Figures of Learning: The Visual Designer

As part of its Making Methods for Digital Humanities project, CIS-RAW organized two consultations on new figures of learning in the digital context. For a proposed journal issue on the theme of ‘bodies of knowledge’ which draws upon these conversations, participants were invited to write short sketches on these figures of learning. This abstract by Tejas Pande examines the figure of the visual designer, and emerging practices of mapmaking.


Making Methods for Digital Humanities (2M4DH) project seeks to make specific interventions around methods in the larger debates and practices of Digital Humanities, which includes producing content within the field, building a living repository of knowledge content by developing methods as well as interfaces, platforms and knowledge infrastructure, and bringing together a range of practitioners, performers and researchers from different disciplines who are not necessarily only working on the digital. As part of this project two consultations were held in Bangalore, around figures of learning in the digital context. The following is a series of abstracts for a proposed journal issue, that perform multi-media writing, bringing in artistic practice, video, sound and theoretical concepts to describe a particular practice of learning and knowledge in India and focus on a specific body, figure or person that is at the centre of that knowledge practice.


The Visual Designer

Tejas Pande


Mapping is the visual articulation of a living complex system, and locates itself at the nodes that allow for exchanges of knowledge from diverse disciplines. Over the course of history, it has come to represent exchanges of information of a very diverse nature. Commonly associated with representations of physical spaces, maps have since accommodated a growing need to chalk out relationships between spaces (physical, or temporal), ideologies, and institutions. This expanded notion of mapping has affected the way creators of maps regard the practice of mapmaking itself. Armed with a growing arsenal of tools (offline and web-based) to map such networks with, mapmaking has opened up to a host of professionals, amateurs, and anyone else with a desire to express spatial-temporal relationships.


In such contexts, it is worthwhile to ask ourselves what is the role of traditional scientists, cartographers, and visual designers, who have been responsible for assimilating knowledge and making it visually palatable for wider audiences. The role of such mapmakers is further complicated by the expanded view of the craft of designing itself. For instance, graphic designer Aris Venetikidis began appearing on social media feeds in 2012 after his contribution to TEDx Dublin as the mapmaker genius behind the redesigned prototype of the Dublin Bus system. The new visualisation was met with critical praise, but interestingly his design process had steered the original mapmaking effort into that of quasi-transportation planning. Traditional mapmakers are being forced to intimately understand flows that constitute systems they wish to represent for others. Visual studies have historically emphasized decoding information embedded in collectively-generated syntax. Increasingly, multi-disciplinary practices have forced traditional designers to refashion their role in larger processes of production. What if their role was framed in the context of not only the rules of design process and problem definition, but the institutions within whom they operate, as well?


In my opinion, these figures have come to serve as facilitators in a process of knowledge creation and sharing, and use mapmaking as their primary visual tool to form networks of exchanges. Examples drawn from emerging planning practices, especially in the urban sphere, will be used to examine the role of a mapmaker, too.



Puthiya Purayil Sneha

Sneha is a Programme Manager at CIS, and co-leads the researchers@work programme. She is engaged in a mapping of the emergent field of Digital Humanities in India, and is also interested in questions on the nature of textuality, reading, and writing practices in the digital sphere. She can be reached at sneha[at]cis-india[dot]org.