Graphic Designers' Sense and Knowledge of the User: Is thinking differently the groundwork for acting differently?


  • Dr. Nicole Wragg
  • Dr. Carolyn Barnes


Graphic designers' lack of concrete knowledge of their audience has drawn strong criticism from within the field, without seemingly prompting broad uptake of user research in design practice. This article reports on an unanticipated and ambiguous finding from an interview-based study with nine graphic designers, which sought their views on how graphic design practice had changed through the addition of web design to the former concentration on design for print; one catalyst for the adoption of the new title of communication design. The interviews elicited many unprompted comments claiming strong knowledge of the user, but also other statements showing the designers worked with little or no actual information about their audience. Two inferences are drawn here. In discussing how the participants resolved this situation, the article proposes that despite an interest in the agenda for user-centered design, most graphic designers currently lack the enabling skills and opportunity to carry through on this. Yet seeing a simple binary division between intent and its lack of fulfilment may not be the most useful way to consider the issue of graphic designers' knowledge of the user, a changed discursive position being an important conceptual rehearsal for new approaches to graphic design practice.

Author Biography

Dr. Nicole Wragg

Dr Nicole Wragg (PhD Curtin 2013) is a Senior Lecturer at Swinburne University of Technology and Program Director of Design, Media and Communication programs at Swinburne Online. At Swinburne University of Technology, Nicole teaches in the final year of the Bachelor of Design (Communication Design) Honours, focusing on the nexus of research and practice through advanced typographic design. Her research examines design practice and network technologies. At Swinburne Online, Nicole has guided the translation of experiential studio-based design curriculum to one that is delivered fully online. Her work in this space combines ongoing relevant design traditions with new technology in a context that mirrors an increasingly digitally connected society.;Associate Professor Carolyn Barnes (PhD Melb 2004) is Acting Chair of the Department of Communication Design and Digital Media Design and Academic Director of Research Training in the School of Design, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, where she teaches research methods for academic and practice applications at Honours and Masters level. Her research investigates how to harness the knowledge and power bound up in individuals and groups to address their needs and interests. Using social research approaches, Carolyn works in two main areas. The first is participatory design, examining how co-creation methods can mobilise stakeholder knowledge to achieve the best outcomes for people. The second is research into practitioner networks, which investigates the transfer of knowledge and skills within networks of designers and artists. Carolyn is an assistant editor for the International Journal of Design.






Journal Article