Creative Arts

Staff

Dr Joanna Boehnert

Photo of Dr Joanna  Boehnert

Lecturer in Design and the Creative Industries

 

I completed an AHRC-funded PhD in Design at the University of Brighton in 2012. I gained an MA from the University of Arts London and a BA Honours with distinction at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

I founded EcoLabs in London in 2006 as a design research studio engaged with the visual communication of complex environmental problems. Three years later, my PhD research proposal describing why the design industry needed ecologically literate design theory was awarded AHRC funding. I completed a doctorate titled The Visual Communication of Ecological Literacy: Designing, Learning and Emergent Ecological Perception under the supervision of Professor of Sustainable Design Jonathan Chapman and Professor of Media Studies Julie Doyle.

Post-PhD, I conducted a practice-based research project called ‘Mapping Climate Communication’ during a CIRES Visiting Fellowship at Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (CSTPR) in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder. Next, I wrote my book Design, Ecology, Politics: Toward the Ecocene while working as a Research Fellow at the Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media (CREAM) at the University of Westminster. Immediately before joining Loughborough University, I led a research project on the visual communication of complexity at the Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus (CECAN) at the University of Surrey.

As an environmental communication designer, I have worked in a variety of spaces in academia, the creative industries, publishing, and non-profit and activist organisations. I co-founded Transition Town Brixton (2007) and Occupy Design UK (2011) and have worked with many groups on issues of environmental and social justice. You can follow my latest activities on my academic Twitter account @ecocene and my personal blog.

  • SAB803 - Content and Context: Society, Culture and Economy
  • SAC807 - Synergising Directions in Graphic Communication and Illustration Practice
  • SAC806 - Destinations in Graphic Communication and Illustration Practice
  • SAP105 - Design and Research

I am committed to advancing critical and ecologically engaged design. My research sits at the intersection of design, environmental studies and politics. It draws on cross-disciplinary debates from ecological, feminist and decolonial theory to inform an expanded design practice. I publish on a range of issues including: political and social theory and design; ecological theory, sustainability and design; data visualisation and critical communication design theory; transition design, and more. My work is currently predominantly focused on the following two themes:

1)      The Politics of Design Transitions

My first book, Design, Ecology, Politics: Toward the Ecocene, describes the need for  ecologically and critically engaged design for sustainable transitions. By theorising design, ecological and socio-political theory concurrently, I describe how social relations are constructed, reproduced and obfuscated by design in ways which often cause environmental and social harms. The transformative potential of design is dependent on deep-reaching analysis of the problems design attempts to address. This book brings intersectional feminist analysis and environmental justice into design theory. It takes an expansive approach to design with socially responsive design strategies on a scale that can meet the global and local challenges of the Anthropocene. My formulation of the concept of the Ecocene links issues of social justice to environmental problems while also describing design (and other generative disciplines) as essential players in cultural, social, political and technological shifts to sustainable and socially just futures. The focus of this book is communication design but much of the theory is relevant to other design disciplines. My upcoming work in this area responds to obstacles designers face in addressing issues of sustainability by focusing attention on the structural and social forces that determine which design problems are addressed and which methods are used to address these problems. I will use systems oriented design approaches to map the political economy of design as a basis for identifying points of intervention to support design transitions to sustainable futures.    

2)      The Visual Communication of Complexity

This work examines how images facilitate communication, learning and collaboration on social, environmental and economic issues that are characterised as complex systems. I have developed two complementary directions with this research: one critical and one generative. With a focus on the politics of visualisation practices, I am contributing to a critical theory of communication design to support more effective, ethical and justice-oriented design. For example, this research critically challenges reductive methods in data visualisation and supports more nuanced, situated and reflexive approaches that acknowledge the political dimension on issues of controversy. The generative and largely practice-based work develops knowledge visualisation and systems oriented design as strategies that respond to some of the problems identified with the critical work described above. Data becomes more useful, meaningful and less likely to work in obscuring ways when it is put in context. This approach to visualisation supports relational ways of knowing (as a basis for ecological learning and sustainability transitions).

I am keen to work with people interested in expansive approaches to design research. I aim to support interdisciplinary design research working between the schools, departments and institutes at Loughborough University. Please feel free to contact me with postgraduate research ideas and proposals