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Simon Downs

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Programme Director BA (Hons) Graphic Communication and Illustration

Director of TRACEY: Drawing and Visualisation Research Group

Simon Downs studied illustration (of a particularly traditional school). However the evolution of the computer aided design forced him to rethink this traditional practice. In response he became a digital illustrator, digital animator, interaction and multimedia designer and editorial designer. He worked in London as a freelance designer and design consultant, designing for the corporate, finance and publishing sectors.

In the year 2000 he became a University Lecturer, and joined Loughborough University as a lecturer and design researcher in 2003. Simon researches into the systems that form visual communication: technical and social, cultural and political. The network of interaction fascinates him and has led to work in cybernetics and emergence.

Simon has been an editor with the journal TRACEY since 2003, founded and became lead editor of the political visual culture journal, The Poster with Intellect Books in 2009, and authored The Graphic Communication Handbook in 2011 for Routledge . He writes on visual communication systems, including drawing and visualisation.

Simon won the Loughborough University Lecturer of the Year award in 2011, is a Director of the Drawing Research Network and is a trades union representative for the UCU union.

SAA802 Visual Methods in Practice

SAB424 Graphic Design for Society

SAB427 Applied Graphic Design

SAP101 Visual Thinking and Communication

Simon is a Director and co-editor of TRACEY; drawing and visualisation research, an open-access international drawing research journal that hosts and promotes research into contemporary drawing and visualisation. He co-authored TRACEY's first publication, Drawing Now: Beyond the Lines of Contemporary Art (I.B.Tauris).

Simon is founder and lead editor of The Poster (Bristol: Intellect) which examines the ways in which visual rhetorics are applied to form social and cultural ideas for political ends. He authored The Graphic Communication Handbook. He is an active director of the Drawing Research Networkand and has been instrumental in organising the DRN conference series, including Loughborough University in 2012 and Columbia University in 2013. He is a member of the Design Research Society.

Simon's current PhD supervisions include:

Violetta Dajanev: Social media as a tool for creative liberation

Penny Andrews: Photo elicitation as a tool for behaviour improvement

Joseph Graham: Drawing phenomenology

Simon's completed PhD supervisions include:

Dr. Salman al-Hajri: Tools for improving graphic design education (2013)

Featured Publications 

Culture / Feedback

This work forms part of an ongoing research program that has emerged from the tensions between the author's graphic design practice (pragmatic) and his theoretical practice (idealised) with the end aim being the formulation of contextual positions that support graphic design practice and education. In this the work has much in common with ongoing work within Industrial Design research, the distinctiveness arising from the demands imposed by the sector's workflows.

The paper describes a self-organising model for visual culture (based on the work of Latour and Luhmann) and makes proposals for the ways in which working designers might engage in co-design with the co-creators of significance in visual culture.

Luhmann introduces the notion of Systems Theory as a tool for understanding the social, and deals specifically with mass and arts media in his writing. Latour also deals with the undirected role of the actor in forming the social structure. Two sets of social theory that directly impinge on the formation of the semantic systems which graphic designers use.

The work was a full-paper presented at the  ICDHS – Osaka 2008 (International Conference of Design History and Design Studies).

The Truth

This research paper is a direct continuation from the research paper Culture / Feedback. Where that paper deals with the large scale proposal that visual culture is the direct result of the undirected daily activities of the co-creators of the visual culture, this paper proposes the need for epistemologies in graphic design to replace historiographic models of best practice.

The work is based on Alvin Goldman's social epistemology; his 'Weak' 'W-knowledge'; which act as guiding frameworks to daily decision making.

In common with the previous work it also contrasts the fluidity of systems models with the rigid positions imposed by historic and heuristic practice.

The paper looked at similar domain specific epistemologies (Karl Popper's 'Falsifiability') for guidance on the form of the rules set.

After considering the positions defined by Habermass and Dennett (that meaning must be created by the recipient of a communication before it can be interpreted by the author of a communication) the paper proposes that an epistemological starting point should be 'fitness for purpose', with purpose being defined on a case by case basis by the visual cultural stakeholders in any design.

The paper was presented as part of the design philosophy strand at the IASDR 2009 – Seoul (International Association of Societies of Design Research) conference.

The Graphic Communication Handbook

Although this book (commissioned by Routledge) was intended to be primarily educational the publishers were extremely supportive of the notion to explicitly connect research and theoretical material to allow the reader (both student and working professional) to see why practice might be 'good practice' and where the values of 'good' arise in the system.

As such the book was devised to be built around a core of industrially validated practice (e.g. drawing for ideation, or print design defined by production ecosystem), with this practice unpacked to show how these practice positions are evolved and defined through the agency of cultural, social and technical systems. In this aim the book connects with the author's ongoing research program.

The book allowed the author to work with practitioners (e.g  Ken Garland and Johnny Hardstaff), socialigists (Steven Seidman), theoreticians (Malcolm Barnard) and design researchers (Gui Bonsiepe, Van der Waarde). This mix of viewpoints forms a kind of action research with the terms of the debate being formed by stakeholders in the debate. The book includes a new essay, written for the book, by Ken Garland.

The book is available through both physical and electronic formats (Kindle edition)

Three Fields and a Common Practice:

Three views on drawing as a pedagogic tool in universities

The author has a research interest in applied drawing as a design tool (as one of the Directors of the Drawing Research Network, and an Editor of the journal TRACEY). In this paper the author and two colleagues (an illustrator and a textile designer) examine the role of drawing as a pedagogic tool in design education.

It is often implied, by graphicacy researchers, that there is a broad commonality in the nature of drawing for design. This commonality is challenged in the paper through a review of the ways in which three fields (all design disciplines, all external to industrial design) utilise drawing to aid knowledge acquisition, development and evaluation in design practice.

Through a contrast of pedagogic practice,and design drawing research by; Tversky, Goldschmidt, and Schenk, et al; the paper concludes that while there is a deep degree of taxinomic similarity the end applications of the design workflow introduce significant differences on the ground.

The paper is a contribution to the Drawing in the University Today conference 2013.