Kathleen Meaney

Kathleen Meaney

SEGD Global Design Awards

Wing It—The Winged Insect Exhibit
Wing It—The Winged Insect Exhibit

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SEGD C+P Journal KT Meaney
A Sense of Direction or a Direction of Sense?

Kathleen Meaney is a designer and educator whose writing has been published through the AIGA, Design Observer, Icograda and UnderConsideration. She began her career at Pentagram in New York, and since then, has been a dedicated professor at the School of Visual Arts, North Carolina State University, College of Design, and the University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning. Her course offerings have been cited in NASAD’s “The Future of Design and Design Education.” Find KT in HOW Books' Women of Design and Chronicle Books' Design School Wisdom.

Paper Summary:

How we self-locate, navigate and even remember events in space is a complex cognitive function not fully understood. What is presumed is that our internal models integrate information from different types of cells: place cells, head direction cells, border cells and the recently discovered, grid cells.

In 2014, scientists May-Britt and Edvard Moser were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discovery of these grid cells — research that represented a major breakthrough in science. Shouldn’t such a contribution in the field of science also be studied in the field of design, especially in courses related to space? Indeed.

This paper showcases work from an experiential graphic design (EGD) studio taught at the University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP). Collaborating with the non-profit Groundwork Cincinnati Mill Creek, students proposed sign systems along a major industrial river front — the Mill Creek — for its current and future trail system.

While the focus of the class was not scientific, neuroscience was introduced as a teaching strategy. It was a way to develop research questions that were both site-specific and brain-centered. It got students thinking in a new way.

Some inquiries included: How can sign systems enhance our mental models? Should they be made of sensory items? Should maps offer multiple representations of space (detail and distal views, hidden perspectives, predictive sequencing) to help develop internal models? And finally, should signs be eliminated altogether, forcing exploration?

Whether or not you have a strong sense of direction, you can see where design is heading: inside the mind. The brain is the new frontier. Our field is changing based on discoveries in spatial and visual perception. Given this, how can we introduce new scientific discoveries more effectively in the classroom?

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