Dissertation Research Proposal – Process & Development

Process and Development

My process for this project has been a simple one. I am enthusiastic and interested in the topics I have brought up in my dissertation research proposal, I can’t be considered to have much expertise in any of the relevant topics, I am simply a curious lay person. What I was immediately drawn to doing was drawing from my own knowledge gained through reading articles from publications such as the New Scientist and National Geographic magazines for which my brother has subscriptions. I simply borrow them and skim the articles I find most intriguing.

It is in the nature of these topics that they should hold a human-interest element. After all, they are entirely intertwined with the human experience. Why wouldn’t we want to know more about ourselves? The entirety of scientific endeavour is centred on the motivation to come to understand more about ourselves and our place in the Universe. Now, for this research proposal I stand, almost entirely on the shoulders of scientific visionaries who first determined the nature of aspect of human perception and understanding. What I aim for is simply a glimpse into the world in which they work.

Rather than bury myself in academic literature in order to find a worthy topic of study to focus on. I have begun my search by drawing from incomplete knowledge and factoids collected over the years that have stuck with me due to their fascinating nature. Pop science, as it is called, has allowed me to get my foot in the door with many of these topics. This, then, is my basis for study. The things I have gleamed from shows such as QI, that is where I first came to know about the Rorschach ink blot test for example.

What I found most effective in developing my essay, was to search literature, be that academic articles, books or web pages, that featured they key words I knew of but did not have the full grasp of. I then took it upon myself to delve deeply into these areas of thought and learn from previous works and derive from them a basis for my dissertation research proposal.

This was my rationale for studying Pareidolia in my original essay. The phenomenon is but one of many, but it is so tangible to any person, regardless of their education in the relevant field. If a person was to pause and look around, they are likely to see that at least one object in their field of view, could, no matter how abstract the form, find a pattern within it that could be construed as a face. Not only this, but it is likely that they could describe the expression of the face, it could look haggard and old or friendly and open. These side effects of our evolution are fascinating to me as they show how much of our day to day lives are ruled by unconscious decision making.

This essay, of course, is simply a signal of intention and to some extent a scaffolding which provides the skeleton of my dissertation, so alterations may occur by the time it reaches its final incarnation. It does not define my future work, it simply informs the direction of my inquiry.

Although I have not specifically addressed and researched thoroughly the ideas of the unconscious mind. I would like to delve deeper into the idea that our minds are changed before we even realise it. There are numerous scientific theories and experiments that suggest that we are not in control of our own actions. That, in fact, our minds are made up before we consciously make a decision. Although we do not realise it, the cards are already dealt. To understand further, the way in which our minds work, and this phenomenon operates would be fascinating to me.

I have to admit, the reason I chose this topic, was less to do with its value to my practice, originally, but more of a fascinating topic to me personally. I find it very difficult to write extensively on a topic that does not hold my attention. Happily, however, the topic of human perception and psychology is incredibly broad and its value and relation to the day to day world and more specifically, graphic communication, is very clear.

I doubt there are many people who, when shown a phenomenon such as the Rorschach ink blot test or the various incarnations of the grid illusion, would not recognise them, as they have permeated popular culture quite significantly, or at the very least, to see and comprehend the illusion or the furtherance of perception that they cause in them. That is their value to me as subjects of study and as references supporting my ideas. They are not complex at their core. The explanations as to why they cause us to see what is not necessarily there, or more fully explainable as, why they alter our perception, is more complex. But I aim to draw people into the study of these phenomena slowly, without bombarding them with jargon and overly complex ideas.

One issue I have found while researching this board subject, have been to find scholarly, peer reviewed articles that appear in reputable journals. That is not say that they are not there to find. But often they are so focused and in-depth and shed light on only a very specific set of ideas, that they are little use to me in writing this essay. They are also often so specialised and complex in their proposals, that I almost feel that I cannot justify using them as I do not have a firm grasp on the ideas proposed.

Development of my dissertation research proposal has been hugely informative to me, I have come to learn much and I hope that this accumulated knowledge will serve me well in writing my dissertation.




Nudge Theory

Wikipedia/Nudge Theory 

Nudge is a concept in behavioural science, political theory and economics which proposes positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions as ways to influence the behavior and decision making of groups or individuals. Nudging contrasts with other ways to achieve compliance, such as education, legislation or enforcement. The concept has influenced British and American politicians. Several nudge units exist around the world at the federal level (UK, Germany, Japan and others) as well as at the international level (OECD, World Bank, UN).

Nudges are small changes in environment that are easy and inexpensive to implement. Several different techniques exist for nudging, including defaults, social proof heuristics, and increasing the salience of the desired option.

A default option is the option an individual automatically receives if he or she does nothing. People are more likely to choose a particular option if it is the default option.For example, Pichert & Katsikopoulos found that a greater number of consumers chose the renewable energy option for electricity when it was offered as the default option.

A social proof heuristic refers to the tendency for individuals to look at the behaviour of other people to help guide their own behaviour. Studies have found some success in using social proof heuristics to nudge individuals to make healthier food choices.

When an individual’s attention is drawn towards a particular option, that option will become more salient to the individual, and he or she will be more likely to choose to that option. As an example, in snack shops at train stations in the Netherlands, consumers purchased more fruit and healthy snack options when they were relocated next to the cash register.


US Imprints 

Aim for the Fly

The urinal fly nudge is a well known mind hack that originated at the Amsterdam airport, but can now be seen in urinals all over the globe. By having images of flies etched near the drains of the bathroom urinals, spillage on the bathroom floor was reduced by 80%

A picture of a urinal fly

Dollar a Day

he Dollar a day program is an ambitious program established in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1990, with other cities experimenting with the program since. The program aims to decrease the rate of teenage births by focusing on decreasing the rate of further pregnancies in teenage mothers.

Because the payment is recurring, it serves as constant encouragement for young mothers to take necessary steps to avoid another pregnancy, while also posing the potential to decrease taxpayer spending (the state spent $392 million on teen childbirths in 2008). The state’s peak birth rate in teens is down 55% from what its high in 1991, and part of that is significant decrease can be credited to a program based off of nudging behaviour.

Opt Out Organ Donation 

Wales has recently joined a list of countries which now require citizens to opt out of becoming an organ donor. This small change has led to huge increases in the availability to organs for those who require transplants. The scheme is simple and ingenious as it places only a small demand on those who wish to stay off the organ donor registry, they simply indicate their wish to be removed from the list. But the greatest loss for those who need new organs has always been those who may well be happy to give their organs but have never bothered to opt in. That step has now been removed and countries that have instituted this new system have reported far higher availability of donor organs.

Croatia’s Musical Stairs 

I was made aware of this invention by my lecturers who used it as an example of behaviour change by nudging. The idea is very simple, there is a new incentive to take the stairs (the healthy option) over the escalator (the sedentary option)  and thus, the use of the stairs as a percentage of pedestrian traffic, increases dramatically.

My Thoughts 

These nudges represent a core concept I was to take full advantage of in my project. I’ve learned first hand how unlikely a person is to make a long term lifestyle change if the disruption to them is more than absolutely minimal. I’ve had friends ask for gym training and decide to go four times a week before giving it up in a fortnight because it’s too hard and disruptive to their day to day life. It only remains for me to find a way of implementing this directly into my campaign with my own examples of Nudge Theory.

Web Design

In the end I decided that I wanted to make an interactive website to project my visual work in one clean, easily navigated source. I had originally intended to build a website from scratch before finding out it would be beyond me to do so in the timeframe allowed.

From that point I had decided on an animation. However by happy accident I found that my earlier research on visual storytelling:

online https://www.dtelepathy.com/blog/inspiration/30-compelling-examples-of-visual-storytelling-on-the-web

I decided to investigate website template products. I found that websites like SquareSpace and Wix could facilitate most of the effects I wanted without the need for coding. I was infatuated with the concept of parallax scrolling and other visual effects. These were available to me.

I wanted a double layered site. The front portion would be the meat of the site, the information, the graphics and written work. The background would consist of relevant images that would help guide the narrative. I also wanted the website to be entirely simple to use. Allowing a viewer to simply scroll down to access all of the information in a clean package.

Here is the result: https://davidrothwell96.wixsite.com/mananddog

I have to mention, the editor fought me every step of the way, with elements moving and disappearing when I switched between devices and screen ratios. I had originally intended for the third animation (the 10 countries with the highest dog population) to include buttons in the shape of the countries concerned that would display further information when the cursor was passed over them. I did this only to come back to it, the day of the project and find that they had all been removed without explanation.

My Thoughts

This was a very exciting and challenging brief to complete. I honestly wish we could be set a task and then reset the same task again immediately after so that all the bugs and mistakes we made the first time could be eliminated and we could produce new work of much higher quality.

How to visualise my ideas

Visualising my information was one of the key points in my process. I needed something simplistic that would convey the message in a powerful way. I looked at numerous examples of modern illustrated infographics and found hem to have a very similar theme. There was a lot of colour and vibrancy.

While many of these pieces were actually very appealing. I didn’t want to make something that simply copied their work. So I looked at the idea of using silhouettes.

One further reason for doing this was that I originally intended on making an animated piece.

Charles Burns


Charles Burns makes beautiful cutouts of people he meets with nothing more than paper and scissors. He calls himself the roving artist because he wanders around and creates his pieces in minutes wherever he finds himself.

I love the way he captures such a lot of a subjects personality with nothing more than a blank piece of paper. It is a testament to creative minimalism and harnesses the human phenomenon of pareidolia (our instinctive recognition of human forms) to be effective.

I wanted to create this effect with my work. As I had been focusing heavily on evolution. My obvious first choice was the The March of Progress, properly called The Road to Homo Sapiens. This must be the most famous representation of evolution currently.


The illustration was commissioned by Time-Life Books for the Early Man volume (1965) of the popular Life Nature Library. It prominently features the sequence of figures, drawn by natural history painter and muralist Rudolph Zallinger (1919–1995).

From all of my research. One thing I have found lacking in this illustration, is the influence of dogs. The evidence does suggest that without our interactions and subsequent coevolution with dogs, we would not be the force we are today.

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 12.56.00

Here was my alternative. A simplified rendition of the original March of Progress with the role of dogs properly represented. Ad accurately as I could, based on the current knowledge of domestication of dogs, I have places a wolf like silhouette to show the transitional phase. And a Golden Retriever acting a docile pet to represent our current relationship with dogs.

Dogs and People – Research

Evoluionary Origins of Domestic Dogs

“Remove domestication from the human species, and there’s probably a couple of million of us on the planet, max. Instead, what do we have? Seven billion people, climate change, travel, innovation and everything. Domestication has influenced the entire earth. And dogs were the first. We’re not dissimilar to any other wild primate. We’re manipulating our environments, but not on a scale bigger than, say, a herd of African elephants. And then, we go into partnership with this group of wolves. They altered our relationship with the natural world.” – Archaeologist and geneticist Greger Larson

  • The origin of canine domestication is not well known. Various claims suggest it first happened in numerous areas of the world and that it began anywhere between in the past 30,000 years.
  • The archaeological record shows the first undisputed dog remains buried beside humans 14,700 years ago, with disputed remains occurring 36,000 years ago.
  • Dogs appear to have been domesticated independently in various areas of the world and have then interbred with one another and wolves and this means their genetic lineage is a bit of a mish-mash.
  • The closest living relative of the dog is the extant grey wolf and there is no evidence of any other canine contributing to its genetic lineage.


  • 33,000-year-old fossil suggests dogs arose in multiple places, study says.
  • Dogs—the oldest domesticated animals—are common in the fossil record up to 14,000 years ago. But specimens from before about 26,500 years ago are very rare. This is likely due to the onset of the last glacial maximum, when the ice sheets are at their farthest extent during an ice age.


  • The United States is home to an estimated 70 to 80 million pet dogs, making up 37 to 47 percent of all American households.
  • Canis familiaris, the domestic dog, was the first species to be domesticated by humans from Eurasian gray wolves at least 15,000 years ago. What is largely unknown, however, is where. (Conflicting information on origins)


  • Researchers from the University of Chicago and several international institutions found that several groups of genes in humans and dogs—including those related to diet and digestion, neurological processes, and disease—have been evolving in parallel for thousands of years.
  • The dog was the first domesticated species and appeared more than 15,000 years before present (YBP). The dog was established across Eurasia before the end of the Late Pleistocene era, well before cultivation and the domestication of other animals around 10,000 YBP, indicating that dogs were domesticated by hunter-gatherers and not early agriculturalists. Studies support two population bottlenecks had occurred to the dog lineage, one due to the initial domestication and one due to the formation of dog breeds.


  • Europe has the oldest uncontested Palaeolithic remains and having been the centre of modern dog breed creation.
  • Most modern breeds share predominantly European ancestry.
  • The fact that dog and human populations rose together is evidence that their success is intrinsically linked.


Further Complicating Matters

As I have already outlined in my blog, I have decided to combine a website and animation as a means of showing my info graphic designs. What I have now come to the realisation of, is that I would like to add another element to this. It is perfectly easy to have, in my online maps, hyperlinks which would then show further information. My idea is to create a series of maps detailing various worldwide statistics as well as highlighting the locations and dates of certain important instances.

These would include:

  • First archaeological evidence of domesticated dogs
  • Locations of important dogs (largest, smallest, most expensive, rarest, fastest etc.)
  • Locations of news stories involving dogs (disaster response, protection, lifeguard, firefighting etc.)
  • Working breeds (hunting dogs, guard dogs, sled dogs)

Other examples may follow but these are simply off the top of my head. I may have a short time in which to do this, but now that I have inspiration I will be able to proceed quickly and efficiently. I work well under pressure.

One other advantage to this idea is that the maps could double as printed ephemera with very little extra work. I will show my research and progress in later blog posts.

Refinement of my Idea

Throughout this task I have been determined to create a website as the basis for my infographic, a linear scrolling sight which would give the information in a narrative format. What I quickly realised in researching this, was the level of coding required to do this and my lack of said skills. I haven’t been put off however.

What I have now decided to do is create a series of animations. These brief slides will contain facts and figures, combining visual and typographic media to create a visually pleasing, educational animated video.

My idea here, is to create the clips individually before slicing them together with various transition slides and then possibly recording a voice over. The clips will hopefully therefore, become a seamless video. They will also, however, have another purpose.

Having kept these clips distinct from one another, I can turn them into gifs or other handy small file formats and paste them directly into a website. Using a template company such as Wix or WordPress, I can create something akin to the site I originally had in mind while avoiding the coding problem. I do actually intend to learn coding as the skill will be invaluable to me in future instances like this. But the tie constraints mean I haven’t got a chance of learning the method and creating the sight in the allotted time.

Here is my animated logo, which will double as the intro to my video. It is brief and simplistic, but I wanted a quick and concise method of information conveyance. One thing I have found consistently in my favourite examples of infographics is that they all follow relatively simplistic graphic style, there are minimal colours used and they do not contain any unnecessary clutter. It is for this reason, my video will consist of silhouetted figures and use only the monochromatic colour scheme.

Here is my second slide. This was the logical starting place for me as it goes back to our shared origins. It simply shows the first confirmed archaeological sights of wolf domestication with the approximate date along the bottom of the screen.

I will refer to this simplified world map a number of times in my work as much of our relationship with dogs is best conveyed on a global scale. Number of dogs compared to human beings. working dogs vs pets, countries categorised by treatment for dogs etc.

My Thoughts 

In every project i have undertaken thus far, I have always been working somewhat on the fly, not knowing until very late in the game, what my final product will resemble. In this project in particular I have struggled to pin down my ideas and be clear on what I want to create. This work however, has allowed me to focus my mind and refine what I want to create very effectively. Animation is a horribly slow and intricate process even to produce something as basic as I have. But every slide I complete is one fewer to worry about