A tiny publication—so small it fits into the palm of your hand—with a large and thoughtful purpose has just been released by Master’s students in the Graphic Media Design program at London College of Communication. As its makers explain, the compact book is “an attempt at making design research public,” by stringing together essays by students and guest critics. Poetically called A Line Which Forms A Volume, it uses the metaphor of a line to invoke the lucid, multifaceted process of design research, playing on how lines of inquiry form new areas of exploration.
The essays within the book range in topic from the idea of a book as a network, musings on the merits of collecting junk mail, and a considered piece on the color white in photography, just to name a few. The project aims to bring these ideas out of the confines of academia and situate them within a larger conversation on design. “The metaphor of a 2-dimensional line moving into and filling 3-dimensional space resonated with how we wanted design research to be read: rooted in the present whilst continuously changing and asking new questions,” says one of the project’s editors, student Gabriela Matuszyk.
Design critics like Stuart Bailey, head of design at London’s ICA, and Jack Self, architect and writer behind The Real Review, contributed to the book, and an open symposium held in January created further public context for the work.
“Coming from within academia, it seems that many design research projects are presented as singular pieces of work that stay within the academic environment, rarely finding their place ‘in the real world’,” says Matuszyk. Meanwhile, “the research conducted by MAGMD course participants—as I’m sure by many design research students worldwide—is shaped and determined by contemporary issues, questions, and topics beyond the realm of design criticism.”
Etymologically, the word ‘volume’ comes from the Latin, ‘volure,’ meaning ‘to roll.’
Responding to this, A Line Which Forms A Volume seeks to circulate research beyond a tight-knit academic circle to reflect the way in which the research itself is shaped in the first place. Through design and content, the publication tracks how ideas cross-pollinate and grow from one another to form a continually extending network of knowledge.
In the book, the metaphor of a string is not simply a useful way to think about how the essays relate to a wider context, or how the form of a publication can circulate beyond the space of a classroom. The idea of a line informs the volume’s design as an object: it’s made explicit by a literal connecting string that extends throughout the publication, visually tying one essay onto the next. The designers call this flourish a “splicing device”, borrowing from the way that a roll of film traditionally was cut and pasted together to create a whole. They note that etymologically, the word ‘volume’ comes from the Latin, ‘volure,’ meaning ‘to roll.’
As Aldo Caprini, one of the book’s designers, notes, the vertical lay out of the captions and references mimics the flipping landscape/portrait gesture in smartphones and tablets—inviting the reader to ”reflect on printed matter and digitalization in the space of this small page.”
A Line Which Forms a Volume is a collaborative effort, with all decisions made democratically, in an effort to blur the gap between academic life and the professional world of work, softening that “leap into the void” that students face, so to speak. The project will be handed down to subsequent participants of the MA program, continuing to co-exist in a rare space between class project and a circulated journal that one would find in art and design-led bookstores.
“My hope is that as more emergent design research becomes public, it will demonstrate and reinforce its value within the larger practice-driven framework,” says Matuszyk. “Any given body of research is only as valuable as its influence on future development.”