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November Scholar Puts Communication on Display
Scholar of the Month
Assistant Professor of Visual Communication Design
College of Communication and Information
The word “communication” likely makes you think of language, but November’s Scholar of the Month has spent her entire career researching design as a language of its own.
Across various media, Jessica Barness, an assistant professor in Kent State University’s School of Visual Communication Design, creates her own design-based research model that merges the making of artifacts with critical inquiry.
“I’m interested in the multiple facets of design,” she said. “Design is social, and it’s a professional practice as well as a scholarly discipline. We’re designing artifacts and experiences, but we’re also building the new knowledge necessary to inform and lead those activities. Research through design can be used to better understand people, phenomena, theories or technologies. By approaching design as a sort of hybrid practice, our students learn how to adapt to future needs within our society.
Her curriculum vitae boasts of creative works that offer insight and critical assessment of social media and human interaction. That anthropological focus led Barness to her current project, co-authoring a book on the forms, practices and history of communication design scholarship. While Barness has contributed content to three books, this is the first she has authored.
Last year, she co-edited “Critical Making: Design and the Digital Humanities,” a special issue of Visible Language, the oldest academic design journal in the world. Barness also has had six of her own peer-reviewed papers published in Design and Culture, Visual Communication, Message and the Society for Experiential Graphic Design’s research journal Communication + Place. Her work has been selected for eight juried exhibitions and featured in two curated exhibitions, and she has presented her research at nine conferences.
Barness also makes ample time to guide students in their own scholarship. She has taught 10 different visual communication design courses – two she developed – and has served on thesis and project advisory committees for 17 Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts students, chairing seven and an undergraduate honors thesis committee.
Barness is not shy either about reaching beyond the curriculum or collaborating with other disciplines. She was one of three lead faculty members, along with two College of Communication and Information colleagues, on a 2014 student-produced exhibition in Kent State’s MuseLab, called “What’s Real? Investigating Multimodality.” She also is the lead faculty and co-founder, in collaboration with LaunchNet Kent State, on a student-produced podcast series called “Shifting Frequencies” that began in spring 2016 and will continue in spring 2017. She also served as a guest reviewer for Kent State’s Architectural Studies program.
Barness earned her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Minnesota and her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from the University of Northern Iowa. She joined Kent State in 2012 after a 10-year professional career that includes stints as a designer and research assistant for a Minneapolis architecture firm, the creative director for the University of Minnesota’s THERE Journal of Design, and product designer and development manager for a Chicago stationery company.
Barness has secured at least seven competitive grants and support awards for research or teaching purposes in her four years at Kent State. She also has received several commendations for her work, including the 2016 School of Visual Communication Design Outstanding Research Award and LaunchNet Kent State’s University Faculty Partner Award.
“Jessica’s outstanding work brings national and international attention to the School of Visual Communication Design and Kent State University,” said Danielle Sarver Coombs, Ph.D., interim associate dean of Kent State’s College of Communication and Information. “Her innovative approaches engage audiences to think differently about content, and she inspires her students to do the same.”
Barness said she is flattered by the recognition, but she does not take all of the credit for her success.
“The faculty, students, staff and administrators in the School of Visual Communication Design, and in the College of Communication and Information, have played vital roles in supporting my work over the past four years,” Barness said. “I am incredibly grateful to be surrounded by such an encouraging group of people.”
About Scholar of the Month
Kent State’s Scholar of the Month recognizes faculty researchers and scholars whose recent work has had an important impact on their professional fields and has brought exposure to the university. Each month, a different college will have the opportunity to nominate a researcher/scholar for this recognition. There is also a month when a faculty member from the Regional Campuses will be featured.
The selection process is in the hands of the dean and his or her colleagues and faculty. Hence, this is recognition by the person’s college colleagues that is then taken up by the university. The deans communicate the person’s name to the Division of Research and Sponsored Programs for recognition as Scholar of the Month.