Understanding and Supporting Visual Communication within Costume Design Practice
Bradley, Rachael Leigh
Preece, Jennifer J
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Theatres provide artistic value to many people and generate revenue for communities, yet little research has been conducted to understand or support theatrical designers. Over 1,800 non-profit theatres and 3,522 theatre companies and dinner theatres operate in the United States. In 2008, 11 million people attended 1,587 Broadway shows for a total gross of 894 million dollars. These numbers do not take into account College and community theatres, operas, and ballets, all of which also require costumes. This dissertation studied image search, selection, and use within costume design practice to: 1) understand how image use as a collaborative visual communication tool affects the search and selection process and 2) assist an often overlooked community. Previous research in image search and selection has focused on specific resources or institutions. In contrast, this research used case study methodology to understand image search, selection, and use within the broad context of an image-intensive process. The researcher observed costume designers and other theatre members as they located, selected, shared, discussed, and modified images through an iterative design process resulting in a final set of images, the costumes themselves. The researcher also interviewed participants throughout the design process, photographed artifacts, and conducted a final interview with participants at the end of each case study. The resulting data was coded using grounded theory and guided by previous research. Based on the analysis, the researcher suggests a three-stage model that describes image use in costume design and provides a starting point for understanding image use in other collaborative design practices. Participants used a wide range of analog and digital resources, including personal and institutional collections, but often used the same three search and selection strategies regardless of the resource type. Set building and refinement, image comparison, and tagging were all important features of the image search and selection process but are not well supported in most image search systems. In addition, participants continuously added resources to personal collections for future use on individual productions. This research set out to understand search and selection within the context of collaborative use on a single production, but what became apparent was the central nature of collaboration across productions to the search and selection process itself. Personal networks between costume designers and within the theatre community played a central role in solving challenges costume designers encounter as part of their work. This research bridges a gap in current image research by placing image search and selection within the context of a collaborative design practice. At the same time, it suggests guidelines for developing technology to support a community which has long been overlooked. With additional research, the findings from this research can be extended to apply to the theatrical community as a whole and also to other design professionals.