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  • 2020sunphd

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Teaching-learning interactions in the design tutorial through the perspectives of semiotics and symbolic interactionism: A case study in advertising and communication design

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Nim Yan Sun
Publication date2020
Number of pages305
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The design tutorial is an essential and labour-intensive pedagogy in projectbased design education, yet underexplored and often subsumed under design crits. Pertinent studies, building on Schön’s theory of educating reflective
practitioners, revealed limited understandings on recurring themes like
dialogicality, ambiguity and visuality in design practices. They missed the core
meaning-making nature of design thinking—to develop a design is to develop
and grapple with meanings.

This thesis aims to address these gaps through a novel theoretical framework
bridging Peircean semiotics and symbolic interactionism. This qualitative
case study of design tutorials at a higher education institution explored
tutorial interactions in advertising and communication design programmes to
understand the complexity of persuasive-sign construction. Six types of data,
including tutorial recordings, interviews and visual metaphors, were analysed
for characterising teaching-learning interactions and comparing perceptions of
tutors’ and students’ tutorial experiences.

Design thinking is reconceptionised as a dialogue with signs from different
perspectives and modalities. Tutorial interaction is design co-thinking beyond
merely verbal exchange. Sign construction is fuelled by sign interpretation.
Design ideas are negotiated through the interplay of sign-student, tutor-student
and sign-tutor/designer interactions, all being teaching-learning interactions.
Tutors mediate between signs and students, exercising sign-tutor/designer
interaction to enliven and sustain sign-student interaction.

Design co-thinking for persuasive-sign construction, mediated by multimodal
signs, is characterised as audience-centric, experience-connected and clichéaware, thus relational, intertextual and integrative, in line with the basic tenetsof edusemiotics. Critical abilities entail taking others’ perspectives, referencing daily experiences and integrating the practical and imaginative sides of design thinking.

Iconicity in design co-thinking bridges identity transformation from learners
to designers. As a theoretical contribution, symbolic interactionism was
expanded to reflect the complementary nature of verbal and non-verbal signs
in communication and knowledge construction.

Recommendations are provided for enhancing learning in design education
and fostering imaginative thinking in non-design disciplines in higher education.