International Research

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​CSAD's Research Students and Supervisor regularly work at the cutting edge of international research. 

Our Research Students come from a variety of disciplines, experiences and background, producing work that is relevant at a local, national and international level. 

Find out more about the School's research and what it is like to work beyond geographical boundaries.

Urban Wayfinding

Six months into her enrolment as an MPhil/PhD student, Hussah Alotaishan is using her experience of Cardiff as the inspiration for her research. Hussah explains:

"I moved to Cardiff for a Masters course. Three of my brothers studied in the city, so I had visited before but moving here was a bit of a culture shock. I found the signage in the city difficult to read and kept getting lost, so looked for different ways to become familiar with my surroundings. I realised that this was a design problem as it was the mix of English and Welsh words that made signs confusing for someone reading in their second language".

This sparked an interest in urban wayfinding that started as a Masters project and evolved to become the basis for a Research Degree. Hussah is now asking 'do we really need signs?', aiming instead to identify methods for making the environment legible and comfortable for pedestrians, for example, by using different coloured flooring, introducing strategic positioning of navigation points (such as public sculptures), creating spaces where people feel comfortable asking for directions and using 'homezones' to improve outdoor life by promoting equality between pedestrians and vehicles – an approach that has been shown to work in the Netherlands, where a town reduced the number of accidents and improved quality of life by removing all road signs.

This approach has grown from Hussah's back ground in Interior Architecture and Graphic Design. Now working as a Graphic Design and Multimedia lecturer for the University of Dammam, Saudi Arabia, Hussah's main interest is in visual communication, working across disciplines to identify and solve problems, such as communicating across languages and cultures, explaining:

"Universal Design is very difficult to achieve. For example, you might think that pictograms are universal, but symbols are culturally specific. In a UK museum or gallery, the symbol of a hanger is used for a cloakroom. I found this confusing – coming from a hot country, we don't have cloakrooms!"

Supervised by John Counsell (Architecture) & Dr Keireine Canavan, whose own research interests lie in Architecture and communication between the user and environment, allows Hussah to explore these mix of ideas. The next step in the research is to conduct experiments in CSAD's Perceptual Experience Laboratory (PEL), a virtual space that can emulate the 'real-world' settings. This will enable Hussah to compare the experience of actual wayfinding in a physical space with the experience of wayfinding in the same space augmented with navigational markers.

Hussah describes the PhD experience so far as "challenging- there are so many things that have to be done at once, but so far it has been a smooth challenge", going on to say "I never really wanted to do a PhD, but my father was keen and the University of Dammam wanted me to do one. Now I am finding it really interesting and I don't want to stop!"

In the future, Hussah hopes to translate the knowledge gained through this research to her home country.

"Wayfinding is a new discipline for the Gulf region. For example, Saudi Arabia isn't very pedestrian friendly due to the heat, but there is a new trend looking towards historical cities and encouraging people to engage with them in a pedestrian environment. I am excited to return home and introduce this research to my students and others in Saudi Arabia."

Image credit: flickr.com/photos/auntiep/

(Im)material Artefacts; Three-dimensional digital museum objects

Originally from Germany and raised in Kenya, Sarah Younan joined Cardiff Met in 2009 on the BA Ceramics programme and stayed to complete both a Masters and PhD.

Sarah said: "Cardiff School of Art and Design was recommended to me as a leading institution in the field of ceramics, and my experiences have all reinforced this."

"I love studying at Cardiff Met because it's big enough to have really impressive, cutting-edge resources but also small enough to allow everyone to access them."

Sarah's Masters and PhD research investigated how rapid prototyping technologies and 3D editing can be used to foster new types of artistic intervention in museums, saying; "I really enjoy pushing the boundaries of traditional ceramics work, playing around with technologies to see how existing artworks can be re-interpreted".

Supervised by Prof Cathy Treadaway, Prof Steve Gill and Andrew Renton, Curator of Applied Arts, National Museum of Wales, the PhD forged in partnership with the museum led to a display of digital and 3D prints alongside the original artefacts. Files containing 3D scans of items from the museum's collection were made available to an international body of artists to manipulate and present to visitors with re-interpretations of the objects and their stories.

Reflecting on her experience as a PhD student at CSAD, Sarah said: "My PhD supervisor Dr Cathy Treadaway has been particularly helpful; as English is not my first language, I know I can go to her with my initial ideas and she will show me how to shape them into the right academic form."

Studying at an institution away from her home country also influenced Sarah's work. As Sarah explains, "from the outset of my research, the scanning, reprinting and then remaking in ceramic has been very much about a process of translation and changing meaning. I guess you could tie it back to my background […] I grew up speaking German then I learned English, which was my primary language as a teenager […] so I guess that translation is something that comes quite naturally to me."

That is not to say that Sarah has remained tied to Cardiff during her studies. Whilst completing her PhD, Sarah took advantage of a number of opportunities to presented her work, including the "Computers and History of Art (CHArt) Conference 2015", London, the "EuropeanaTech Conference 2015", Paris, "Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology(CAA) 2015", Italy and  "Di‐Egy Fes, International Conference on Digital Arts 2013", Egypt. Sarah also took part in the 2014 "International Jakarata Contemporary Ceramics Biennial", where she undertook a month-long residency at the Institute of Technology in Bandung, Indonesia to created ceramic artwork for the Biennial and present her work and research to students at the institute.

Sarah completed her PhD in early 2016 and headed straight for Ankara,Turkey to join the Cer Modern museum of contemporary art's artist in residency programme. Supported by Wales Arts International, Sarah will explore Ankara's contradicting realities that exist side-by-side through the museums artworks and artfacts. Read more on this next phase of Sarah's work and progress.

Designing for Welsh Industry

Abbie Lawrence join Cardiff School of Art and Design (CSAD) as an undergraduate on the BA Graphic Communications course. Growing up in China, Kuwait, Japan, America and Malaysia, Abbie decided it was time to try living in the UK and applied to CSAD.

After completing her degree and spending a little time travelling in South East Asia, Abbie returned to CSAD to start a PhD based in the School's Perceptual Experience Laboratory (PEL). Speaking to Abbie during the first few months of her enrolment, she explained that the focus of the project is to explore how perceptual technology can help to develop branding and packaging for Welsh Food Companies.

PEL is a synthetic reality facility that emulates human perceptual experience through immersion, directional sound, smell, air movement, temperature and vision. The space can be staged and transformed to replicate 'real-life' spaces, such as a supermarket, and used during product development to observe and analyse behaviour. As a result, designs can be refined to suit user-needs. 

Large, multi-national companies often use this type of technology to develop products and branding but the cost of technology and the specialised knowledge required to develop facilities can make them prohibitively expenses for SMEs. Abbie said: "This is a once in a life-time opportunity to have a real impact on the Welsh food industry and allow SMEs to compete with large organisations".

During the first few months of the study, research has focussed on consumer behaviour and the complicated thought processes that customers use when choosing which product to buy. PEL will use eye-tracking software to analyse the split-second decision-making to investigate what sways customers to choose one product over another.

Working with a cross-disciplinary team, Abbie will use her background in Graphic Communications to develop and design appropriate packaging. After being encouraged in her undergraduate degree to use her studies to explore her other interests in marine biology, Abbie will use the same strategies to bring to the project her special interest in sustainability and environmentally-friendly packaging. But rather than limit her studies to Wales, Abbie will compare and contrast the local industry with developments in New Zealand, a country which is similar to Wales in terms of its population and agricultural industries. Abbie says: "I feel very supported by my supervisors and the university. It is great to have a team of people who believe in you and the Centre for Entrepreneurship has been really encouraging".

Abbie plans to use the experience and knowledge gained over the next three-years to not only have a positive impact by helping SMEs to develop economically and sustainably, but also to develop her branding knowledge, skills and expertise in preparation for a professional career.

Working Against Type: Opening Significations through gesture and material in contemporary text-based visual art

Linda Carreiro is a part-time PhD student based in Canada. Linda provides an insight into what it means to be a distance doctoral student and how she continues to contribute to the School's vibrant research environment.

My research questions are formulated around my long-term interests in language and its inextricable relationship to the body. I have been a practising artist for 30 years, moving from political figuration to representations of the body's interior emerging from an intensive study of anatomy. Over the past twelve years, my anatomical study and an engagement with text began to directly intersect. The word text, from texere, means texture or tissue, as Roland Barthes reminds us, and I make associations between textuality and a somatic engagement with words. As research on my thesis has progressed over the past four years, I have sharpened my focus specifically on the body as an active agent in both making and viewing word-based artworks. Setting up physical interventions in texts, I demonstrate how they can be opened to new ways of reading beyond semiotic conventions. Working against type also talks about the 'work' or effort behind making gestural typography—printed individually by hand—as well as how my research counters certain assumptions about artworks using typography.

As a part-time, distance doctoral student, I travel to Wales from Canada twice a year, taking leave from my position as an Associate Professor at a university. When I started my studies at Cardiff School of Art & Design, I was invited to use the printmaking studio during my visits, sometimes spending several weeks a year engrossed in the environment. I have been able to work closely with many undergraduate students in the printmaking area as a result, providing talks for their classes, offering individual tutorials and feedback. Making lithographs, one-off typographs and unconventional prints, it has almost been like a visiting artist-in-residency, working and interacting with others in the space. Taking advantage of the offset lithography press in 2013, I was able to create a series of four works where I actually printed the process of 'erasing' a book page. The work was subsequently exhibited at the Center for Book Arts in New York City as part of a solo show last year. Other works arising from my research have been exhibited in galleries Canada, the United States and Europe, where I've observed people actively interacting with the text, to 'test' and support my queries.

Coming to Wales, I'm also able to present my work in graduate seminars and in Research presentations. This has not only enabled dynamic conversations with students, but salient questions and thoughtful comments offered by them has given me deeper understandings and considerations of my work. As a mature student returning to advanced study, its been important to conduct the work away from my usual environment, forcing me to look at things in uncertain places and unfamiliar ways.

Disrutpive Innovation

"Most health technology is produced by companies from high-income countries for high-income markets. Health technology is therefore mostly designed for an environment with high spending on health, a reliable energy supply and large numbers of trained healthcare professionals." (Howitt et al 2012)

In response to the identified inequalities in the field of medical product, Clara Watkins' PhD questioned the if disruptive innovation techniques based on rapid prototyping and ethnographic appraisal, could be used as a method to develop radical but culturally, politically, economically and legally appropriate medical product solutions.

Focusing on the Chongwe region of Zambia, the project started during Clara's undergraduate studies on CSAD's BSc Product Design course, where Clara developed an interest in culturally appropriate design. This led to her final year project, which aimed to address the challenges of mortality and drug resistance that result from incorrect use of anti-malarial amongst illiterate communities in Malawi.

On completion of her undergraduate degree in 2011, Clara received a Cardiff Met Research Innovation Award (PhD scholarship) to continue the work. The project was supervised by a multi-disciplinary team including Dr. Gareth Loudon and Prof. Steve Gill from CSAD and Prof. Judith Hall (OBE) from Cardiff University's Medical School and founder of "Mothers of Africa", a medical educational charity that trains medical staff in Sub-Saharan Africa to care for mothers during pregnancy and childbirth.

An in-depth contextual review in Zambia during in the early stages of the PhD identified Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) as Zambia's biggest killer after Malaria and HIV/AIDS. 70% of those killed are 'breadwinners' between 19-44 years of age, meaning that the knock on effects are a major contributor to spiralling poverty among Zambian women and children.

In response to these statistics Clara's PhD saw the development of a comprehensive, low- cost, fit for purpose trauma pack suited for the roadside treatment of RTA injuries in Zambia. The components within the pack have been designed to ensure adherence to the WHO's 4 A's: accessibility, availability, affordability and appropriateness. A critical facet of the design is that it is intended for manufacture in situ using freely available local materials and low-tech manufacturing processes to keep costs low, ensure sustainability and give a second financial benefit to regions where it is employed.

Throughout the research, Clara made a number of visits to Chongwe to engage healthcare professionals, volunteers, government officials and charities in the design process and actively participated in the development of solutions that could be produced locally using practical and available materials and processes.

Following completion of the PhD, work has continued with Clara's receiving a 2-year appointment as a Research Officer. Clara has used the knowledge, skills and methods developed during her PhD to further develop the pack to meet the needs of organisations and including the Red Cross, Ministry of Defence and NHS.

Creative Spaces

Dana's research combines interior architecture with product design to explore if creative performance is affected by social and physical environments. Working at a lecturer on a newly established product design course at the University of Dammam, Saudi Arabia, the research will investigate if Higher Education learning environments motivate the creativity of produce design students.

After completing CSAD's Product Design MSc course, Dana chose to continue her studies at the School, explaining: "I like the atmosphere of the School and the environment is comfortable, which is an important part of my research".

Dana was also drawn to CSAD because of the staff's expertise. Supervisors John Counsell and Paul Wilgeroth and advisor Gareth Loudon have a wide base of knowledge with specific expertise in the areas of architecture, product design and creativity, ideal for this interdisciplinary project which integrates aspects of an undergraduate interior architecture course with the skills learnt during her MSc in product design.

After being offered places at a number of UK Universities, Dana was also attracted by the city of Cardiff itself. After completing the MSc, Dana wanted to stay in a familiar place, an important consideration for her and her family. "Cardiff is an easy place to live with two children. Working on the PhD here means that I can challenge myself and my children can see me challenging myself, how I am working towards a better life for our family".

Six months into her enrolment as an MPhil/PhD student, Dana is about to embark on her first set of experiments with the School's first year Product Design students. The students will be asked to design their perfect learning environment and the results will be analysed to highlight similarities and differences. This will be followed by an evaluation of how the learning environment is occupied and used, measurements will be taken to explore the link between environment and creativity, and students will also be asked to reflect on their experiences through their online blog. These tests will be repeated with different student cohorts and compared with other UK universities to explore if the results can be applied at Dammam University.

By working in this way, Dana is not only gathering valuable data for her research, but also adding to her professional development as a lecturer: "I will be spending time understanding what the CSAD students are doing and why, which will help me to pass on a better understanding of product design to my own students. I will be able to combine the best elements of CSAD and Dammam University teaching styles".

Speaking of her experience as an international student, Dana's biggest challenge has been writing in a second language. Workshops run by the international office as well as specialised research writing workshops run by CSAD are helping Dana to continually improve her academic writing.

Dana says: "The university deals with international students with respect and cares about how they feel - I feel very supported here".

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