Jack of all trades

In a recent meeting, my external examiner said that he could not see what is masterful about my Master’s project.  This was a statement that I found to be quite painful to hear, especially as it was at odds with other appraisals of my work by my own tutors and my peers.  During my reflections and conversations after the external examiner’s damming thought on my work, it was suggested to me that his statement may have been a challenge to explain and communicate the value of my work to him, a challenge that I may have simply failed to meet.  It seems ironic that as a student who is studying the effective communication of information, in my meeting with my external examiner I may not have communicated effectively the nature of my Masters study.

My Masters study is wide and varied, with me looking at areas such as learning theory and practice, the role of new media in education and heritage, digital natives, Gamification, historical information relevant Vikings and illustration amongst others. It soon became apparent to me that it may be hard to see how all of the areas and theories I am investigating link together, I now understand how from the outside it may be hard to see the wood for the trees when looking at my Masters study, there is rather a lot going on but to me I can see the connections between the dots that maybe are not evident to those who are not directly involved.

There is of course another plausible explanation for what is going on, that are no connections and my perceived associative factors are part of my own delusion and I am in fact crazy?  Hopefully by the end of this post I will be able to effectively communicate the nature of my Masters Investigation, highlighting the connections between the different relevant parts, and you will be able understand my Masters study or officially diagnose me as being a delusional.

Through my Masters investigation, I have been looking at the effective communication of educational information through new media digital devices and as an example of my investigation I am creating an Interactive App for the Ipad, to provide educational information about the Vikings.

Whenever I start a project or individual parts of projects, I find it very useful to create mind maps to try to expand and record my ideas and this may be a very useful way of showing the varied nature of my enquiry and its many investigational strands.  See below:

Interactive Learning Enviroments Mind Map

Interactive Learning Enviroments Mind Map

The Vikings Mind Map

The Vikings Mind Map

These are just two of the mind maps I created and there are many more with differing strands of possible enquiry.  Hopefully this helps enlighten those who may be struggling to see how everything fits into my project, but if not the rest of this post may also provide an insight into my thought processes within my professional practice.

Through my approach I can see how it could be argued that my study does not make me a master of my practice but it may make me a well-rounded jack of all trades.

Through a conversation with my peer Gareth Sleightholme, I reached a realisation that surprised me.  There is a common theme to my master’s project that can be traced back to my B.A dissertation “Looking Towards the Principles of the Bauhaus as a Way to Improve the Relationship Between User, Designer and Digital Interface”.  Although my dissertation was focused upon the design of digital interfaces, when opened up to include my practice and my own personal approach within it, there is a commonality that I had not been previously aware of.

In my 2011 thesis I explore different disciplines including Usability, Psychology, Human Computer Interaction, Cognition, Ergonomics and Aesthetics, in order to see how they can be brought together to inform the design process of digital interfaces.  I draw on the example set by the Bauhaus in the early twentieth century:

“After the Werkbund period, an attempt to narrow the gap between the arts and crafts of the early twentieth century was made by Walter Gropius, a German architect who founded the Bauhaus; an art and crafts school that operated in Germany between 1919 and 1933. The Bauhaus originated a unique approach to bring together artists and craftsmen, to form a new breed of craftsman for a new time:” (Shakesby, 2011: p18)

Walter Gropius believed that narrowing the gap between what was known then as the arts and crafts would have a positive effect, on both sets of practices he saw how they could influence and enhance each other:

“Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist!” (Gropius (1919), cited in Shakesby, 2011: p19)

In 2011, I saw the similarities between the divided practices that Gropius identified and the fractioned design practices that exist today:

The arrogant barrier that Gropius mentions is similar to the divide between interface designers; those who follow particular design philosophies often have such confidence in their chosen viewpoint that it may obscure other possible theories. A joining of theories in order to create a utopian balance requires openness on all sides, to listen and learn from each other, in order to affect change.” (Shakesby, 2011: p19)

Gropius believed that by bringing the Arts and Crafts together to combine their knowledge in a pedagogy to be passed on to a new generation, the result would be a more well rounded generation of producers who had the knowledge to amalgamate Arts and Crafts theories into a more balanced practice.  My 2011 piece discusses how interface design needs a modern day equivalent to the Bauhaus method of teaching, providing students with knowledge of many practices.

“Students at the Bauhaus were taught by masters of form and also by masters of craft, the Bauhaus was attempting to teach an all round production philosophy, well balanced in terms of aesthetics considerations, production values and functionalism, in order to create the new breed of practitioner, the craftsman of a new guild envisioned by Walter Gropius.

For Interface design to progress there is a need for designers to be students of different masters or theories, a well balanced design orientation is required in terms of aesthetics considerations, production values and functionalism, these new designers could be a new breed of practitioner that are equipped for the challenges and changes of the twenty-first century.” (Shakesby, 2011: p20)

In 2011 (p.23), I argued that through this type of union of design awareness “a new design theory could arise, suitable for today’s technology, bridging the gap between designers and users in the same way that the Bauhaus helped bridge the gap between producers and consumers in the twentieth century.”  At the time I did not see the bigger picture in regards to my argument and now I would argue that not only would this approach benefit interface design, it would actually benefit my wider practice of interactive multimedia design.

The pace of technological advancement since the early 1990’s has had a massive effect on the world and it has changed our everyday lives, both professionally and personally.  Computers, the Internet and mobile devices are just some of the technological advancements that are pervading society and becoming integral to the way many people live their lives.  These new technologies present new challenges, and knowledge of differing design practices is required to have the information to work out the design equations, to find the appropriate solutions to the new possibilities that we are afforded by the technology.  If you don’t understand what is possible, how can you be confident that the decisions you make are correct?

There is one problem with attempting to have knowledge of more than one discipline. There is a common saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”.  This is a term used to describe people who are competent with many skills but is not necessarily exceptional in any particular one and it is often used in a derogatory way to devalue these people.

The potential problem for a “Jack of all trades” is that they may be seen as the saying goes, as a “master of none”.  Outside perception may be that a specialist may have the ability to produce a higher standard of work.

This of course does not mean that your work will be inferior but there is a greater risk that a lack of knowledge may arise at some point causing a potential dilemma.  This risk element is one of the main reasons that some people are put off by the “Jack of all trades”

Wagner describes the negative perception of the Jack of all trades“Being considered a “jack of all trades” has always had a negative connotation. It implies that you dabble in bits of everything, but never achieve the expertise needed to be good at any one pursuit.” Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/

Jeroen Van Geel explains how a little knowledge can lead us to become overconfident in our abilities:

“When we think we have an understanding of how things work, we have the feeling that we can impact everything. Of course this is great and we all know that curiosity should be stimulated, but at the same time this energy and endless search for knowledge can be a curse. Before we know it we become the jack of all trades, master of none.” Van Geel, (2013), http://www.tuicool.com/articles/U7RBNv

By following a “Jack of all trades” process, you will need to require a proficient knowledge of the practices you wish to work within and although you may be willing to put in the hard work and dedication needed to acquire this knowledge, others may not have the same level of professional commitment and this can lead to situations where work is carried out at a substandard level, tarnishing the reputation of all who follow the multi-disciplinary approach.

There are positives aspects of the “Jack of all trades”/multi-disciplinary approach and according to Wagner the judgment of people with a broader range of knowledge may be unfair, he offers an alternative point of view:

“Maybe a successful generalist should instead be considered a “Renaissance man” (or woman).” Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/

Wagner’s alternative description places the “Jack of all trades” as an individual whose skill-set spans a considerable number of different subject areas; it is a positive reference that recognises the capability of some to be able to work at a more than proficient level across differing practices.

“Being a jack of all trades doesn’t mean that you are doing a million things at once. It means that you make sure that you are knowledgeable about and capable of doing the basics of any new innovations within your professional field of choice.”  Dixon, (2012), http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/04/the-art-of-being-a-jack-of-all-trades/

The earlier negative views of “Jack of all trades” underestimate the capabilities of people in general, Heinlein explains:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”  Heinlein cited by Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/

Every day we prove our capacity to master more than one task and history has many examples of people who were masters in more than one field, the most famous being Leonardo da Vinci “Few would argue that DaVinci should have stuck to one subject.” Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/

By being a “Jack of all trades” you can actually become more valuable, Wagner believes “If you do it right, being a jack of all trades should be considered a strength.” To turn the negativity surrounding the “Jack of all trades” into positivity, a balance is needed between a significant level of knowledge in one area and a small amount in others. Wagner agrees “To really be successful, I suggest you strike a balance between generalist and specialist.”  Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/

In football a player who can play in more than one position is a valuable asset to the team, that versatility increases that player’s value within a team but only as long as he is proficient in each position.

In design the same proficiency is required within any areas you may decide to incorporate into your skill-set, Wagner believes you need to “Go beyond “enough to be dangerous” This requires learning beyond the basics of subject areas, so that you can be proficient to a level where you can solve most problems and be capable of engaging in communication with specialists, if you do encounter any problems in order to identify a solution.

By being a “Jack of all trades” “You can be the person who sees the big picture and understands how all the parts interrelate.”  Wagner, (2009), http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/

There is another approach that allows us to bring together the knowledge of different design practices, this is collaboration.

Wigan (2009: p63) describes collaboration as “The act of working with others to create something.”

One advantage of working collaboratively is that there is less risk of problems due to lack of relevant knowledge; collaborations can feature specialists in the appropriate capacities/roles.

Sometimes, collaborations may produce a result like an attempt to mix oil and water but others can produce mixtures that complement and enhance, like the ingredients in a good recipe.  Over time practitioners can identify and form collaboration’s that are recipes for success rather than disaster.

Working collaboratively can be frustrating, as each practitioner may have their own methods and beliefs and these differences of opinion need to be mediated.

Compromise would be one possible solution in this situation but a successful outcome for this circumstance cannot simply be the ability to make a decision, it needs to be the ability to come to the appropriate decision for the task at hand.

Who would be qualified to make such a decision, if each practitioner has a differing opinion on what is appropriate?

In interactive media, the person responsible for making these decisions would be the ‘Project Manager’.

“The Project Manager is responsible for the successful planning and execution of a project. He or she decides what work needs to be done, who will do what, and when it must be finished.”  Creative Skillset, (2013), http://www.creativeskillset.org/interactive/careers/article_4754_1.asp

As part of their role, the ‘Project Manager’ will be responsible for the organisation of the project as described below:

“The project is usually divided into a number of stages that are often dependent on each other; the Project Manager must work out a schedule and ensure that the right people are available when needed so that each stage is completed on time and does not hold up any of the others.”  Creative Skillset, (2013), http://www.creativeskillset.org/interactive/careers/article_4754_1.asp

The ‘Project Manager’ will have to plan the project, taking into account any potential issues that may endanger the success of the project.

“A large part of the job involves identifying risks and assumptions that might adversely affect the project, and working out ways to ensure they do not – for example, by making contingency plans and by being rigorous in ensuring specifications and deliverables are properly documented.”  Creative Skillset, (2013), http://www.creativeskillset.org/interactive/careers/article_4754_1.asp

One issue that the ‘Project Manager’ needs to be aware of in a collaborative effort, is the potential interpersonal disagreements that may be spawned from both personal and professional differences of opinion, “He or she may need to brief and manage specialists, ensure open communication between team members and resolve interpersonal conflicts.”  Creative Skillset, (2013), http://www.creativeskillset.org/interactive/careers/article_4754_1.asp

My master’s project is an individual pursuit and thus I can see how my personal approach may be seen by others as a “Jack of all trades” styled methodology but it could also be argued that my approach is a wider reflection of my industrial field.

In 2012, as part my Professional Practice module I wrote a piece entitled “A Perspective of a Deeply Ingrained, Integral but Often Misunderstood Practice in the 21st Century.” Within this essay, I highlight the difficulty in defining my professional practice, saying:

“I have experienced people attempting to pigeon hole my practice into a definition that only includes part of my practice; it sometimes feels like I am a square peg being pushed into a round hole.  My practice involves elements of other practices and this is what in my opinion causes a lot of the confusion, Creative Skillset also recognise the overlapping nature of interactive media practice with other practices, their website says “The interactive media industry is a very fluid sector with many overlaps with, and blurred distinctions between, other sectors”.  (Creative Skillset, 2012, http://www.creativeskillset.org/interactive/industry/article_6838_1.asp)”

Due its multi-disciplinary nature, Interactive media is hard to define effectively but there is a definition provided by the authors England and Finney in the ATSF White Paper—Interactive Media UK 2002:

“Interactive media is the integration of digital media including combinations of electronic text, graphics, moving images, and sound, into a structured digital computerised environment that allows people to interact with the data for appropriate purposes. The digital environment can include the Internet, telecoms and interactive digital television.”  England and Finney, (2002: p2), http://www.atsf.co.uk/atsf/interactive_media.pdf

Since that definition in 2002, the mediums and possibilities have further developed but even then the multi-disciplinary environment within the field was more than evident.  As an interactive designer, there is a requirement to have a broader diverse range of knowledge to be effective and I believe this validates my approach when looking into what others may call specialist disciplines.  To be a master of my discipline requires me to have a high level of knowledge of different areas.

To be a Master of interactive media you need to be a master “Jack of all trades”, a “Renaissance Man”.  There may be some specialists who see this as an encroachment on their practice but this is not the case, it is a requisition for my practice to acquire this knowledge and any feelings of distain towards the perceived intrusion, should not lead to them denigrating practitioners of multi-disciplinary fields through terms such as “Jack of all trades”.  By using urban terminology I would say to these aggravated practitioners “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game” and for those who don’t understand that saying, there is a definition below:

“Do not fault the successful participant in a flawed system; try instead to discern and rebuke that aspect of its organization which allows or encourages the behavior that has provoked your displeasure.” Urban Dictionary, (2005), http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Don’t+Hate+The+Playa%2FPlayette+Hate+The+Game

Technological advancement has created new possibilities, genres and practices; this is part of an evolution and others practices may need to evolve too, in order to not become obsolete.

Everybody has the right and the ability to expand their own knowledgebase but this does not mean you must become a “Jack of all trades”; expanded knowledge is a powerful tool, especially to those in the creative industries.

Combinatorial creativity is a theory that believes “To create is to combine existing bits of insight, knowledge, ideas, and memories into new material and new interpretations of the world, to connect the seemingly dissociated, to see patterns where others see chaos.”  Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/

The 20th Century Fox Television show Touch (2012), features a young boy described below:

Jake possessed an extraordinary gift – the ability to perceive the seemingly hidden patterns that connect every life on the planet” 20th Century Fox, (2012), http://www.fox.com/touch/about/

The show also features other characters that have the natural ability to see connections in different elements of life, connections that the rest of us are oblivious to.  I personally fall into the latter bracket, I am unaware of any natural ability I may have to see patterns that others don’t but I am naturally inquisitive and I do look for patterns, answers and reasons when sometimes others blindly accept.

Popova explains that throughout time illustrious creative’s, scientists and inventors have embraced the building blocks of combinatorial creativity:

““Stuff your head with more different things from various fields,” Ray Bradbury encouraged students in a 2001 address. “You should stay alert for the moment when a number of things are just ready to collide with one another,” Brian Eno advised. “Creativity is just connecting things,” Steve Jobs proclaimed. “Science,” Darwin recognized, “consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.” “Substantially all ideas are second-hand,” Mark Twain observed, “consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them”” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/

These people could see how new juxtapositions can be created through a bricolage of existing practices and philosophies, combined in ways that are different to the intended purposes of the individual original.

Combinatorial creativity is a process that combines the existing elements to form a new, but this means that nothing is truly created but instead repurposed or remixed:

“Implicit to this idea of combinatorial creativity is the admission is that nothing is truly original, at least not in the sense of being built from scratch, and that can be hard. There’s a lot of resistance in the creative ego to that idea.”  Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/

Popova provides a paradigm of this idea that nothing can be truly original because it will always be informed by our previous knowledge, in the form of an anecdote about Picasso and an interview with Paula Scher on the creation of the famous Citi logo, in summery of these examples she says:

 “Both of these stories captures something we all understand on a deep intuitive level, but our creative egos sort of don’t really want to accept: And that is the idea that creativity is combinatorial, that nothing is entirely original, that everything builds on what came before, and that we create by taking existing pieces of inspiration, knowledge, skill and insight that we gather over the course of our lives and recombining them into incredible new creations.” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/

Lego is an example used by Popova to illustrate how the combinatorial creative process works:

“The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our castles will become. Because if we only have one color and one shape, it greatly limits how much we can create, even within our one area of expertise.” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/

Popova also offers an alternative description “We can, however, optimize our minds for combinatorial creativity – by enriching our mental pool of resources with diverse, eclectic, cross-disciplinary pieces which to fuse together into new combinations.” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/

The gathering of information is an important part of the combinatorial creative process.  All information can be considered useful in one way or another but when you have specific goals or desired outcomes, it is important show restraint and not run around like the proverbial headless chicken, gathering every bit of information you can find.  A conscious decision is required to tame inquisitive desires and focus upon the area that is more likely to yield the informational results you require.

 “Curiosity without direction can be a taxing and ultimately unproductive endeavor. Choice is how we tame and channel and direct our curiosity, where we choose to allocate our time and energy, and ultimately, what we choose to pay attention to” Popova, (2012), http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/

Popova is explaining that to truly create, to connect the dots, see the patterns, find the answers of even the right questions, then the relevant knowledge needs to be procured.  At that point a cross-pollination of ideas from a range of disciplines can occur through recombination’s that become new creations in their own right.

It is my belief that to flourish as an interactive designer requires an element of the jack of all trades persona; it requires a level of curiosity that drives enquiry beyond the obvious, in order to be informed to a level where it is possible to find connections and correlations that others cannot.  The ability to be innovative requires thinking not only inside and outside the box but also thinking through the box.

Projects like mine are appropriate for collaborative approaches but they are also appropriate for interactive designers who have taken the time and effort to investigate and acquire the knowledge to produce such works, without the need for collaboration but there also needs to be a realisation that situations may arise, where a higher level of knowledge is required in a specific area and willingness to collaborate when appropriate is needed.  Pride is the enemy of many designers when it comes to collaboration, collaboration is not an admission of the inability to perform a certain task, it is an admission that some things can be done better by working with others.

Interactive media is a multi-disciplinary practice and as a practitioner of this field I am required to have knowledge of more than one practice.  Interactive media is also a developing field that is in a constant state of flux, due to the pace of technological development and thus, the ability to adapt to the possible and potential developments and affordances that may arise is also essential to prosper in this field.

Combinatorial creativity suggests that my attempt at accumulating knowledge through my investigational process should aid me in my creative endeavours, both now in my Master’s study and in my future practice.

There is a saying that “Knowledge is power” and I believe that the knowledge that I am procuring during my masters study, will strengthen my proficiency within my practice.


Wigan, M. (2009) The Visual Dictionary of Illustration, UK: AVA Publishing SA

20th Century Fox, (2012), Touch [online] Available at: http://www.fox.com/touch/about/, [accessed 22nd April 2013]

Creative Skillset, (2013), Project Manager – Interactive Media, [online] Available at:
http://www.creativeskillset.org/interactive/careers/article_4754_1.asp, [accessed 20th April 2013]

Dixon, R. 2012, The Art of Been a Jack of All Trades, [online] Available at: http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/04/the-art-of-being-a-jack-of-all-trades/, [accessed 21st April 2013]

England, E. & Finney, A. (2002) Interactive Media – What’s That? Who’s Involved? [online] Available at: http://www.atsf.co.uk/atsf/interactive_media.pdf, [accessed 22nd April 2013]

Shakesby, P. (2011) Looking Towards the Principles of the Bauhaus as a Way to Improve the Relationship Between User, Designer and Digital Interface, [online] Available at: http://www.newmedia.artdesignhull.ac.uk/pshakesby/level3/Dissertation_Looking%20Towards%20the%20Principles%20of%20the%20Bauhaus%20as%20a%20Way%20to%20Improve%20the%20Relationship%20between%20User,%20Designer,%20and%20Digital%20Interface..pdf, [accessed 22nd April 2013]

Popova, M. (2012), Combinatorial Creativity and the Myth of Originality, [online] Available at: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/ideas/2012/06/combinatorial-creativity-and-the-myth-of-originality/, [accessed 22nd April 2013]

Urban Dictionary, (2005), [online] Available at: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Don’t+Hate+The+Playa%2FPlayette+Hate+The+Game, [accessed 22nd April 2013]

Van Geel, J. 2013, Jack of all trades, master of none: Danger for interaction design [online] Available at: http://www.tuicool.com/articles/U7RBNv, [accessed 20th April 2013]

Wagner, M. 2009, In Defense of the Jack of all trades [online] Available at: http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/10/in-defense-of-the-jack-of-all-trades/, [accessed 20th April 2013]


Communicating visually

My master’s enquiry revolves around the best way of communicating information via my medium of choice, which is a digital application for the iPad.  Illustration is an ancient method of communication.  It is just as relevant today in a world dominated by new media, as it was when the first illustrations were produced.

What is illustration?

On his website Wigan’s World, Mark Wigan is described as an “International artist, illustrator and writer” Wigan’s World, no publication date, http://www.wigansworld.moonfruit.com/

Wigan has exhibited all over the world and he has authored a number of books on illustration and creative thinking.  In Wigan’s book The Visual Dictionary of Illustration, Wigan (2009: p9) offers a description of the function of illustrations:

Illustrations visually communicate content for reproduction in imaginative, distinctive, and highly personal ways while solving problems, decorating, entertaining, adorning, commenting, informing, inspiring, explaining, educating, provoking, beguiling, enchanting and storytelling.”

He goes on to further describe the importance of illustrations, “it is also a vital dynamic and contemporary means of expression, interpretation and communication which conveys ideas and messages with compelling imagery created in any media” (Wigan, 2009: p9)

As Wigan describes, illustration has a number of purposes and within my application I have used illustration in a number of ways.

The image below shows how I have used illustration to decorate, adorn, inform and communicate.


Illustration example

  1. Illuminated Letter

My illuminated letters are an example of illustration. To find out more about my use of illumined letters (see here)

  1. Border

The patterned border is used to frame the content part of the application, drawing the attention inwards. The pattern is based upon Viking symbols.

  1. Content Border

This border is used to separate the map from the text.

  1. Map

Maps are a form of illustration drawn to represent geographical locations.

  1. Button Rim

The rim of the button has been illustrated to resemble the metal rim of a Viking shield, to tie the navigation into the thematic design.

  1. Current Button Marker

This is an illustration used to show the user which is the current part of the application.

  1. Illustrated Background Featuring Symbols

This thematic background features illustrations relevant to the Vikings and their beliefs; its purpose is to decorate whilst also informing the user of the nature of the applications theme.

Illustration has been around for a very long time; early examples of illustration are cave paintings and hieroglyphics.

Wigan (2006: p30) discusses both of these early forms of communicative illustration, starting with cave paintings he says:

The earliest surviving examples of this art form can be found in Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain. These cave drawings date from c. 12,000 BC. Pre-dating written language, the exact function of these sophisticated drawings remains a mystery. Although their purpose could be religious or ritualistic, these hunting scenes demonstrate the primal need to communicate and to draw from life. Stylised conversions have always been employed in drawing.”

It is interesting to think that so early in human evolution, man developed not only the skill and materials needed to create illustrations but they had the creative ability to unknowingly develop an effective communication medium that is still widely used today.  We do not know exactly what they were trying to communicate, or why they did it and we definitely do not know if it was effective for the purpose they desired but we do know that this innovation has become an effective communication tool, which has developed throughout the ages.  Egyptian hieroglyphics are another example of illustrative communication employed by Ancient civilisations, Wigan (2006: P30) discusses Egyptian hieroglyphics, saying:

The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics integrated phonetic and pictographic signs with both abstract and observational drawing. Colour was used symbolically, heads were depicted in profile, torsos were viewed from the front and legs in three-quarter view (examples include illustrated scrolls such as the Book of the Dead and the Ramessseum Papyrus). Symbolic conventions are evident in the diagrammatic drawing of Mesopotamia and in the use of space, colour and visual hierarchy in Islamic art

Wigan describes “Symbolic conventions” that are evident in Egyptian hieroglyphics, “Symbolic conventions” and designed symbols have become an important part of communicating through illustration.

Symbology” is the study of symbols.  The function of a symbol is to communicate a relevant meaning.  A symbol can be an artefact or illustration that represents, suggests and communicates an idea, a process or a physical entity.

Illustrative symbols come in many forms, one of the most common is written language.  There are many types of written language but essentially they are all systems of communicating visually, through illustrative symbols that have been assigned some sort of applicable meaning and when combined they are given further meanings.  The free dictionary provides the definition of written language:

written language – communication by means of written symbols (either printed or handwritten)”   The Free Dictionary, (2013) http://www.thefreedictionary.com/written+language

Oregon State University offers a similar explanation of written language that describes the historical and technological importance of this communication medium:

Writing is the visual representation of language through the use of an established selection of markings. As a means of communicating ideas and storing information, written language is the single most important and far-reaching technology available to humans and has served as the foundation for virtually all other information technologies from early etchings in clay to the world of digital access that we enjoy today.”  Oregon State University Library, no publication date, http://osulibrary.oregonstate.edu/specialcollections/omeka/exhibits/show/mcdonald/writing/significance

Another great example of illustrative communication through symbols would be the Arrow.  The arrow as a symbol can indicate direction or point to a specific place or item.  Colours can also be symbolic, to many people green may be a colour that indicates a start or movement i.e. a green traffic light indicates that it is time for a driver to go but green can also be used as a symbol of freshness amongst others. Red is a colour that is often used to symbolise the notion of stopping, as used in traffic lights but red also indicates anger, or in china it is a colour that symbolises good fortune.  This is the problem with all symbolic communication; all communication requires an understanding between the communicator and the audience, if either party does not understand the intended meaning of the communication being delivered, there will be a communication breakdown.

Gaur (1992: p14) says:

In the case of writing, the information is stored mechanically, on an independent object, and can be retrieved and used at anytime, in any place (in the case of moveable objects such as books etc.) by all those who are able to consult and decode it.”

It is vitally important when communicating any information illustrative or otherwise, that the deliverer understands the audience that he/she is attempting to communicate with, so the information can be delivered in a way that can be decoded by the audience it is intended for.  Knowing your audience is vital to ensuring communicative success.

Although written text may actually be an example of an illustrative communication form, it has become a medium within its own right.  The written form offers its own problems though, one of which is described above; it must be decoded by the reader and unlike some other written languages, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics (which used more visual symbols that related to specific artefacts, places or ideas e.g. an illustration of the sun actually represents the sun), the English written language featured in my application, is based upon phonic sounds found in the spoken English language and this requires a more substantial understanding of the code required in order to decipher the information.

Due to this problem with the written form of communication, illustrations separate from the text can be used to try and communicate information, in a way that the audience can understand through a different deciphering process.  An illustration of a man walking across a road may be easier for some people to understand, rather than just a piece of text that say’s “A man is crossing the road”.

Illustration has been central in the provision of visual communication for a long time, Wigan (2006: p88) explains the important role that image has played over the years:

Pictures have always been used to tell stories. An early precursor of sequential and narrative illustration is the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry, which contains a linear narrative depicting the Norman invasion of England in 1066. Another great example is Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

He also believes that image has improved the experience provided by mediums such as print, that previously may have relied upon text as their only form of communication:

Many great works of literature have been interpreted and enhanced by pictures; there have been wonderful combinations in history including Delacroix’s drawings for Goethe’s Faust, Tenniel’s interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s books and George Cruikshank’s illustrations for Dickens.”  (Wigan, 2006: p.88)

I agree totally with Wigan’s appraisal of the role that illustration has played in the development of print media.  Illustration has provided not only an alternative form of communication but text and illustration combined provide a strengthening of the communicative process that underpins information delivery, or as Wigan (2006: p88) puts it “Illustrators have shed light on and elucidated literature”.

Children’s literature is a genre that specifically is enhanced by illustration.  Illustration not only provides the possibility for colour and decoration but children are almost certainly the target audience that needs alternative forms of communicative media. Children are in the process of learning about the world far more so than adults, as they have less experience to have formed preconceived knowledgeable experience from and in many cases, children will not have developed a level of understanding of the written language needed to express all of the desired concepts or ideas.

The illustration of children’s literature is the closest genre in my estimation to that of my application.  Wigan (2006: p88) describes the practice “The illustration of children’s literature covers a number of areas from pop up, novelty, information and educational books to illustrated fiction and picture books. Often childrens books are both illustrated and written by the same person.

Wigan (2006: p88) also describes the need for understanding your target audience in relation to the information you wish to convey “Visual narratives need to contain a fluid union of words and images paced throughout the story and it is also important to bear in mind the target age group and the particular function of your book, e.g. entertainment or educational.

Wigan also describes the need for not only knowing your audience and their possible needs but the need to have an understanding of the function of your book, or in my case application.  The Journal Of The Association For Library Service To Children featured an article entitled ‘Playgrounds for the Mind‘, the author Wendy Lukehart (2010: p33) discusses the functionality of children’s picture books saying:

How do picturebooks work—particularly those of the last decade? There is a fundamental issue at the very heart of this matter, raised by David Lewis in Reading Contemporary Picturebooks. He asked, “If words and pictures are different, what difference does the difference make?”

By examining how picture books work Lukehart seems to be addressing the issue I was discussing earlier, text and illustrations communicate information in different ways.  Lukehart (2010: p33) delves further into this question “This leads one to consider all manner of related ideas. What do words do that pictures cannot, and vice versa? What effect do words and pictures have on each other?”

Wigan (2007: p6) discusses both forms of communication and how they can relate to each other :

Text and image are two forms of representation; two visual signs that can integrate and reinforce one another to communicate messages, emotions, ideas or visual commentary. Words and pictures can be employed to challenge one another, separating and countering meaning; text subverting the image and vice versa.”

Essentially as I described earlier when discussing Symbology, text and image are very similar methods of communication, a very similar field to Symbology is Semiotics, the free online dictionary provides this definition of Semiotics “The theory and study of signs and symbols, especially as elements of language or other systems of communication, and comprising semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics.”

The Free Dictionary, (2013) http://www.thefreedictionary.com/semiotics

In his paper ‘Revisiting the Relationships Between Text and Pictures’ Lawrence Sipe (2012: p5) describes both forms of communication from a semiotic point of view:

From a semiotic point of view, we can conceptualize these two languages as systems of ‘‘signs.’’ For semioticians, everything and anything can function as sign; in picturebooks, the two most obvious sign systems are the words and the pictures, though within each of these broad sign systems, there are clearly sub-sign systems. For example, within the sign system of visual images, there is the sign system of colors, where different colors may be associated with different emotions or feelings.”

Sipe believes that the easiest and most natural way to examine the relationship between word and text is to draw on metaphors.  The free dictionary defines a metaphor as “A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “All the world’s a stage” (Shakespeare).” The Free Dictionary, (2013) http://www.thefreedictionary.com/metaphor

Sipe (2012: p5-6) explains how metaphors are implicit to the relationship between text and imagery:

We can hardly avoid metaphors when writing about word–picture relationships (or anything else, for that matter). Simply to say, for example, that pictures and words ‘‘work’’ together in various ways is already to be drawn into metaphorical thinking: if there is work involved, it is clearly not between words and pictures, but in the reader/viewer’s mind, and it is the mental processes involved that constitute the work

Sipe discusses a number of artistic and scientific metaphors used to describe the relationship between text and image.  There were two metaphors that I particularly correlated with the first is below:

Another of the arts that writers draw upon in discussing the relation of words and pictures is drama. Wyile (2006) provides an extended metaphor using the idea of a picturebook as a play The words in a picture book are like the script of a play. In both cases the facts and clues of characters’ feelings are not usually explained because the pictures or the actors can express them much better…The words in a picturebook come alive in relation to the pictures, as they do in relation to the action in a play. The effectiveness of words is related to their placement on the page in conjunction with the placement of the pictures, which is a form of artistic direction like the elements of direction and blocking in a play. The narrative tension is further created and/or enhanced by the pace of the production that is set by the timing of action, lighting, and sound effects in a play and by the combination of page layout and page turn in a picture book—typically the words pull us forward because we can read them faster and the pictures hold us back as our eyes scan for details (see Nodelman, ‘How Picture Books Work’) (p. 177).” (Sipe, 2012: p6-7)

I can see how the placement of each is important but the thing that I realise most is that in my application I have tended to keep text and imagery as two separate items, my main body of text is almost a narration to events depicted in my imagery, the only times I have combined text and image directly is as speech, as part of a narrative or as instruction.

The Second metaphor I was drawn to was:

Curley (2007) compares the word–picture relationship to the Victorian invention called the stereopticon: ‘‘when focused, an image leaps from flatness into startling depth. It takes two camera lenses, set at slightly different angles, to create this magic. Now imagine an artist and a writer. Like the lenses of the stereopticon, they focus, from individual vantage points, on a narrative’’ (p. 7). In this metaphor, Curley emphasizes the different ‘‘vantage points’’ that words and pictures may take on a narrative, as well as the ability of the combination of words and pictures to create a more profound representation of literary reality as three-dimensional: more interesting, more complex, more nuanced.” (Curley, cited in Sipe, 2012: p8)

This description is one that I can also describe through my own metaphor, In the numerous children’s science fiction literature there are examples of individuals combining their powers for the greater good, to create a more powerful entity or force, and this is what I am seeing in my mind’s eye as read the above statement, the powers of text and image are combining to create a more powerful form of communication through a balanced relationship that does not depreciate the value of the meaning contained within the individual items but instead helps support and solidify the intended messages.

For me and my application, I have further considerations to those of text and illustration when it comes to communicating visually.  I consider my application to be similar to a children’s book but the medium in which I am working has different possibilities and considerations.

Lukehart (2010: p33) poses this question “Then there is the digital realm. At what point will visual electronic storytelling make us ask, “Is it really even a book?”

My answer to this question in relation to my application would be “no it is not a book” but it is an evolution of the children’s educational book genre, delivered using the benefits of digital technology.  The main differences between my application in comparison to a book are the technological possibilities afforded by the format, these include the ability to add animation, interaction, audio and video, my application is an example of digital multimedia.

Multimedia devices allow for the creation of software like my application that takes advantage of the technological capabilities and possibilities, in order to evolve and improve the communication of information.  The Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (p32) describes what multimedia is and how it can benefit the communication of educational information:

The most common buzzword used in education is Multimedia, which is the integration of text, audio, video, graphics and animation into a single medium. Instructional multimedia is the integration of various forms of media in the instructional process. It is the technology that combines print, radio, television, animation, photographs, and other forms of illustration. Integration of different media multiplies the impact of a message.”

In the past, multimedia capable devices have not always been used to their full potential.  Media designers and producers are often creating media that does not take advantage of the technological capabilities, Lukehart (2010: p34) explains “For the latter, even with the introduction of iPhone apps, the titles were mostly what Scott McCloud calls “repurposed print”—scanned books, their electronic pages turning, often with sound and a little movement.”

Multimedia has the potential to do so much more than simply reproducing traditional media in a digital form, it is a field that can make real changes to educational information delivery but it is not a case of just using the technological possibilities because they are available; careful consideration is needed as to what technologies will enhance learning in a specific situation, the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (p37) believes:

It is important to match the learning objectives and decide the media to synchronize the design and learning from it. Each media can offer either the whole or part of the content with or without referring to one another. For example, dissection of a frog can be shown through animation and also through a video programme. But as multimedia offers interactivity, learners can actually feel the dissection if it is animated and the multimedia programme runs like an actual dissection.”

Making decisions about the best way to deliver educational information using multimedia requires knowledge of educational theory and technological possibilities combined with skills to produce the desired content.

Combining the different mediums also needs to be done in a way that makes sense to the user, otherwise the user may be left not knowing what the product is, Lukehart provides an example:

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Nick Wingfield critiqued an electronic picturebook, saying, “This app can’t decide whether it’s a book, a movie, or a game.”” (Wingfield cited in Lukehart, 2010: p34)

I would suggest the “electronic picturebook” that Wingfield is critiquing possibly has tried to just add multimedia to a traditional media design, without the careful consideration for each element and its purpose.  We are dealing with new media here and as yet people are still experimenting with the new possibilities, trying to find the most effective way to deliver their information or story.  This is why I have been investigating pedagogical theory, Gamification and other areas in search of the knowledge required to make informed decisions, not trying to emulate traditional media but trying to create something new.  Wingfield believes that approaches like mine are the path to better products that make the best use of digital technology, Lukehart (2010: p34) discusses Wingfield saying “He wagers that the best book apps will be built from the ground up, taking full advantage of the digital environment.”

My research into visual language is part of my process of investigation into the most appropriate methods of educational delivery using digital technology.  I focussed earlier on the practice of illustration, which is a field that has been a major part of traditional media production for a very long time and there are those who believe that illustration may be a practice which will be lost during the evolution towards digital technology.  During the ICON 6 illustration conference, questions were raised regarding the future of illustration, Michael Dooley describes some of the debate saying:

“A variety of controversial notions were proposed, such replacing the term “illustrator” with something more, um, appropriate to the times and blaming art directors for the job decline. But the tension in the room was palpable as a one-word description of illustration’s future was raised and repeated: “animation.”” Dooley, (2010) http://www.printmag.com/interviews/icon-reax-is-animation-the-future-of-illustration/

Illustration’s closest relative genre in my opinion is animation; the Free Dictionary defines animation as “The act, process, or result of imparting life, interest, spirit, motion, or activity.” The Free Dictionary, (2013) http://www.thefreedictionary.com/animation

Wigan (2009: p28) gives this definition of animation “The optical illusion of movement employed by persistence of vision

Animator Norman McLaren describes animation, “animation is not the art of drawings that move, but the art of movements that are drawn.” (McLaren, cited in Wigan, 2007: p101)

Dooley 2010 poses the question “Is Animation the Future of Illustration?” the reason for this question’s proposition is due to the change towards digital technology.  Traditional mediums such as books could not facilitate animation, so illustrations and photography where the widely used mediums when it came to providing visual content, digital platforms can feature animation or photographical equivalent video and some believe that these are more appropriate visual mediums for digital platforms.  Dooley asks many of the conference attendees for their views on whether animation is the future of illustration.  Scott Gandell is a print maker and illustrator, whilst also holding the post of President of the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles.  Gandell notes that this was also a hot topic of conversation between people informally at the conference and in his opinion the “the transformation from 2D editorial illustration to an animated hybrid online is the future”.  He believes “illustrators need to be capable-ready to produce an eye catching, click stopping, reader grabbing piece of genius … that moves.”  Gandell, cited in Dooley, (2010), http://www.printmag.com/interviews/icon-reax-is-animation-the-future-of-illustration/

Illustrator Steve Simpson said:

The ICON audience seemed split on the issue. Some thought this a great opportunity to get into animation, others were horrified at the prospect of learning new packages and skills – would the extra work mean more money? There was also the suggestion we should dump our outdated title, “illustrator,” and call ourselves visual communicators or creative visualists.”  Simpson, cited in Dooley, (2010), http://www.printmag.com/interviews/icon-reax-is-animation-the-future-of-illustration/

Illustration historian and artist, Jaleen Grove notes the discussion worried some illustrators saying “The discussion provoked controversy because it suggested that if illustrators didn’t embrace change and make their work move and groove, then they might as well retire now.”   Grove goes on to explain that this may not be the impending apocalypse of illustration “illustrators have been told to reinvent illustration with every new advance in technology. And each time, that’s what they have done.” Grove, cited in Dooley, (2010), http://www.printmag.com/interviews/icon-reax-is-animation-the-future-of-illustration/

Illustrator and designer, Carolyn Endacott agrees that the publishing industries movement into the digital realm is going to allow it to reach larger audiences and it has the potential to do so in new innovative ways but she also sees a position in the market place for the “printed magazine” and the static – non-animated – image. Saying “In a world of constantly moving images and “in-your-face graphics,” the beauty and strength of illustration lies in the idea-concept and the ability for a moment, however brief, to have the viewer pause and think.”  She goes on to say “There is a place for both the digital and static image and quite possibly, a relationship may develop where the two strengthen each other.”   Endacott, cited in Dooley, (2010), http://www.printmag.com/interviews/icon-reax-is-animation-the-future-of-illustration/

As an illustrator and educator at CSU Fullerton, Cliff Cramp has a more optimistic view on the topic, explaining how new technologies have always influenced arts like illustration but not necessarily in a negative way:

The key word for me that night was “possibilities.” New technologies provide varied possibilities for the delivery of our content. The fax machine allowed illustrators to fax comps to a client rather than drive them over. Product Illustrators produced line art of merchandise for wholesale companies so that catalogs could be faxed to retailers. The Internet has allowed the illustrator to have a global audience, shrinking their world while broadening their possibilities. Email and social media have allowed the illustrator to have more opportunities to connect with their peers. For some, new technologies will mean new ways to produce art. For others, new technologies will mean new uses for their art.” Cramp, cited in Dooley, (2010), http://www.printmag.com/interviews/icon-reax-is-animation-the-future-of-illustration/

Illustrator Teri Farrell-Gittins also sees the potential offered by new emerging technologies, with the point of view that these technologies will always need creative people capable of producing visual communication, so providing more jobs and more opportunities. ZFarrell-Gittins, cited in Dooley, (2010), http://www.printmag.com/interviews/icon-reax-is-animation-the-future-of-illustration/

I do not believe that digital platforms mean the end of illustration, and those that believe this I fear may be being blinded by the technological possibilities.  With multimedia you do not have to use all the mediums because they are available but you do have the ability to use them when they are appropriate, one medium may be more effective than another in certain situations.  Illustration is a medium that has a place in multimedia applications, animation also has a place and in my opinion animation should only be used when it can communicate more information than an illustration, or communicate the information more effectively to the viewing audience. These decisions on medium appropriateness require knowledge of the communicative possibilities within each specific medium, so that informed decisions can be made when designing the communication process.

The design of the communication process is an important part of visual communication but there is another part of the process that is vitally important and that is the technical production of desired media.  A certain level of proficiency in the medium you are producing is needed to create effective results; when it comes to illustrating and animating it’s not simply a case of drawing pretty pictures, a design process is used by practitioners of these fields to methodically produce designs appropriate for their purpose, research is a key area of any design process.

Wigans (2006: p93-97) features a discussion with illustrator Marc Baines who describes the research process he used for a comic book series entitled ‘The Romans in Britain’. Baines describes how he read a book the 1945 Pelican classic ‘Britain’s Under the Romans and Rome 753BC-AD180’,  he also watched films such as the 1945 ‘Ceasar and Cleopatra’ starring Claude Rains.  Baines also visited museums and used Google image search. This process is very similar to the process I have undertaken throughout this project.  I also started off looking at pre-existing children’s literature relating to my Viking theme (see here), I also looked at the portrayal of Vikings in film and popular culture (see here), I visited museums and galleries and I also have made good use of Google image search as you can see in the mood boards I have created below: Wigan 2006

Viking_houses_mood-board_01 The ability to create consistent, effective and eye-catching imagery is also important when it comes to communicating visually, especially when the audience are children. Wigan (2006: p88) agrees, he says “Characters in children’s illustration need to be appealing and represented consistently throughout.

In the past, the production of visual communicative media has relied upon drawing. The Free Dictionary defines drawing as “The art of representing objects or forms on a surface chiefly by means of lines.” The Free Dictionary, (2013) http://www.thefreedictionary.com/drawing

Wigan (2009: p86) defines Drawing as “The act of applying direct marks or lines across a surface by using tools such as a pencil, pen and ink, charcoal or crayons

Drawing is fundamental to the fabric of illustration. Once you have changed many of the perceived notions of ‘what drawing is’… you can get on with the task of exploring a visual language. Our answers are found in manipulating a medium: they can often start with a pencil and a piece of paper. Drawing the world around us lets us see the world.” (O’Shaughnessy, cited in Wigan, 2006: p33)

Wigan (2009: p86) says “Drawing is the foundation of all forms of visual art and pictorial representation

Often in the past I have been criticised for my lack of traditional pencil/pen and paper work. Yes, they are tools I often avoid as I struggle to transfer my thoughts using that medium.  I don’t like writing on paper nor do I particularly enjoy drawing with a pen or pencil but that does not mean that I don’t like to put down my thoughts in words nor does it mean that I don’t like to be creative visually.

At school before the time of easy access to computers I struggled with written work, my hand writing was poor and I didn’t like doing it.  In my art lessons I was never a great at drawing but I did enjoy and seemed to very creative and proficient when it came to printing, modelling and other creative art processes.  I am not ready to describe myself as an illustrator but I have been looking at illustration theory, techniques and I am creating my own digital illustrations.  The digital nature of my work suits the medium on which the illustrations will be displayed but Wigan explains that illustrations “can be created in any medium.” He then goes on to explain that my choice of medium is important but not to others, to me.  He says “It is important to experiment with a broad range and choose the type of medium that is most appropriate to you.” Wigan (2006: p120)

Although Wigan’s statement is contradicted by the views of other illustrators featured in his book, Mick Brownfield, Cited in Wigan (2006: p126) believes students need to “learn how to draw properly and not rely on technical aids (the computer)”, Laura Smith, cited in Wigan, (2006: p126) has a similar point of view “I would advise students to understand that computers are just another tool and not rely on them at the exclusion of all else.

My approach may seem to be one that excludes non digital tools but this is not actually the case, I have attended life drawing classes and I have copious amounts of learn to draw books that I use to try and improve my drawing skills but it is a medium that I do not use as often as others.

I remember a former tutor of mine explaining that it is the quickest method to work on ideas but this is something I would dispute.  It is the quickest method if you have the required amount of skill to reproduce what you are seeing in the eye of your mind using those tools, if not it can be a frustrating and embarrassing method of communication. I would never say one method is better than another but it is fair to say that some mediums are more appropriate for certain situations and it is also fair to say that some illustrators/designers are more suited to specifics tools and mediums.  This in no way should devalue the quality of anybody’s work but instead we should remember Wigan’s statement “It is important to experiment with a broad range and choose the type of medium that is most appropriate to you.” (Wigan, 2006: p120).

The main focus of my exploration into illustration is to understand how to communicate visually.  This is a very important part of my master’s study, as I am looking to communicate information in the best possible ways through my application and communicating visually through illustration and animation will play an important role in my application.  When Wigan asked illustrators from all over the world what they felt illustration students needed to learn visual communication was a common theme in there replies, Peter Grundy (2006: p128) says “An ability to entertain and communicate.” Gina Triplett believes “Students of illustration need to know how to communicate visual ideas in a manner that sets their work apart from their peers.” Anthony Burrill says “How to communicate with other people visually and verbally.” (2006: p131)

I am attempting to learn to communicate more effectively through visual and interactive media, this is essential not only to my master’s project but to my overall practice as an interactive multimedia designer.  Wigan (2006: p12) says “Learning to think visually is a skill that must be practiced daily.”  I believe he is right but I do not believe this is simply drawing or producing every day, researching past, current or potential methods of visual communication is also, in my opinion a great way of “Learning to think visually” but this does not just mean sitting in a library, reading a book, magazine or newspaper or trawling the internet; it can be as simple as walking down the street and watching how the world connects, looking at the advert on the side of a bus as it passes or watching how people interact with each other or artefacts of both digital and non digital nature.

Wigan (2006: p12) says “In order to communicate, elucidate, give insight to and illuminate, the illustrator must be interested in humanity and in literature. Intellectual curiosity, hard work, ambition and passion are all essential”.

To be a successful visual communicator it is important that you are interested in communicating, to have the passion to look beyond the simple dynamics of life and delve deeper into the nature of communicative experiences.  The desire to learn more and the ability to motivate yourself to actively pursue this quest for knowledge is needed, in order to keep coming up with effective communication processes relevant for differing audiences, through differing platforms, regardless of technological innovation.

The knowledge of how to juxtapose differing visual mediums, in order to communicate on a level beyond that of any single medium is going to be essential in a future containing digital multimedia.  So it will be essential to have a knowledge of more than one medium but the ability to not get consumed by the lure of the “doing thing because you can” scenario is also essential, creative’s should practice restraint when it comes to new technology and make decisions based upon effectiveness. Communicating visually will always be a vitally important process whether it is pencil and paper, chalk and board, 2D or 3D, static or animated, digital or non-digital.


Gaur, A. (1992) A History of Writing, United States: Cross River Press

Wigan, M. (2006) Basics Illustration 01: Thinking Visually, UK: AVA Publishing SA

Wigan, M. (2007) Basics Illustration 02: Sequential Images, UK: AVA Publishing SA

Wigan, M. (2007) Basics Illustration 03: Text and Image, UK: AVA Publishing SA

Wigan, M. (2009) The Visual Dictionary of Illustration, UK: AVA Publishing SA

The Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia, no publication date, Instructional Design for Multimedia [online] Available at: http://cemca.org.in/ckfinder/userfiles/files/Section5.pdf, [accessed 8th April 2013]

Dooley, M. (2010) ICON Reax, Part 1: Is Animation the Future of Illustration? [online] Available at:

http://www.printmag.com/interviews/icon-reax-is-animation-the-future-of-illustration/, [accessed 7th April 2013]

Lukehart, W 2010, ‘Playgrounds for the Mind’, Children & Libraries: The Journal Of The Association For Library Service To Children, 8, 3, pp. 32-35, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 21 March 2013.

Sipe, L 2012, ‘Revisiting the Relationships Between Text and Pictures’, Children’s Literature In Education, 43, 1, pp. 4-21, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 8 April 2013.

The Free Dictionary, (2013) [online] Available at: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/, [accessed 8th April 2013]

Oregon State University Library, no publication date, Treasures of the McDonald Collection – A Brief History of Writing [online] Available at: http://osulibrary.oregonstate.edu/specialcollections/omeka/exhibits/show/mcdonald/writing/significance, [accessed 7th April 2013]

Wigan’s World, no publication date [online] Available at: http://www.wigansworld.moonfruit.com/, [accessed 5th April 2013]


Gamification, what is it?  The definition of the term Gamification provided by the website Gamification Wiki is “Gamification is the concept of applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging.” Gamification Wiki, (2010), http://gamification.org/

The assistant director of Bloomsburg University’s acclaimed Institute for Interactive Technologies, Professor Karl M. Kapp (2012: p66) also provides a similar definition, he says “Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”

Basically Gamification is the gamefying or application of game design theories in differing fields.  To understand Gamification we need to understand what games are.

Roger Caillois a French theorist saw many of the structures in society as elaborate forms of games and much behaviour as forms of play.

Caillois proposed a useful system of classifying different types of experiences that are present in games in his book “Man, Play and Games”. A game can include just one or all of these different types of experiences.


This could be a contest or competition, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist.


This describes games of chance such as roulette or a lottery. Games of chance throughout time have often been the subject of gambling.


This can be described as copying, simulation or make believe.


This describes games in which there may be a momentary disorientation in a physical sense, for example vertigo or dizziness.

Caillois’s taxonomy of game play experiences helps us understand about types of games but why do we play games in the first place?

In 2010 I wrote a piece during my B.A Interactive Multimedia at Hull School of Art and Design, in which I describe my theory on why people play games based upon Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs:

“Why do we want to play games?  Why do people get addicted to games and what makes a game addictive?  It is possible to get completely immersed in a game, to the point where we are entirely focused on playing and all other things become irrelevant.












A big part of why we feel the need to participate in games can be understood by examining a psychological theory by an American psychologist named “Abraham Harold Maslow”, considered the founder of humanistic psychology he conceptualised the theory a “hierarchy of human needs”, this is often condensed and displayed for visual representation as “Maslow’s Pyramid Of Needs”.

maslow pyramid of needs

Deficiency Needs

Maslow called the lower four layers of the Pyramid “deficiency needs”.  Within the deficiency needs each lower need must be met before moving on to the higher needs.  If at a later time a lower need is detected, the person will take steps to fulfil that need before resuming focus on their higher needs.

Physiological Needs

These are the literal requirements for human survival; breathing, drinking, eating, sleeping, sexual activity etc.  Without air or food one would die, without sexual activity as a species it would mean the extinction of humanity, this explains the strength of these instincts within individuals.  This does not seem relevant to game play at first, until you consider that the whole purpose of a lot of computer games is survival, for example any game were you have a health bar that depletes is a game of survival.  There are some games like ‘Resident Evil’ that directly deal with the survival of the human race as part of its storyline.

Safety Needs

Wanting that feeling of safety and security is part of a need for control; people yearn for a predictable, orderly world without injustice and inconsistency.  This can be found in any game were you control a hero or fight against a villain.

In the modern world our options in most situations are so abundant that boundaries between right and wrong are not always obvious and it is increasingly hard to judge your own actions and results in comparison to those of others.  This inconsistency means that it can be complicated when deciding what we should be doing and this confusion makes it hard to gain the pleasure of knowing that we have done something well.

Games can help with these fulfilment needs, as games can be played against other people, against yourself, against a computer or perhaps even against magical forces unbeknownst to man.  All games have one thing in common in that they have goals and rules to follow in order to play, so providing us with the consistency that we crave in the real world.

Social Needs

Social needs are the emotional needs that are fulfilled by relationships between people.  Families, friendships and communities often feature within games. In some games you have a companion i.e. “Super Mario Brothers”, Mario and Luigi are both family and companions.  In other games you have the ability to act as part of a team  i.e. in “Marvel Ultimate Alliance” you work as part of a four man team to defend the planet.  Some games require you to have social interactions within everyday family life i.e. “The Sims”.

Computer games in particular have addressed social needs in an altogether different way by creating a community in which people have found common ground with each other through a common interest.

Esteem Needs

The need for self-esteem and self-respect is also known as the belonging need, it is the human desire to be accepted and valued by others.

People need to engage themselves to get recognition as a sense of contribution; this gives the person a sense of personal value.  Without this people can suffer from low self-esteem, people with low self-esteem want or need respect from others.

Game play can provide an outlet for these needs by giving people a platform that they can show off their talents through, i.e. escapism.

By playing games people can become the focus of the virtual environment, it gives them a platform on which they can get attention, status, and power.

Success in the virtual world of computer games can aid people to be competent and to achieve recognition.   

Self Actualization

The motivation to discover one’s own maximum potential and possibilities is considered to be the master motive or the only real motive in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  The need for self-actualization is the final need that manifests when the lower level needs have been satisfied, this is why it sits above all other needs at the top of the pyramid.

This is possibly the easiest human need to explain why games are so popular, the need to better oneself by rising to the challenge that games present.  To conquer a game or raise ones performance through practice, constantly looking to go further, faster raising confidence and fulfilling the needs of self actualization.

In a way, everything we do in our daily lives is in either a direct or an indirect way related to these needs.

The human body recognises needs and rewards, its fulfilment is often associated with feelings of pleasure to encourage repeat behaviour, i.e. when we are thirsty we drink and after doing so we feel better.

The reward process for our psychological needs is slightly different, as different people have different requirements.  The person in question sets personal targets that they want to accomplish, it does not really matter what we do, how we do it, or why?  As long as we feel that we are doing the right thing, for the right reasons and getting the results that we want, we will get that feeling of fulfilment.

This explains the feeling of pleasure felt by people during game play, some people may say “It’s only a game” but that depends on your psychological needs.

The ultimate goal for all our activities is the fulfilment of needs.” (Shakesby, 2010)

When you understand why people want to play games, you can identify with the level of engagement shown by people during game play, this engagement often causes people to lose their temporal concerns; they don’t eat, drink, sleep or even go to the toilet because they are truly immersed in the task at hand.

Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the hypothesis of Flow (psychology).

Csikszentmihalyi’s theory was that people get a great sense of deep happiness, satisfaction, or fulfilment when they are in a state of great concentration or complete absorption with the activity that they are immersed in and it is this feeling that he calls “flow”, popular culture often describes the psychological state as “being in the zone”.  The flow state causes game players to be utterly engrossed in the undertaking or challenge at hand, this happens when there is a balance between the challenge of the task and the skill of the player, if the task is too easy or difficult the flow state cannot occur.

It is this deep sense of interest or engagement with undertakings that people hope to re-appropriate for their own interests, in other words people interested in Gamification want to create that same level of engagement and interest exhibited in tasks found in game play, into other areas through the use of game theory.

Education is one area that has exhibited an interest in Gamification, Cohen (2011: p15) explains that there is a growing movement of education professionals that would like to see the Gamification of education “The world has entered a bright new technology-driven era, yet the education system remains rooted in a gray industrial past. At least, this is the argument that a growing number of education professionals are making.

Cohen discusses a potential idea for the restructuring of the educational system, that would see online gaming and learning replacing the traditional class room text books and he believes that this idea is gaining in popularity.  I personally from my research would never advocate such a radical step but I would argue for a greater increase in interactive digital media within learning environments.

Cohen (2011: p15) explains that “While traditional education proponents may be quick to dismiss computer games as inconsequential, others argue that a strong precedent for independently motivated online game-based learning has already been established”.

One thing that we do know is that everybody is different, we all look different, sound different and learn differently, we have different needs and these needs change depending on a number of varying factors including age, experience, mood, fatigue, etc.  Gamification may very well be an effective way of providing learning to some people at some times but to base an entire educational system around one theory or medium would surely be a mistake?

The paper based education system that I grew up with did not meet all my educational needs but it works for a great number of people, our education system should be able to offer learning through various mediums based upon a multitude of theories, as a broader approach that does not expect the learner to conform to its methods but actually offers the learner choices, choices that make learning easier for the individual.

It is import to point out that Gamification is not a purely digital idea; you can add game dynamics to a wide range of situations, for example if students were asked to find objects in a classroom and each object found is given a point value, the game would be a game based upon Caillois’s description of Agon, a competition.  This is of course not the only way you can augment situations with game theory, Kapp (2012: p 66) says:

A well-designed game is a system in which players engage in an abstract challenge, defined by rules, interactivity, and feedback that result in a quantifiable outcome often eliciting an emotional reaction. Games can be designed and delivered in an online environment with multimedia graphics, interactive characters, and automated scorekeeping, or they can be face-to-face and conducted in a classroom with simple interactions and engagement.”

Below is an interesting info-graphic about the Gamification of education:

This info-graphic shows a large amount of information about the positive effects of Gamification but one thing that I find particularly worrying is the Agon element of competition, the will to succeed and win is a powerful motivational factor but should education be a competition?

The motivation of winning makes certain individuals become Olympic gold medallists or sees others accomplish things faster than anybody else has done before but it is also the thing that makes other cry in despair when they fail.  A gamifyed system could unintentionally create de-motivated players through fear of failure, rather than motivated players striving for success and I believe it will probably create a number of players in each camp.  Surely education should be available to all, not just winners!

Kapp discusses an area of Gamification that he calls “Freedom to fail” he explains

In most instructional environments, failure is not a valid option. Learners are objectively scored, and they either get it right the first time or fail and do not pass. Few people enjoy failing in traditional learning environments, and most will do everything they can to avoid failing. This means that most learning environments do not encourage exploration or trial-and-error learning.” (Kapp, 2012, p66)

Kapp goes on to describe how games can turn the negative effects of failure in a positive outcome:

Games, however, encourage failure. Players will purposely fail to see what happens or to get a sense of the gamespace in which they are playing. Failing is allowed, it’s acceptable, and it’s part of the game. Games accommodate failure with multiple lives, second chances, and alternative methods of success. Games overcome the “sting of failure” by allowing, as part of their design, multiple opportunities to perform a task until mastery.” (Kapp, 2012, p66)

Kapp (2012: p66) also says that Gamification “involves encouraging learners to explore the content, take chances with their decision making, and be exposed to realistic consequences for making a wrong or poor decision”.

I am not sure that I am entirely in agreement with Kapp at this point, games can be designed to encourage failure, and multiple chances at task completion can help player’s master tasks, helping increase self esteem and putting the player on a path towards self actualisation but if the level of that task required is placed well beyond the capabilities of the play, frustration can occur leading to a lowering of self esteem and usually disinterest in the completion of the task at hand.

If the player is exposed to realistic consequences for making wrong or poor decisions it is not always a positive thing. This is why we often see kids crying when they cannot complete parts of video games, it could be argued that this is character building or is it just delivering life’s harsh message that you cannot be good at everything?  This frustration can lead to emotional breakdown and user/player frustration can lead to disengagement with tasks or some players may simply choose to quit rather than repeat a task until completion.

Eliminating the risk of failure would solve this problem but there is another way, designers of games and Gamification need to be realistic when assessing task difficulty and potential player proficiency.  Games need to be designed to be easy enough to accomplish tasks, whilst also being challenging enough to prevent potential boredom but the possibility of failure when used correctly can be a great tool in player engagement, Kapp (2012: p66) says:

The risk of failure without punishment is engaging. Learners will explore and examine causes and effects if they know it’s OK to fail. In many cases, they will learn as much from seeing the consequences of their failure as they will from a correct answer.”

Gamifying a learning application would be a great way to engage the user, hopefully making it easier to effectively communicate information whilst they are engaged, it also would make the application more appealing to users, Kapp (2012, p66) explains:

Games are incredibly appealing. They engage players because they provide an environment and a context in which actions provide direct feedback and lead to direct consequences. They can provide a realistic context in which actions and tasks can be practiced. Games create a surrogate for actual experiences that provide rich learning opportunities.”

But a gamifyed application does not need to be a game; it just needs to re-appropriate the elements from game design theory to engage the user in an interesting, informative and entertaining way.

Kapp (2012, p67) says that Gamification:

provides the learner with an engaging, relevant learning experience without the heavy time commitment necessary to play most games. Through the careful application of game elements—such as the freedom to fail, interest curve, storytelling, and feedback—in learning programs, ordinary content can be made more engaging without the development of a full-fledged learning game

Within my application I have a number of interactive elements that I have been describing thus far as relevant interactions, these include:

Barter (Trade) a Viking Comb

In this section the user chooses the amount of coins needed to trade for a Viking comb, the user has the freedom to fail by choosing the wrong amount of coins but they are able to make another choice until the correct choice is made.  Using Caillois classifications it is fair to say this is a game that shows Mimicry, it is a virtual representation of a historic process, a simulation from which the user will hopefully learn the process and the tools involved in a Viking trade transaction.

Archaeologist Game

This interactive features an archaeologist who invites the user to help him find a Viking ship, the user has to choose from one of four archaeological dig sites, they then rub away an onscreen layer of virtual soil, to unearth an artefact in the hope that it is the Viking ship they have been tasked with finding.  If the user does not find the ship they can go back and choose another dig site until they complete their task.

It is possible to argue that this is a game that exhibits elements of Alea, as the choice is a bit like a lottery, it is a game of chance but it is also once again Mimicry as it is a very basic simulation of an archaeological process.

Decorate a Viking Shield

This part of my application allows the user to paint a Viking Shield, as a digital recreation of a process that many Vikings undertook.  Again Caillois classifications would place this interactive in the category of Mimicry.

Control a Viking boat

This interactive element is an Easter egg within the game. a hidden piece of fun that can be played when inquisitive users find it.

The task for the user within this part of my application is to control a Viking ship, manoeuvring it from one point to another whilst avoiding the sea serpents. Caillois classifications make this game an example of Agon, as the user is the protagonist trying to successfully navigate a course without interaction with the sea serpent antagonists.

Some may argue that there is a lack of reward system within these interactive elements, for them to be considered as games or examples of Gamification whether it is a points system, levelling up or some other prize.  In fact it has been said directly to me by my external examiner that my application is not an example of Gamification and I agree that my application is not a game, it is in my opinion an interactive learning application that features elements of game theory amongst others.  My application does however definitely fit into a broader category that encompasses Gamification, as described below:

Firstly, “Gamification” relates to games, not play (or playfulness), where “play” can be conceived of as the broader, looser category, containing but different from “games”” Deterding,et al (2011: p3)

Play is essential in child development, family counsellor and parent educator Helen R Williams explains:

Children boost self esteem through play.  While they play, children are developing an understanding of themselves and others, increasing their mastery and knowledge of their physical world and learning to communicate with others. Play is essential to children’s development by contributing to their physical, social, cognitive and emotional well being.” Williams, H. R. no publication date, http://ezinearticles.com/?How-to-Boost-Self-Esteem-Through-Play&id=1028608

Caillois described the difference between games – ludus (or “gaming”) and play – paidia (or “playing”) Deterding,et al (2011: p3) says:

“In game studies, this distinction between games and play is usually tied back to Caillois’ concept of paidia and ludus as two poles of play activities [12]. Whereas paidia (or “playing”) denotes a more freeform, expressive, improvisational, even “tumultuous” recombination of behaviors and meanings, ludus (or “gaming”) captures playing structured by rules and competitive strife toward goals.”

According to this definition the majority of my interactive elements do not qualify as games, although I could argue that the Archaeologist game and the Control a Viking boat could be classified as games.

The distinction between games and play is there but it is ambiguous to the uninitiated.  Korhonen, Montola and Arrasvuori tried to define playfulness by creating the PLEX framework, Deterding,et al (2011: p2) describes:

“Korhonen, Montola and Arrasvuori have made the most systematic attempt in this regard [43,44]. Combining the “pleasurable experience” framework of Costello and Edmonds [20] with further theoretical work and user studies on video game play, they developed a Playful Experience Framework (PLEX) that categorizes 22 (originally 20) playful experiences.”

Deterding,et al also tells that recently others have investigated and found evidence to support the clear differences between “playing” and “gaming” :

Recent theoretical and empirical studies have provided further support for the distinctness of “playing” and “gaming” as two modes, foci, or “values” of behavior and mindset2 encountered during video game play [4,41]. This distinction also appears in HCI research on playfulness. The aforementioned PLEX framework acknowledges Caillois’ distinction of paidia and ludus in that it explicitly sets out to capture all experiences between these two poles [43].” Deterding,et al (2011: p3)

My application definitely features elements of playfulness, the Barter (Trade) a Viking Comb and Decorate a Viking Shield interactives are playful elements.  I do not consider my application to be an example of Gamification but it does exhibit some of the qualities of Gamification, it also exhibits elements of playful design, Deterding,et al (2011: p3) describe why my application cannot be considered as an example of Gamification:

In terms of defining “gamification”, this means that it too has to be analytically distinguished from playfulness or playful design – indeed, this marks the novelty of “gamified” applications. In practice, it can be assumed that they often can and will give rise to playful behaviors and mindsets as well, just as video game players often switch between playful and gameful behaviors and mindsets during play [4].”

The quote above explains that users can switch between the behaviours and mind sets that define games and play during these activities, which is good for my application, as I believe it exhibits elements of both Gamification and playfulness and hopefully these elements that feature within my application will help engage the users of my application.  The evidence above suggests that Gamification and playfulness are different but both essential to child engagement and development, and by adopting elements of these theories alongside other theories of information communication, I hope to be able to develop an application that is engaging, entertaining and informative.


Caillois, R. (2001) Man, Play and Games, USA: University of Illinois Press

Cohen, AM 2011, The Gamification of Education, Futurist, Volume 45, Issue 5, pp. 16-17, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 March 2013.

Kapp, K M. (2012), GAMES, GAMIFICATION, AND THE QUEST FOR LEARNER ENGAGEMENT, T+D, Vol 66, Issue 6, pp. 64-68, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 March 2013.

About.com Psychology, no publication date, Abraham Maslow, [online] Available at: http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/ig/Pictures-of-Psychologists/Abraham-Maslow-Picture.htm [accessed 09th March 2013]

Deterding, S. Dixon,D. Khaled, R. & Nacke, L. (2011) From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification” [online] Available at:, [accessed 10th March 2013]

Edudemic, (2012), The 100 Second Guide to Gamification In Education, [online] Available at: http://edudemic.com/2012/09/the-100-second-guide-to-gamification-in-education/, [accessed 09th March 2013]

Gamification Corp. (2012) [online] Available at: http://www.gamification.co/. [accessed 10th March 2013]

Gamification Wiki, (2010), [online] Available at:  http://gamification.org/, [accessed 10th March 2013]

Williams, H. R. no publication date, How to Boost Self Esteem Through Play, [online] Available at: http://ezinearticles.com/?How-to-Boost-Self-Esteem-Through-Play&id=1028608, [accessed 11th March 2013]

Are E-books damaging society?

Author Jonathan Franzen has defended the printed book, warning that e-books are damaging for society.  Franzen believes consumers are being coerced into believing that they need the latest technological innovations and he believes that traditional paper is the best technology for books, he says “the technology I like is the American paperback edition of Freedom. I can spill water on it and it would still work! So it’s pretty good technology. ”

Franzen also explains that printed books are permanent and there may be issues with the lifespan of today’s technological products, he also implies that those who read digitally are not serious readers, by saying “I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change.”  I do not agree with Franken’s views and I would not claim that either medium is better or worse, they both have their distinct qualities.  What I do think is interesting, is that Franzen’s books are available to buy on digital devices, so his worries are obviously not effecting his desire to earn money.  The question I am left with is, if you are a reader who is reading a Jonathan Franzen novel on a digital reading device, you obviously according to Franzen are not a serious reader, so what does this imply about the quality of his work?


Asynchronous E-Learning and M-Learning

So what is asynchronous e-learning? Chief knowledge officer for Allen Interactions, Ethan Edwards wrote an article in which he describes it as:

“asynchronous e-learning occurs in an environment where a single learner interacts directly with content via a technology system, maximizing flexibility in timing and access for the learner by allowing learner control of pace, schedule, and location”. Edwards (2009)

The eLearning Guild describes itself as “the oldest and most trusted source of information, networking, and community for eLearning Professionals”.  It is a member-driven organisation that produces and presents media related to e-learning, they define asynchronous e-learning as:

“asynchronous e-Learning refers to “on-demand” learning materials that the learner can access and use whenever and wherever he or she wants.”

Learning accessed anytime, anywhere on a desktop computer, this is partially true and on a laptop this is even more of a possibility but with mobile tablets and phones the potential of asynchronous e-learning can truly be realised.  These devices are designed to be carried around so that users can access information and media at a time and in a place that it suitable to them.

Mobile learning, often referred to as m-learning is a topic that I have discussed in a previous blog (see here: https://phillipshakesbymasters.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/67/) and a in May 2010 article, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative provides a description of mobile learning that is strikingly similar to the eLearning Guild’s definition of asynchronous e-Learning, they say “Mobile learning, or m-learning, can be any educational inter­action delivered through mobile technology and accessed at a stu­dent’s convenience from any location.”

Mobile applications, also known as mobile apps, are pieces of software designed to run on smart-phones and mobile phones, they can be designed for a wide range of purposes including education, entertainment and shopping, they often use the technology available within the mobile device to aid or enhance the user’s daily lives.

The mobile application market has evolved at a staggering rate, in December 2010 the International Data Corporation (IDC), a global provider of market intelligence said that 300,000 mobile apps had been developed in just over three years and in 2010 these 300,000+ applications were downloaded 10.9 billion times.  The numbers are truly staggering and as soon as this year’s statistics are released I will post them for comparison but it is seemingly obvious that people are using apps, this is a direction I am that leaning towards for my project.  It would allow me to apply teaching theory to a platform or medium that offers a wide range of possibilities in terms of interaction and content, whilst also being at the forefront of the current technological evolution.

To make my project a success I still believe that my research into teaching theory and E-learning design and principles will help me to gain an understanding of user/learner needs and thus this will help me to produce a more effective product.

If I choose to create a mobile application for my project the asynchronous e-learning model seems to be appropriate for the product platform but there are certain keys to achieving success according to Ethan Edwards (2009), he believes that traditional instructional design principles are required in combination with a consideration for the unique requirements of computer-delivered instructions and interaction.  He believes that there are three essential factors when designing asynchronous e-learning:

1.       Motivate the learner to learn,
2.       Focus on behavioural outcomes,
3.       Create meaningful and memorable experiences.

Motivate the learner to learn

Edwards (2009) believes that learners need to be motivated, energized and engaged in the learning experience and that traditionally this element of learning is provided by the “wit and personality of the instructor, social contact and expectations from peers, and real time adjustments by students and instructors to the immediacy of the teaching moment”.

In the book Learning in the Digital Age by John Seeley Brown the author recognises the social interaction element of the learning process, he says “learning is a remarkably social process. In truth, it occurs not as a response to teaching, but rather as a result of a social framework that fosters learning.” Brown (2002)

In an asynchronous e-learning model this social or personal interaction would be absent, so it is the responsibility of the designer to try and design experiences in which engagement in interaction can generate emotional responses that motivate or capture the interest of the learner in educational experiences.

Edwards (2009) goes on to say:“Any e-learning that fails to account for these elements will fail to connect authentically with the learner, and ultimately fail as a teaching tool, no matter how perfectly the content is crafted.”

Focus on behavioural outcomes.

The communication of information traditionally involves two way communications between the educational facilitator/teacher and the learner/student, and the quality of that educational experience often depends upon the effectiveness of that communication.  Replicating this social and instructional interaction is a problem for designers, Edwards (2009) says “designers of e-learning are at a severe disadvantage to create meaningful interactions simply because the methods for gaining information from the learner are so limited.”  The appropriation of user feedback is always going to be a an issue for designers, Edwards (2009) suggests that “Designers must work dedicatedly to overcome these limits by designing challenges in which the learner’s actions require active processing and represent real-world actions.”  This notion of learning through doing is featured in different learning theories, Pete Senge the founding chairperson of the Society for Organizational Learning and a senior lecturer at MIT said “The most powerful learning comes from direct experienceSenge (1990, p.23).  Experiential learning is learning through the undertaking or reflection upon undertaking a task.

Create meaningful and memorable experiences.

Designers should be aiming to deliver more than just information and visuals they should be designing an experience in which learners can acquire information Edwards (2009) says “Learners need assistance in attaching meaning and significance to new content.”  He believes that the learning experience is often more important to the effectiveness of educational delivery than the content that is being delivered, “ When asked about successful learning experiences, almost all people acknowledge that those learning events were a success more because of how the learning occurred rather than specifically what was learned.”  Brown (2002) also draws attention to the need to think about more than just the content you wish to convey he says “To succeed in our struggle to build technology and new media to support learning, we must move far beyond the traditional view of teaching as delivery of information. Although information is a critical part of learning, it’s only one among many forces at work”.  He recognises the need for  information and context in the delivery of learning  experiences “It’s profoundly misleading and ineffective to separate information, theories, and principles from the activities and situations within which they are used.”

When designing experiences, consistent design is important for a number of design reasons which I will elaborate upon at a later date but that should not mean that it should affect the learning experience.   Edwards (2009) say’s “When everything looks the same, it is hard to remember any specific detail.” but this does not mean make everything look different, it means that the designer needs to take into consideration how they intend to allow the user to make a distinction between different elements of the information that they are presenting them with, so that the user will be effected in the required way.  Edwards (2009) view is “While it is important to create standards and processes to make the development of e-learning efficient, the design still needs to create distinctiveness and purpose so that the learner has some hope of taking a long-lasting experience away from the training.”

Asynchronous e-learning is often characterised as boring, simplistic and ineffective due to the lack of social interactions.  The lack of interaction with instructors and peers may be a deficiency of Asynchronous e-learning but there are benefits too, benefits that increase when you start to bring mobile devices into the equation.  Asynchronous m-learning truly provides the learner with new freedoms , the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative  article from may 2010 draws attention to one of the benefits of m-learning “Because m-learning utilizes a variety of devices, many of which are ubiquitous in the lives of students, it can foster student engagement and offer opportunities to make learn­ing integral to daily life.”  They also point out that potentially, anytime, anyplace technology may lower physical boundaries to learning and extend the classroom.  So we know that there are possible deficiencies and benefits to asynchronous m-learning but through carefully considered design and well-organised research the potential of asynchronous m-learning is exciting.  It will require new methods of practice, an appropriation of new ideas and a bricolage of existing theories brought together to form a robust methodology appropriate to this new practice.

Edwards (2009) recognises that the design process for asynchronous e-learning needs to be different to the processes of traditional instruction, he says: “Because there is no instructor present in the learning moment, the design process for asynchronous e-learning must include specific plans for engaging the learner in targeted learning actions in a way that designers of traditional instruction have not had to use.”

A new process of instructional design, or possibly more appropriately design for instruction needs to be formed, a new methodology that meets the demands of a new generation of learners through the use of new technologies; technologies that offer us new possibilities for learning experiences. Designers are not trained instructors, so they will need to gain an understanding of how education is delivered, either by theoretical research or by incorporating the knowledge of real world educators through symposium into their design process.  The designer must then take the educational information and convert it into digital interactions using their own specialist knowledge pertaining to their own subject, and try and create a user centred design appropriate for instruction.

Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline, United Kingdon:Random House Business Books.

Edwards, E. (2009) Designing Asynchronous E-Learning, T+D; Vol.63, Issue 2, p84-85 Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5th November 2011

Brown, J. S. (2002) Learning in the Digital Age [online] Available at: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/FFPIU015.pdf (accessed 6th November 2011).

The eLearning Guild (04/07/2010) Getting Started in e-Learning: Asynchronous e-Learning [online] Available at: http://www.elearningguild.com/research/archives/index.cfm?id=140&action=viewonly (accessed 5th November 2011 15:24).

IDC Press Release (Dec 2010) IDC Forecasts Worldwide Mobile Applications Revenues to Experience More Than 60% Compound Annual Growth Through 2014 [online] Available at: http://www.idc.com/about/viewpressrelease.jsp?containerId=prUS22617910&sectionId=null&elementId=null&pageType=SYNOPSIS (accessed 6th November 2011 13.33).

Educause (May 2010) 7 Things you Should Know About Mobile Apps for Learning [online] Available at:  http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7060.pdf (accessed 6th November 2011)

Competitive Analysis

BBC Primary History Vikings


Platform – Website

 Visual style – Illustrated cartoon style

 Target Audience – Primary school children are the target for this website as it is part of the BBC’s Primary History range.

Features -Teacher resources including:

Printable activities,



Interactive TimeLine – Although the timeline is interactive, the level of interactivity is quite basic which is appropriate for the younger target audience.

Activities – This site features two interactive games and a quiz. Thorkel and the trading voyage allows users to learn a little bit about Viking life through role play as Thorkel, during the game Thorkel  meets different people in his village, interacting with them, this gives the user a brief introduction to Viking village life. Dig it up on the other hand looks at how we find evidence of Viking life in today’s world through archaeology, Dr Amy Tan guides users on an archaeological dig to find Viking artefacts. The quiz asks users 3 questions to see if they are remembering what they have learnt from other parts of the site.

Video Content – The video content is quite short but very informative it provides visual and contextual reference for some of the information that the site is trying to deliver.

Overall Summary – This is a very good, well organised resource with varying content and levels of interactivity, It would be hard to find fault with this so instead I will just say Bravo well done BBC. *****


History for kids


Platform – Website

Visual style – Text based

Target Audience – Children

Features – Links to relevant books

Overall Summary – This site is awful it has a style that is inappropriate for its audience and is generally lacking in content.


History World


Platform – Website

Visual style – Text based

Target Audience – All ages

Features – Interactive Timeline – This is more like a date ordered search than an interactive timeline.

Quiz – This is a general quiz for the whole site, not relevant to the Vikings section.

Overall Summary – Historyworld’s aim is to make world history more easily accessible through interactive narratives and timelines. It is the brain child of university challenge’s former presenter Bamber Gascoigne, although the information provided is very good, it lacks interactivity, design flair and visual stimulation.

The Vikings


Platform – Website

Visual style – Text & image based

Target Audience – 7-8 year old children.

Features – Not a lot

Overall Summary – This site is trying to be child friendly but it is rather evident that whoever created it has no web design skills, it has poor imagery, the information is not organised very well and it does not display properly.

(There is also a link to a game that actually links to a swim wear shop.)

The Viking Museum


Platform – Website

Visual style – Text based

Target Audience – Not sure

Features – Time line & Links to books

Overall Summary – Lots of info but the site again is badly designed; too much text, bad typography and a lack of visuals.

I also looked at further Viking resources including:





None of these were particularly good in my opinion; the stand out resource seems to be the BBC’s primary history website. I am very surprised that I have been unable to find any mobile learning application on Viking history; this could be a possible void in the market for me to exploit.


As I mentioned at the end of my previous blog post technology is evolving at such a rate; with new platforms both mobile and fixed appearing and these platforms offering different challenges to educational content delivery.  Mobile learning or M-Learning is basically education delivered via a mobile device, such as a smart phone or mobile tablet.

Julie Brink Director of eLearning at viaLearning discusses Mobile learning in her article “M-Learning: The Future of Training Technology.”  Brink (2011) explains that there are three types of m-learning:

Formal which involves organised learning, where students are notified or contacted by technology such as SMS messaging, in order to establish confirmation of their understanding or involvement within the educational scenario.  E-learning courseware viewed via a mobile device is also considered to be m-learning.  Informal learning involves trying to engage students in interactions, encouraging two-way communication in order to establish user feedback.  Social media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs are considered as mediums of informal learning.  Last but not least is Self-directed Learning, this features the taking control of their own learning direction, students can choose their own content, references and courseware, this could involve media-based content such as podcasts or videos.

Brink draws attention to another advantage or possibility for m-learning:

“Another m-learning trend is location-based learning.  Location based learning is taking advantage of a learner’s physical location and her GPS enabled device to provide teaching “in the moment,” or on-demand. For example, a salesperson can receive valuable information on a city she’s never visited while entering the office building of a potential client” Brink (2011)

This is something that interest me as I have already worked upon both geolocation based information delivery and static location based delivery, see the projects below:

Look at me


Static Information kiosks have become common place in today’s world, kiosk designers must consider location, content and context when planning their designs, for example a kiosk in a room full of portraits at an art gallery may offer information that the user can then use when looking at the portraits within the room.  A mobile version of the same application used on a Smartphone could also be used in an art gallery where the information would be extremely useful or it could be used in a car park where it would not be quite as valuable, but by using geoloaction technology that information could be tailored specifically towards different art galleries in different towns or even countries.

Brink (2011)believes for m-learning to be effective, it should to be “short, accessible, and relevant.”  She says:

“Text should be short and concise.  This is not the place to expand on the theory of relativity.  Course length should not exceed five to 10 minutes, at most.  Think about it: Would you want to spend 30 minutes staring at your smart-phone, trying to learn, while crammed like a sardine on the subway during rush hour? “

M-Learning is a definite possibility for my project, it would provide me with some interesting options for both content and interactivity.

Brink, J. (2011) M-Learning: The Future of Training Technology T+D; Vol. 65, Issue 2, p27-29