AIB Design: Visual Research

Applying visual communication…inspired by Fenway High School, ” work hard, be yourself, do the right thing.”

September 30, 2009

Final Stages of Part 2 : What is graphic design-based qualitative research?








Students begin critique by placing their collections on display. They discovered today that there was a greater level of “looseness” exhibited in their choices, as more personally relative connections were developed. Professor Sansone assures the students that “visual communication is a language that takes some time to understand,” and that they would begin to learn even more how to appropriately connect to their work while speaking the language that is required to communicate to the public.

Their next assignment was to put together structured content that includes 5 common elements as well a mood board. The mood board is a tool that helps one to edit, and should represent each of the five elements. Professor Sansone urged them to get inside the things they liked about the five elements  and pull out the essence, it should essentially “tell the story” of green technology and should communicate clearly yet not be predictable(cliche’), it needs to work.

Fenway High School brochure cover

Fenway High School brochure cover

Studio Time

For today’s studio time the class went over to Fenway High School for a field visit to observe their educational space and get ideas. Two Fenway High School students took groups of AIB design students on a tour of the school where they were able to get a deeper perspective of what it’s like going to a pilot school in Boston Public Schools. Since Professor Kristina Sansone had done design initiatives with the school in the past, they were perfect candidates for the students to see how design can be impactful in the lives of young people.

In visiting Fenway High School we learned that it was not a typical public school, it was indeed a pilot school with a customized core curriculm built by the faculty versus the standard core curriculm seen in other Boston Public School models. The teaching technique at Fenway is inspired by the Ten Common Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools:

1.  Learning to use one’s mind well

2.  Less is more, depth over coverage

3.  Goals apply to all students

4. Personalization

5. Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach

6.  Demonstration of mastery

7.  A tone of decency and trust

8. Commitment to the entire school

9. Resources dedicated to teaching and learning

10.  Democracy and equity

Fenway High School resides in a building that’s shared with Boston Arts Academy, and unlike the Boston Arts Academy they’re no existing art programs or  gym in the school. It’s not that they don’t wish to have one, it’s that the entire school consists of a total of 300 students on one floor,therefore, there just isn’t enough space. The classes are structured in “houses” where teachers are able to know the students, and have them for about 3 years in a row. Another central component to the curriculm at Fenway are their implementation of Habits of Mind, to encourage the students to develop the habit of asking questions.These Habits of Mind were posted on the walls throughout the school:

Perspective.  Whose viewpoint are we hearing, seeing, reading? Are there other ways to interpret this information?

Evidence. How do we know this is true? What is the source and is it credible?

Connection.  Where have I seen this before? Is it related to other ideas or things I have studied?

Relevance.  Why does that matter ? Who cares about this idea ?

Supposition.  What if …? Are there alternatives ? Suppose that…..

Another key to the Habits of Mind, is that these principles were then applied  for each subject area, such as “Why did you say you love/hate math?” or “What can you do with a degree in math?” During the tour AIB design students were inspired by the dynamics of the school, where they recycle, or the fact that students are allowed to go off campus to eat, therefore the cafeteria is not often used. In the closing meeting they discussed the the elements they were compelled to consider after the tour. These are some of the words that they used to describe the experience:

Text expressing FHS

The AIB design students also had some comments about the physical appearance of the school, one student described the space as “dead” and another “like a jail cell” due to the lack of color  and white walls. Though the school did have a colorful mural on one of the hallways, they felt it lacked the visual stimulation in the educational experience. Professor Kristina Sansone informed them of the resentment that Fenway High School Students have expressed towards the Boston Arts Academy due to the aesthetic lens that they are allowed, being an art school. Another thing to consider were the cultural differences in students as  there is a large Hispanic population in Boston Public Schools. The major question arised amongst AIB students after this field visit, as they contemplated how to approach their project for the proposed Boston Green Academy, they questioned, “How does one make a design that would make students(middle and high school) interested in green technology?”


In observing today’s class, I was caught with an element of conviction in some of the students’ frustrations. As a student myself, I can completely empathize with the feelings that  many of the students have about not understanding the balance between the personal and the viewer in design. Yet, as an educator I also understand the value of investigating these problems, so that you can come up with constructive solutions.

There was a significant shift from frustration to inspiration after the students went to see Fenway High School. I think while initially they were unsure about how to connect their perspectives to the needs of high school students, it was obvious that by viewing FHS they were stimulated to think about their own secondary education and how this new program at Boston Green Academy would be similar or different. They were able to view the classrooms and get a feel for the vast opportunities to explore the aesthetics of the educational space.

I became excited for their progress as I knew this would be a great challenge that would bring interesting results. These were my main concerns or areas where the students should think deeper as they approach their projects:

1. Demographics of the Boston Design Academy: who and where are the students from and what is their history, as students but also as members of culture.

2. Green Technology education: finding out what level of education students at that age level receive about green technology. It could also be worth while to investigate how this information has impacted their lives[i.e Are there students(not just in Boston) how have made strides towards promoting green technology or green living, how was this motivated?].

3. Researching the Boston Green Academy core curriculm: Just as Fenway High School had core components that were important to their curriculm, it’s important that the curriculm for the Boston Design Academy be looked at to see what methods of learning or teaching techniques are most important. At Fenway High School it was rooted in the mindset of critical thinking, check out Fenway’s curriculm page for more details. I’ve also included a link to the Boston Public School’s Pilot School page.

4. Why are pilot schools created?: An interesting thing about the Fenway High School is the history of their founding vision provided on their website:

“Fenway was founded in 1983 as a separate academic program for 90 students who were disengaged from high school. Its first location was on the top floor of English High, a traditional district school in the Fenway neighborhood. The founding principle of the program was that all students can learnѕif they feel safe, are supported by close personal relationships with their teachers, and study relevant, in-depth curriculum that stays in tune with research on human learning and development. Fenway set out to provide a school environment where student needs were at the center of educational practice, and where new programs might be developed to better serve their intellectual and social growth.”

So, pilot schools are formed essentially to fulfill a need, to “serve as research and development sites for effective urban public schools.” I think this is important to consider, in determining the “needs” of the students of the Boston Design Academy. In do that it one can find an avenue through visual research and design to reach the students.

—Lauren Cross, Graduate Assistant