Changing the Old and Designing the New - Contradictions in Visual Communication Design

Ulla Björklund

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


    This study looks at visual communication design processes as part of larger change efforts and uses activity theory (Engeström 1987) for locating change and depicting the context of the design process. In order to solve complex design problems we need to draw from different knowledge areas and ensure co-operation between different actors (Seitamaa-Hakkarainen et al. 2017). This research seeks to understand what kind of historical contradictions are present in the work of visual communication designers. This question anchors deeper study into the contradictions behind the dilemmatic visual update of The Magazine and the visual communication design of Demos Helsinki. These two ethnographic case studies provide data from interviews and observations (field notes, audio recordings, photographs, and video recordings). Change is located in the design processes by analyzing dialectical contradictions in activity (Engeström & Sannino 2011). The larger change process is depicted by using the expansive learning cycle (Engeström 2010). The Media Concept (Töyry & Helle 2009) is an additional tool used to create the context of the design process. Analysis of the design work is supported by historical types of work (Victor and Boynton 1998). The historical types of work provide a method for considering the history of visual communication design and categories for describing their manifestation. The results of this study bring to light a historical contradiction in visual communication design – how can craft skills be successfully combined with collaborative processes and concept development? The presence of craft-type of work, where unique products, informal networks, and an individual way of working is common, is strongly present in both case studies. Not only in the way that the designer works but also in the surrounding context. Meanwhile, collaborative processes and teamwork are also at the forefront, fostering process enhancement and mass customization. There is no single design process that is applicable to the variety of design needs. Increased understanding of and appreciation for the variety of ways that designers contribute to the success of change efforts would ensure better overall alignment between the various types of projects and designers. Those leading change efforts would benefit from information on the potential value that different types of visualizations bring to the various stages in the design process. This signals the need for new tools for the visualization of concepts in development. This work contributes to the body of knowledge on visual communication design by presenting the idea that visual communication design can successfully contribute to larger change efforts provided that there is shared ownership of the outcome and an inclusive approach to the activity in terms of the selection of tools, rules, community, and the division of labor.
    Translated title of the contributionVanha muuttuu ja uutta suunnitellaan. Ristiriidat visuaalisen muotoilun suunnittelussa.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor's degree
    Awarding Institution
    • Aalto University
    • Leinonen, Teemu, Supervising Professor
    • Seitamaa-Hakkarainen, Pirita, Thesis Advisor, External person
    • Töyry, Maija, Thesis Advisor
    Award date19 Nov 2021
    Place of PublicationEspoo
    Print ISBNs978-952-64-0585-8
    Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-0586-5
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2021
    MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


    • visual communication design
    • graphic design
    • design process
    • contradictions
    • activity theory
    • change


    Dive into the research topics of 'Changing the Old and Designing the New - Contradictions in Visual Communication Design'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this