Creative practice as research: an undergraduate practice-led project in Communication Design in New Zealand


  • Marcos Mortensen Steagall Auckland University of Technology
  • Fiona Grieve Auckland University of Technology



Communication Design in New Zealand, Design Research, Design Education, Graphic Design, Practice-led research


In the past three decades, designers have adopted an innovative position as practitioner- researchers in universities by conducting academic research through their creative practice. Many scholars have acknowledged and discussed the will to communicate through creative means. Such endeavours have always been part of the learning and teaching in Graphic Design but how practice-led research sits within university institutions at the undergraduate level requires further investigation. This article offers insights into five design practitioners developing research projects led by the practice, of academics at Auckland University of Technology, in Auckland, New Zealand. These undergraduate candidates are undertaking research by creative practice in the broad field of Visual Communication Design. These new practitioners/researchers to the academic space feel profound and unsettled tensions, for whom traditional research approaches seem too ordered to capture the dynamism of the inquiry process, which lies at the heart of their creative practice. They seek an approach that can offer high levels of interdisciplinarity and focus on skill and competence to produce insights into a socio-material iterative design process. The article presents, with a commentary on practice, five projects operating in the context of complex problems young designers face and their understanding of the design work as it relates to practice and research. The article contributes to advancing a shift in higher design education towards creative practice as an approach to research, promoting the social and the cultural rather than design that is industrially driven. While working within this scope, it is envisaged that some arguments and inferences will have applicability beyond the Aotearoa and for other creative practices, practitioners and researchers.


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Author Biographies

Marcos Mortensen Steagall, Auckland University of Technology

Marcos Mortensen Steagall is an Associate Professor in the Communication Design department at the Auckland University of Technology - AUT since 2016. He is the Communication Design Postgraduate Strand Leader and Programme Leader for Communication Design and Interaction Design for Year 3. He holds a Master's (2000) and PhD (2006) in Communication & Semiotics acquired from The Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and a PhD in Art & Design from Auckland University of Technology in 2019.

Fiona Grieve, Auckland University of Technology

Fiona Grieve is Threaded's creative director and editor, and Head of the Department of Communication Design at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in New Zealand. She is an Academic Leader and Creative Director with 20+ years in educational management, research, and design consultancy.


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How to Cite

Mortensen Steagall, M., & Grieve, F. (2023). Creative practice as research: an undergraduate practice-led project in Communication Design in New Zealand. DAT Journal, 8(1), 5–41.