The Visual Translations project presents the bridging of two, seemingly very different, disciplines namely Archaeology and Design. Whilst Archaeology developed as a discipline to investigate and understand the past based on artifacts and field data, design has a future oriented approach where the imagining of potential outcomes precedes an active experimentation and development phase. Although most contemporary Archaeologists would not present their practice as one of purely scientific enquiry, the roots to its establishment as an academic practice still lie here and as such, a ‘mash up; with a design based approach presents potential disciplinary challenges.
Design is about innovation, experimentation and creation amongst other things. It is about creating the thing that doesn’t exist yet and bringing it into the worlds. So what has a practice like this to offer a discipline in which you can’t just go and ‘make stuff up’? One important thing that both disciplines share is a keen interest in material practice and meaning making associated with it. Epigraphy in particular, is closely related to visual communication practices such as Graphic Design and Typography, the link being obvious even in their shared Greek language root. Apart from these important overlapping interests and knowledge bases, the other thing to highlight is that Design, contrary to common perception, is a very disciplined and structured process, with its own rules and established ways of knowledge production. Whilst there is not enough space here to explain the many facets of a design methodology, visualised below are a few methods that informed the project at one point or another.
One insight discussed early on during the projects conception was that particularly for young target audience the ‘ancient ‘ aesthetic can be a difficult barrier to breach, which can prevent them from becoming engaged with the deeper levels of factual knowledge connected to the ancient artifacts. In design theory the aesthetic layer is considered to present the outer layer, and as such it can act as either seducer or repellent. The aesthetic layer is of course only one layer as the model above suggests, but it nevertheless needs to be breached in order for the audience to be engaged further and arrive at the level of meaning making where true learning can take place.
One well-known conceptualization of the design process is the Design Thinking Methodology, which has also very much informed this project. The initial discovery phase happened when the Archaeologist Georgia Flouda visited the University for the project briefing, to help contextualise the project aims and underpin its objectives with sound archaeological knowledge. The design researchers then carried this stage on further, before starting to come up with initial design ideas, to test and then take to production with vital input from the Archaeologist. As this practice-led design process is not a linear process, it is likely that a designer will repeat certain cycles more than once, which ensures a sound design process. At this stage the project is still at a testing stage, - the design proto-types have been produced and now require testing with their intended audience. As such this exhibition is not a representation of the implementation phase but is part of the testing process in order to gain feedback and insights on the designs developed. After this phase it is likely that some of the artifacts need to return to the design phase in order to further develop them before they can be implemented. It is often a lack of following a thorough design process such as this, which causes things to be badly designed.
The objective for the project was for design to not just act as a surface facilitator of knowledge transmission but to be integral to the process, which would allow archaeological knowledge to be communicated to the audience. This meant that visual communication needed to fulfill a role way beyond just being a ‘label’ for the artifact. It was also about ‘stepping’ the process of bringing the archaeological knowledge to the audience. In terms of strategic communication design that means that the audience is not over-faced with too much didactic knowledge in the first instance, but is carefully lead into the knowledge via different steps. This is also known as ‘stepped’ communication.
In order to achieve this, it was important for the project to establish its primary communication goals and objectives and then develop messages that has the potential to effectively speak to our intended audience. As it was our intention to work with audiences who had potentially no prior knowledge of the scripts, the first step would be to make the scripts known by making them visible through a range of design based interactions. This would then naturally lead onto the second step, of moving this visibility on to deeper knowledge through interactions which would enable the audience to recognize and differentiate between the two scripts.
Part of this was to carefully choose the materials in which the designs were created, as each material contributes to the messages effectiveness in its own way, for example through colour choices or texture. The colours chosen on each design were chosen to reflect colours found on frescos from the time of the scripts. In terms of materials used we decided that we did not want to emulate ‘ ancient’ materials, but that modern materials such as Perspex and techniques such as laser cutting would have their role to play in providing a contemporary and accessible aesthetic layer. The next step was to choose the media and communication techniques which children would engage with, which is why a range of analogue and digital game base approaches were developed.
On the whole the designs were informed by some ground rules we had established at the beginning of the project.
General Discussions about Materiality:
- Be honest about materials.
- No faking of stuff.
- Whenever possible seek some contextual
- authenticity in material and colour.
- Whenever possible seek some contextual
- authenticity in shape and form.
- Anything goes if you want to try something out.