Dissertation Tutorial

This morning I had an individual tutorial with Ashley in the heart space. In general, I currently feel very okay with my dissertation. I know what I need to do and I know how to do it now. The only real stress I have at this stage is that I know how heavily this one section is weighted, and I desperately want it to be brilliant so that I can have the grade I want overall. I am trying not to let this creep up in my mind yet though, as I realise I need to write it first!!! I am aiming to give Ashley quite a large chunk of writing to read on the formative deadline at the end of October, and so hopefully I will have even greater direction of what I can change and improve after that.

Writing an introduction and chapter headings in June, before finishing second year was definitely a great thing for Ashley to have asked us to do. It has given me so much clarity with my own ideas and has helped me to stay on topics throughout my research and writing. Having categories, though only a rough idea has allowed me to split research into groups of where they will be relevant to the overall dissertation. I am hoping this will help the overall narrative of the argument to flow better.

After my meeting I headed over to the library to see what other books I could find. I have taken out a few and so hopefully I can gather up some more strong quotes before I properly dive in to writing.


Dissertation: Feedback

Last week, I received my feedback for my dissertation research proposal. I got a 2:1, 63 marks, which I was really happy with considering whilst writing it, I was never 100% that what I was doing was right. From my feedback and from talking to Ashley, I can now see where my strengths and weaknesses lie. While I can write and argue in a sophisticated way, my ideas are a bit jumbled and it is clear when you read my proposal that I have not fully decided what I am looking into yet. My dissertation needs to have a purpose, otherwise it is a pointless study – but I have not yet totally found this.

The fundamental concept in all my potential ideas is the representation and treatment of women. However, this is an incredibly large subject matter and I need to look into that it is that I am looking at the representation of women in, and what my unique point of view is. As Ashley said, it can be a tiny question, a tiny differentiation on what has been done before, but for it to have purpose, I need to be exploring something I have no yet found anywhere else.

After a minor panic, and a helpful talk with Ashley, I feel in a much better position to move on. I need to:

  • Read dissertations to fully understand structure and what fills those 10,000 words
  • Do more reading of and around the topic
  • Try idea generation techniques
  • Get things down on paper, mind map, make lists, narrow down what it is I’m writing about

Dissertation Research Proposal: Reflection

Having turned in my dissertation research proposal last night, I can’t help feel both relieved and agitated. The whole process has been one which I have not embarked on before and has been a completely new experience to anything I have previously done –  both exciting and terrifying. Creating a piece of work of this size has not been too much of a problem for me – I studied English Literature and Spanish at A-level, meaning essays of great length are no stranger to me and I do really enjoy writing, unlike many creative people I know. What has terrified me about this project is the road ahead to completing it in full, and the weight of its worth towards my final grade. I have analysed books and plays before (in two languages!) but nothing has been as challenging as writing this dissertation research proposal. Centred on a topic completely chosen by myself, I have had doubts in my ability and lack of knowledge to, firstly, choose an appropriate topic and to then investigate and research this topic before delivering my findings in an academic and high quality way. This being my first dissertation proposal, the structure and way of writing was completely new to me – it was like learning a new skill altogether. For this reason, I feel part of my agitation post-submition lies my fear that I have written it ‘wrong’, missed the point or been too vague. The problem with asking your friends to read your work is they are (in the most part) 90% complimentary no matter what and 10% constructive criticism – very good for the confidence but no so good for bettering your essay for real. Below, I have split up this reflection into sections, evaluating how I found each element of the essay.

The Overview

I didn’t find it too difficult to talk about why I wanted to write about this topic. Obviously phrased more sophisticatedly, I wanted to write about this film because when I saw it I was obsessed. Following Cath Davies’ study group, I seemed to watch the film at just the right time and it amalgamated everything I had learnt in the study group sessions. I am also (obviously) incredibly interested in the feminist movement, past and present, and therefore interested in the treatment of women in the creative industry. I also strongly believe that as a graphic designer, I should use my platform to encourage good change in society, and so should other creatives. Abusing the platform we have can have an effect on society and the way in which potentially harmful opinions have the opportunity to progress and become socially acceptable.

I did start to feel that I was repeating my lit review in my overview. I was attempting to summarise the theories and concepts I was hoping to explore, but I felt it was becoming a shortened lit review.

The Literature Review


At the start of this year, I wouldn’t have even known what a literature review was, so on that point I have come a long way. To say I am still not a lit review expert would be a very fair point, and I know I still have lots to learn and more importantly, lots to read. I never felt short of things to say and include in my lit review, as I do feel I had done a good amount of reading in preparation, especially perhaps considering I could not make my mind up and came to a final topic decision so late in the term. I enjoyed the reading process and it helped open my mind to so many more theories and ideas than I had previously considered. Thankfully, there is a wealth of writing on my chosen topic and surrounding areas, and so there is still endless things to read and write about in the coming months. The structure of the lit review itself was challenging. I read examples of literature reviews provided by my dissertation tutor, in the graphic communication studio and on the internet in an attempt to tune into the  style of writing. When I came to write my own, I found it incredibly difficult to include no biased angle or influence, and to express no personal opinion at all. I know that I did not fully succeed in this, as my literature review is not 100% a collection of other people’s theories with non of my own views thrown in. When I came to attempt to edit this out, that seemed even harder. I was confused about how to review a persons work without agreeing or disagreeing with what it is they are saying, and how you could prove a piece of work was relevant without somehow touching on the topic you were investigating. I hope, anyway, that I manage to present the different theories I have discovered in a sophisticated manner, with NO spelling or grammatical issues (I read over that thing about 1,000,000 times!!!)

The Research Plan

I found the research plan particularly difficult, especially not using personal opinion or ‘I’. I think this section of the proposal is probably more vague than it should be however I did include everything I am hoping to explore and investigate. I think I still need to investigate topics widely in order to properly narrow down what it is I am exploring in-depth as there is a lot I am interested in. I have collected a list of books I would like to read from research and the bibliographies of things I have read.

The Bibliography

Bibliographies always terrify me. To say I have a phobia of referencing is definitely a dramatisation but somewhere close. Though I know the structure of Harvard referencing for a standard book, coming to actually assemble these references is nerve-wracking for me. This time around, I collected the (I PRAY) correct references for the bibliography and in-text citations whilst reading and before even beginning the proposal so that I would have them all when I came to write the bibliography and wouldn’t have to stress to find them, or, potentially cut out sources because I could not locate the reference. This definitely gave me one less thing to worry about, as I had a list of references which only grew as I read more and just had to double check all of my in-text citations had corresponding references in the bibliography upon finishing the lit review. In my literature review I referenced two youtube videos and one online article. These provided more stress, as I felt they were important to convey my research around the era ‘American Psycho’ was written, but I was not sure how to reference these sources. I looked online, used University resources, asked peers, and so I hope they have all been completed to the correct standard.

Overall, I enjoyed writing my dissertation research proposal, though I found it stressful at times. I was considerable less stressed once I decided on a topic and could jump in to it, and I have enjoyed reading around my chosen topic. I look forward to receiving feedback and improving my skills for further dissertation development to come.

Dissertation Breakdown: Part 1

My dissertation has been on my mind. I’m not excited about my topic as I feel I should be and I can’t help feeling that I am missing out on writing about something I would be more interested in writing about in place of something I feel is more sensible and appropriate. I feel really torn between topics that I ‘should’ write about and are perhaps more directly related to graphic design and more ‘intellectual’, and topics that I know I would enjoy writing about and could probably more easily write about because of my interest in them, though they are less directly relevant to my course. I think speaking to other people about their topics scared me about my own ideas and made me narrow my thinking to ‘graphic design topics’, when I loved my constellation study group last term and would probably enjoy writing about things taken from/related to theories from those lectures. I think I’m just having a bit of a fear of the commitment to a topic, because I want to enjoy it and equally I want to do really well.

All of the reading I have done to date will be relevant no matter what, as the different topics I am battling between overlap in places. I am interested in socially and politically driven graphic communication (massively!), however I basically want to gush about how amazing I think design for activism and tackling political issues is in my 10,000 word dissertation – far too broad and unfocussed for real life dissertations.

After a meeting with Ashley, and a late night break down over email, I feel much better about my dissertation and have decided to go with my original dissertation idea as a foundation to build on and develop. I will be looking at American Psycho – the film and book – and the representation and treatment of women within this, looking at magical realism, metaphor and social commentary. I think my diversion of looking at socially and politically driven graphic design grew from my adoration of the metaphoric nature of American Psycho and the way in which it approaches the unpleasantries of society to expose them in an over exaggerated manor, so to disgust the observer and hit them hard with the ugly nature of society. The way in which American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis and Mary Harron (in the book and the film) approach these topics is similar to the way in which designers approach important moral and political issues, exposing the shocking nature of reality in order to spark a change. Though I do not feel American Psycho was actively trying to spark a change in the world, it definitely highlighted certain elements of society, masculinity and consumerism that are now shocking to look back on.


I already feel much better about my dissertation. I know that, by choosing a topic I will enjoy, I can have no regrets. I was scared to get half way through and realise I had made a mistake, though I cannot regret not choosing another topic if I choose this topic, which I feel I can speak at length about, with a personal opinion and stand point.

Campaign Strategies

Before beginning the creation chapter of this project, it is important first to research and understand existing strategies used in a range of campaigns both within and outside of the category of my campaign. Cath Davies introduced us to techniques used by companies in order to generate a specific emotion within the audience. Particularly with social issues that question morality, campaigns often tug at the heart strings of its audience by using emotive imagery and text. This technique hopes to urge its audience to take the desired action by manipulating their emotions to feel a certain way. Other campaigns go for a factual approach, hoping the shocking reality of hard facts will be enough to motivate change in the audience. Some campaigns give an obvious narrative, whilst others are ambiguous in the story of those shown, leaving the imagination space to run wild with possibilities.

We looked an a number of examples on the topic of animal testing. Some used imagery of cute, healthy looking puppies with big sad eyes. Nothing about the image alone indicates anything about animal testing, but it is the text paired with it which adds the meaning. Contrasting campaigns take a different approach, using distressing and hard to look at images of animals in awful physical conditions inside the cosmetic labs where they are kept for testing on. This also provokes an emotive response from the audience but in a different way. The first kind of campaign lets the audience create their own narrative for what might happen to the animal in its decline through the rest of its life, wondering how much longer it will look like the healthy animal it does in the campaign. It also blurs the line of disassociation between the animals we keep as pets and the animals which are tested on in labs. The latter type of campaign exposes harsh realities to the audience in order to force a negative reaction and urge a movement of change in their actions. These are the kinds of images that will stay in the mind of the audience for the wrong reasons of the hideous treatment of the animals in the images, but the right reason of that it is a great piece of design and a successful campaign. However, it is these types of campaigns that are less distributable for their distressing nature and the age brackets that it therefore cannot be accessible by. The client therefore has a decision to make when outputting campaigns on these kinds of topics – do they want potentially a higher rate of effect on the audience but with inevitable controversy and uproar from certain members of the public, or do they want to play it more safe and PG but with less hard hitting effect? It would be unfair to say that only one type of campaign is effective (as I may have made it sound before, oops). Both emotive and informative campaigns have their advantages and disadvantages in relation to different target audiences and where they are going to be displayed and distributed.

We analysed antifur campaigns by a range of organisations, highlighting the techniques used and the reasons for them, judging their role in the effectiveness of the campaign over all. Most campaigns were emotive, playing on the emotions of the audience by displaying gory imagery or eluding to a disturbing narrative. I found one campaign particularly interesting. Though not (in my opinion) the most effective design, one image from peta using an photograph of Miss Universe lying naked in Autumnal leaves used an angle different to the rest. Whilst most campaigns draw attention to the awful treatment of animals in order to make real fur garments, this campaign commented on the people who buy the fur clothes, eluding to the idea that they have low self esteem and are not comfortable in their own bodies. The use of the nude model suggests being comfortable in your own skin, enough to not desire the skin of other animals. This cannibalistic, ‘Buffalo Bill’ type underlying theory, that human beings crave an animalistic physicality to unleash the cannibal animal within them is a thread used throughout other campaigns also. Another we looked at showed a model leaning against a tombstone, wearing a fur coat and shoes with gold leggings, covered in blood and holding a bloodied knife. The layout was synonymous with editorial advertisements, the tag line selling the coat as a product which will bring out the real you. This, teamed with the image of the model wearing the coat with blood around her mouth and hands eludes to a predatory animal nature, unleashed by wearing the coat. It suggests that by wearing the animal you allow yourself to become one. It is hard to tell whether the intention is for the audience to believe the model killed the animals herself, or a human, but it advertises the fur coat as something which grants non human abilities to humans, playing on the idea that we are animals for being so brutally unkind to our fellow beings on earth and also that if we would kill animals, why not each other?

We discussed how animal testing and hunting are considered ‘legal crimes’, things that campaigners believe should surely be illegal and are shocked and disgusted by the fact they are not, considering far less offensive crimes which are illegal. These legal crimes can be thought of as crimes against human nature or morality, being legal as far as the law of the land is concerned but desperately unethical and immoral. The idea of legal crimes span across a multitude of topics and themes, motivating many organisations to create campaigns to fight a cause that is widely believed to be wrong. From the exercise in Cath’s lecture it was clear to see that, though visually campaigns differ widely, the underlying techniques used are very similar and varyingly effective.

Constellation Formative Feedback

Having received feedback from Cath on my constellation formative essay, I now know what it is that I need to improve on going into my dissertation proposal. My feedback pointed out that I successfully presented “a coherent argument that is supported by evidence from specific examples”, showing my understanding of “the key concepts in relation to Harley Quinn.” I am always worried about my referencing and bibliography, though these were both fine and on track here. It is clear that I could have conducted more contextual research beyond the material provided in the study group in order to add more depth to ideas, and this is something I will definitely do in the future. A consistent point is the lack of in depth exploration of some of the ideas and theories included in the essay, that I could have delved much further into the key concepts in order to expose further meaning. Cath reminded us all to always support comments with academic sources in order to avoid making general sweeping statements, summarise findings about visual and material culture and to consider what the implications of these findings are on my own practice. I received a low 2:1 equivalent for this essay, though I hope to achieve much higher in both my dissertation proposal and dissertation. Being consistently average is frustrating, and I will do everything I can and work hard to succeed in this essential element of my final degree mark.

Beginning my dissertation journey, I am already reading everything I can and making endless notes. I am desperately searching for my angle, waiting for the epiphany to hit me, though I’m sure it will end up being far less angelic when I drag the idea from the depths of my brain. I’ll get there. Time is ticking and the proposal deadline is just 55 days away with 4000 words to write. Writing this from a train, I hope that by the time I am able to upload it, I will know exactly what I want to write about any what my angle will be. Help.

UPDATE: I have read more and thought long and hard about my dissertation topic, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of each potential topic. All of my potential topics have something in common – they are all looking at the role or representation of women in some way. I have decided to look at the history of women’s rights campaigns and protesting through the past 50 years and how it may change in the future. I will also attempt to assess the influence of graphic communication design on the women’s rights movement and the changes to the lives of women since the 1960s.

Dissertation Ideas

Over the Christmas holiday, I have been thinking in depth about potential ideas for my dissertation. The topic of dissertation is an incredibly scary one to me, as the choice of what to write about is critical to succeeding in this element of my degree. 10,000 words is a daunting amount to write about one topic and for such a long amount of time, and so I know it is important that the topic is something I really want to write about. I had a number of initial ideas and began exploring them all in depth.

How has advertising played an important role in the success of Jaguar Land Rover?

My first significant introduction to graphic design was when visiting the design centre at JLR during a weeks work experience in year 10. I was working in electronics and loved it, but on a tour of the design centre I knew for the first time I needed to work in a design studio. The open space full of creative people and energy, music, colour, ideas – it was when I knew what I wanted to do. I spoke to some designers creating advertisements for the new land rover and this has always been something I have come back to as a potential job. Many of the men on my dad’s side of the family worked for Jaguar Land Rover, and their admiration and loyalty to the brand has meant it has always been a part of my life. My dad manages the paint shop at Special Vehicle Operations, a job that he loves and I think I would too. For all of these reasons, experience in the company would be a strong possibility and is also a topic that interests me, and relates directly to graphic communication and its impact on the success of a company.

Colour Theory

I am interested in learning more about colour theory and exploring a number of things. Through Cath Davies’ constellation study group, we briefly explored the way that colours are attributed to particular genders, and not others, and the way that people are convinced colours affect the sexuality or personality of a child. We discussed how we are conditioned to believe different colours have different meanings and say different things about us if we are associated with them, for example, men wearing pink or young girls wearing blue. In a recent lecture in preparation for Morocco Field 5, we looked at a study in which men and women were shown the same set of colours and asked to name them. The study showed that women have a far wider range of colour names than men, and also that men were more inclined to use alternative words to ‘pink’, e.g salmon. Other ideas include the way in which colour in teaching can positively affect a child’s learning capabilities, comparing different colour theories, the psychology of colour and the use of colour in packaging design.

The Joker and Harley Quinn

For my formative essay I analysed an image of the most recent portrayal of Harley Quinn, a super villain from the DC universe. For a dissertation idea, I would go much further in depth to explore the appearance and actions of Harley Quinn and the Joker, and the abusive relationship they share. I would look further into Creed and Freud amongst others so explore theories of castration fear, phallic women, female/male monster, oedipal complex, phallic panic, objectification, sexualisation, dehumanisation and infantilisation. I could also look at how the portrayal of these characters has changed and developed over time and across platforms, comparing them as a male and a female character.

David Bowie, Glamour and Masculinity

David Bowie has always been an important part in the music of my family, as many others, and I have grown up listening to him with my dad. He is a character which no one could define because of his ever changing personality. It was clear from David Bowie’s life and career that society likes to place people into a box so that they can be categorised, but this could not be done with Bowie. He needed a box all of his own. As explored in Goddesses and Monsters, there are theories of what both glamour and a monster should be, though Bowie somehow fits in to both almost perfectly. Peoples ideas and perceptions of his always intrigued me, one woman on a talk show saying “I get the feeling he’s into black magic.” and a student from the University of Pennsylvania deciding “the male-female spectrum does not have the definitive capacity to categorise Bowie effectively.” I believe this to be completely true, but it was something that society could not except. The liminality of David Bowie as a performer is something I would be interested to explore, alongside themes of sexuality, masculinity and femininity.

American Psycho

I recently watched American Psycho and I am absolutely obsessed. It encapsulates completely everything discussed in Cath’s study group, from glamour to monsters to consumerism and materialism to violence and brutality to feminism to misogyny and much more. I would love to talk about American Psycho and everything it involves, comparing the book and the film.

I will continue to come up with ideas for my dissertation and, after speaking with Cath Davies and my dissertation tutor, will hopefully have a proper idea and question to explore.