Visual Identities – Dimensions of Visual Expression Between Personal, Cultural and Collective Identity 

Terms around the visual and its identities are most notably associated with the commercial side of the discipline, particularly brandings and corporate identities. Due to their mostly practical teaching approach, even design schools seem to accept this primarily commercial interpretation as given. In parallel to this apparent commercialization, historical attempts to link design effectively to cultural, social or political dimensions seem in most instances forgotten. Movements influential in design theory, which were committed to such an expansion of the concept and understanding of design, seem disregarded or peripheral in their contemporary relevance.

Yet, theoretical as well as practical examples following a multidisciplinary approach prove that contemporary design has more to offer than just to support commercial goals: Through a postmodern understanding, which recognizes design as a collaborative practice rather than a singular discipline, epistemic achievements concerning gender research and knowledge as well as cultural and social theory could be established.

Though design apparently can be a collaborative part of such research, it is interesting to note that until today, such results have been mostly achieved by sociological research. Although questions of design are at stake here, the apparent attempt to explore these phenomena from a design perspective has so far failed to materialize.

With my doctoral project, I’d like to take the next step forward. I do not want to regard design as solely relevant when being part of a collaborative practice. By regarding design as an own culture of knowledge, I want to research by design. It is without a doubt that exploring the objective through the perspective of design does not only offer the chance to generate new, fundamental insights about the object itself but will also lead to an expanded understanding of the potential of the scientific methodology design offers.

Taking this approach, my research is intended to examine questions of identity, specifically the part of cultural identity that is shaped and dominated by the visual.

The potential areas of research to be applied here are due to their phenomenological character manifold and can range from the visual expression of the subject to socially constructed images of identity. What all these areas have in common, however, is that they are characterized by performativity between subjects, collectives and even objects. Thus, it will be especially interesting to take a closer look at these areas of performativity and observe the manifold dimensions of the visual expression between personal, cultural and collective identity, unfolding here.

Jan Gensch is an independent designer and researcher from Berlin.
His research focuses on the intersection of design and cultural theory. By following an ethnographic approach, he examines those parts of cultural identity, which are shaped and dominated by the visual. He doesn’t limit his studies to either personal, cultural or collective phenomena of visual identities, but is rather interested in the performative intersection and therefor reciprocal influence of that complex structure as a whole.
When it comes to his freelance work, he likes to look at Design not solely as a powerful tool to create visually appealing results. In his point of view, design has the power to successfully address and connect even commercial brands with real community needs, and through his commercial body of work, his goal is to address these needs to create visual outcomes that are both culturally relevant and sustainable.