RAIZ, Local interests and global languages


RAIZ (Portuguese word for “root”) is a project created by a senior student – Diogo Machado – from graphic design course in Vocational School “Árvore” (Portuguese word for “tree”), in Porto, Portugal.

All senior students were given the challenging proposal of finding a problem and a solution, within the general theme of Education for Sustainable Development.

This project is a case study inside a research/PHD in Art Education, which is being held at the School of Fine Arts, at Porto University, where practice-based research is the applied methodology. As a researcher, as well as a teacher of graphic design, my main concerns are teaching methods and the relation between what/how we can teach within the principles of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), focusing on ethical, cultural and local issues. 

RAIZ can also exemplify how design can be a powerful tool in the construction of knowledge, as learners actively construct and reconstruct knowledge, out of their experiences in the world. The final product is not as essential as the process and the relationships produced. The process of making an artefact is also a process of building knowledge, as well as a construction of subjective meaning that creates emotional and affective boundaries in a class, in a school and in a neighbourhood. It is an individual project to a community, a mirror in itself, a way to understand itself.


“Artistic Education”, “Social Sustainability”, “Practice-based research in art and design”, “Teaching and learning design”;

Conceptual framework

The conceptual framework from which this research emerges is centered on two main pillars, the role of the student and the role of the teacher. The graphic design course in a vocational school in Portugal gives us the scene where the main actors are involved to promote culture competence and personal awareness.

image 1: Investigation Conceptual framework.

Graphic design and visual communication issues are the pretext to analyze and to reflect on the educational experience – how can a project affect the meaning and the construction of the world, and how can young people be critical and reflect on their own choices and attitudes.

The learning method and conceptual framework that I enroll my investigation is rooted in Constructivism and Grounded Design. Constructivism is layered in activities that are: tailored to the individual learner, as opposed to activities standardized for the whole class; focused on learning for understanding, as opposed to learning for memory; promote the active problem-solving strategies; promote the ability not only to solve problems but to reflect on the thought processes used to solve those problems (metacognitive skills); activities that are authentic, that is, which allow learners to do things that professional practitioners would actually do. Grounded Design, is “the systematic implementation of processes and procedures that are rooted in established theory and research in human learning (Hannafin, Hannafin, Land, & Oliver, 1997, pp.102)”. The main difference between Constructivism and Grounded Design is the defensible theoretical framework, without a solid theory, educational activities could may be represent just “craft-based” works, artefacts built by one person for one specific task and class.

As far as the quality of the teacher involved in the action is concerned, my research aims to study the educational experience for life and for responsible individuals, within the school syllabus, based on “Education for Sustainable Development” (ESD). Their decisions, whilst affecting the way they learn, may also affect a group of other individuals. The freedom to make their own choices has to be followed by responsible actions. My intention is to study that process of acquiring knowledge by means of projects (case studies) along with the narration of their own experience (life stories, oral or written).

The shape of the research is made by the teacher and the student both involved in the project. Design is seen as a tool of understanding subjective meanings that can create a bound, emotional and affective, it is not only about objective constraints connected with just “doing” design. The main issue is still to educate human beings for their unpredictable future lives, an education for values and ethics, where the student is the target and center of the lesson. It is a responsible learning that involves teacher and student, the project is a common ground to promote both student and teacher’s personal development.

Lessons’ methodology and the strategies that are being tried, are based on “Learn by Doing” and “Problem Based Learning” (PBL), which means they are inherently flexible and can be reshaped while the project is being developed. The main frame is modified, as the concerns and needs of each student and each teacher are evolving. The development of knowledge and skills is always in parallel with reflective decision making and self assessment processes, for both student and teacher.

My investigation deals with artistic education in a vocational secondary school in Art and Design areas. The meaning of “Art & Design” in its broader sense, is a wide field of study, but my concern is a vision of graphic design as a way of communication and understanding. Graphic design is a field covering many features, technical, conceptual and formal ones, which are sometimes melted with art. That frontier (or maybe the non existing frontier, or the blur frontier…) is the specific point I am interested about.

My education started with graphic arts, then moved towards plastic arts and painting, further on to digital/interactive arts and multimedia, though graphic design and illustration have always been present in my professional occupation as an artist, besides teaching. My experience is also transferred to my classes and students. This kind of knowledge, taken from my professional life and experience, and the tacit one (or implicit), is fundamental to establish a central relation in education, a relation of trust, advice, emotion, interaction and intuition.

“Risco & Stroke”, Learning and teaching design

My research (“Risco & Stroke”) is about artistic education but, inevitably, it also deals with the research on design and visual language and culture. My investigation now is trying to list the brief history of academic research in design and the connections to the broader field of arts. Sir Christopher Frayling, a British educator and writer, known by his studies of popular culture, wrote, in 1993, a famous and most quoted (sometimes out of the context) paper, “Research in Art and Design”, where he outlines the three stages of doing research in this field: research into design, research through design and research for design; the first one applies to historical research that may not be done by a designer and is settled in quantitative and scientific methods of investigation; the second one applies to research through design and is based upon project practices, which are pursued in the form of application-oriented research; the last one, research for design, deals with the practical work of the designer, the final work or artefact. It is in the frontier of what could be considered investigation or not. It is an almost “invisible” research, because it is useful not only to the designer or artist but also to his/her work. “Research in Art and Design” opened up the discussion about research in design and visual language, as a part of knowledge, and raised many debates on the “academic” field[i]. My research is established somewhere between the “through” and the “for” design. When dealing with case studies and their accomplishment, a process of action-investigation – I am doing research through design. When analysing the design and education process, plus the final works and artifacts with students, I am doing it for design research.

The main concern is focused on learning through graphic design and applying it for an artefact. Students do not get ideas, they make, build ideas. Learners actively construct and reconstruct knowledge out of their experiences in the world, when they solve a problem. Those actions provide us with new relationships with knowledge and the construction of meaning, through experience and action. Teachers have to build the necessary environment so that the learning experience can take place.

Another issue is that of how students learn through design and by doing a project? How to relate their learning, technical, technological, artistic and formal in its growing as “thinking beings”, critical and active, in the world around them. How do they see and change reality in search of a better future, a more just world, and interesting place to live.

How can the school take an active role in building their identities and how artistic education, and more specifically the teaching of communication design, whose gaze is filtered through screens, televisions and posters, can make them think about issues that no longer are related to communication.

The RAIZ project, brief description and methodology:

The main structure of each final project in the graphic design course is tested along of the three years of the course. It is a multydisciplinary project where, inside the school program “Education for Sustainable Development” (ESD), UNESCO based, exists a main theme. Students had to choose what they want to study and develop. At the end of each school year, students have the challenge of develop a graphic project to communicate a solution to a detected problem. The methodology is combined with project methodology (with the influence of graphic design methodology) mixed with educational method and phases.

image 2: methodology diagram, the class methodology is based on project methodology driven by design.

The entire project is develop with different teachers that formulate questions, do assesments and reflect the project with the student. RAIZ project took 3 months to be developed and finnish. The main theme was “School” and began with the sense that the school community, that integrates students, teachers and tecnhicians, was appart and not having a specific place to develop projects and knowledge outside the school curricula.

image 3: Work process of the poster of RAIZ graphic project.

Diogo felt that the interchange in this school community, (among teachers, students, artists, designers and technicians) could be improved, so he came up with the idea of making a project that could unite them all. The space created was meant to develop “cultural production” that could bring new energy to the relationships of its members. It is a space for cultural exchange by means of arts and design, for the “transmission of experience and knowledge”, a place to “foster synergies” thus “generating innovative ideas for effective social change”, as Diogo has mentioned in his final report. It is also meant to be a way to promote the school outside, to announce what students and teachers can actually do in the neighbourhood and in the city itself. It is a wider space to appreciate learning based on knowledge transmission, without the classical barriers between teacher (the master) and student (the apprentice).

That problem evolved to a solution, to create that space, not a necessarily physical one, but a digital and most important of all, conceptual place. RAIZ could have a website, a facebook page, but the most important was the discussion gathered along the way of their creation. RAIZ could be an exhibition or a book, could be flexible enough to be transformed year after year, as long as students and teachers whish. Diogo, the senior student author of the project, develop his idea from two sources: the educative project of Árvore school and the concept of coworking. The keywords were: interchange, knowledge and transmission. He evolved to study the meaning of “teacher” and “student”, the roll of each of them, study different pedagogies and strategies, evolved to the Deleuze e Guattari concept of Rhizome. Then, the next phase would be to built the graphic design project, the practical one. The visual approach was defined by the research but not solved. The next problem was to communicate all that information and complex concepts into images, illustration or posters…

image 5: logotype.

Design education has been seen as a practical teaching based on concepts about form, that were created by modernist schools such as the Bauhaus, or artistic movements such as De Stijl. Those concepts resolve several problems and are useful to teach composition and understand visual perception. What I can observe in my classes is that students can easily solve the exercises given, but a tremendous effort is required in order to make them work in a project, where these concepts[1] are mandatory. The universality of modernist methods does not apply to deeper questions, that can only be answered in our daily activity, as they are related to local issues and belong to a certain legacy of the culture that surrounds us. At another level, what we see is a perception filtered by the uniqueness of our own culture and the place where we can interchange. The universality of the form and accuracy of the grids can not give a satisfactory answer. At this point, the issues about identity and originality of the product, are also important. It becomes more exciting to produce and interact with audiences that realy exist rather than at the level of a simply simulation. Students need a feedback that involves eachother and their target audiences, in other level, what we observe is a perception filtered by the uniqueness of our own culture and the place where we can interact.

A design theory oriented towards cultural interpretation rather than universal perception, would consciously address the conventional, historically changing aspect of words and images in design problems. (Lupton and Miller 1999:63)[ii]



In 1993 Christopher Frayling proposed the integration of subjective experience – activity – and image – based designer-artistic knowledge into the process of intersubjectively verifiable knowledge production. His position has far-reaching consequences: on the one hand, it opens up perspectives for independent design research, thus simultaneously provoking rigorous debates on the ‘academic’ significance of that approach.

Michel, R (ed.)., 2007


In the practise of daily life, however, perception is filtered by culture. A concept of an object is both visual (spatial, sensual, pictorial) and linguistic (conventional, determined by social agreement). The concept of a thing is built up from conventional views and attributes, learned from education, art, and the mass media.

Design writing research – writing on graphic design, Ellen Lupton and Abbott Miller, Phaidon Pess, London, 1999, pp63



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Year 2013
Type Conference Proceeding
Publication 1st Conference on Arts-Based and Artistic Research. Critical reflections on the intersection between art and research
Pages 151-156
Publisher Esbrina. Universitat de Barcelona
Local Barcelona
Ed/Org Hernández, Fernando & Fendler, Rachel
Language Português, English