellect of these presenters. Informal discussions with others between presentations continued to open my eyes to fascinating developments at universities around the world. More importantly, I was struck again and again by the connections to communication design, or the exciting ways these content areas might be integrated in design problems I give my students. Design, after all, is everywhere and involved in everything. Fostering not just creativity and critical thinking but curiosity is immensely important in design education. Surprisingly, the beautiful Hawaiian beach was not the only place I found a breath of fresh air.

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