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Dr Kate Sweetapple


Kate Sweetapple is a visual communication design academic with special interest in data sense-making and information aesthetics.

Her focus is on text visualisation, using practice-led research to open up new ways of engaging with written texts from books through to immersive digital environments. This research extends to visualisation in the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) sector, where the digitisation of content is requiring a rethink of how cultural collections are explored and presented.

Kate is working with colleague Dr Jacqueline Lorber-Kasunic, and the Humanities + Design Research Lab at Stanford University on projects that explore visualisation approaches that account for the qualitative, interpretative nature of humanities data. One project is ‘Writing Rights’, which visualises the evolution of ideas that inform the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).

In 2004 Kate completed her doctorate, ‘The Rhetoric of Distance: a model of the visual narrator in design’, which uses a literary framework to describe the communication strategies used by contemporary visual communication designers.

She continues to lecture, write, curate and design in the field of data sense-making. Kate’s experimental cartographic work as been acquired by three national institutions: National Library of Australia, National Gallery of Australia and the National Maritime Museum of Australia.

Image of Kate Sweetapple
Associate Dean (Teaching & Learning), Executive
BDesign (UTS), Doctor of Philosophy
Member, Australian Graphic Design Association
+61 2 9514 8704
Can supervise: Yes


Sadokierski, Z.A. & Sweetapple, K. 2015, 'Drawing Out: How designers analyse written texts in visual ways' in Rodgers, P. & Yee, J. (eds), The Routledge Companion to Design Research, Routledge, UK, pp. 248-261.
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Within design discourse, much attention towards the written word is directed at typology – how words are arranged to visually communicate meaning. In this chapter, we consider the written word from a different perspective, revealing how designers analyse written texts for research and concept development. We describe three analytical methods we developed through our own practice and observed in the practice of other designers. We name these methods Visual Abstraction, Focused Data-mining and Exploratory Data-mining. Each method is supported by examples from our own work and the work of Stefanie Posavec and Sam Winston, who both describe analyzing written texts as part of their design process.


Lorber-Kasunic, J. & Sweetapple, K. 2014, 'Visualising texts: a design practice approach to humanities data', Final Paper /Proceedings of the Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts Conference,, Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts Conference, DRHA, University of Greenwich, London, pp. 87-92.
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The availability of archival data coupled with the use of digital tools, alongside a growing awareness of the scholarly potential of visualization (Jessop 2008) has seen an increase in the use of visualization in the humanities. However, these forms of visual representation borrow heavily from the conceptual and visual language of scientific positivism, and subsequently do not reflect many of the core concerns and conditions inherent in humanities research. In this paper we look towards the field of visual communication design as a source of practices that use metaphorical and analogical approaches to text visualization, approaches that may better serve the interpretive nature of humanities research.
Lorber-Kasunic, J. & Sweetapple, K. 2015, 'Visualizing Text Creation: Patterns and Presentation', The Fourteenth Congress of the International Society for Eighteenth Century Studies ISECS, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Sweetapple, K. 2014, 'The problems and potential of visualisation from a visual communication designer's perspective', http://dha2014.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/DHA-2014-conference-full-p..., Digital Humanities Australasia 2014: Expanding Horizons, University of Western Australia, pp. 78-79.
The problems and potentials of visualisation from a visual communication designer's perspective Visualization tools – maps, charts, network diagrams and graphs – are being used in Digital Humanities to assist in the analysis and understanding of data sets, and to communicate findings. But not all digital humanists are convinced by the appropriateness of these adopted tools. Johanna Drucker argues that by borrowing tools from the natural and social sciences the digital humanities have unwittingly borrowed the conceptual and visual language of scientific positivism, which does not suit the 'fundamental epistemological values of the humanities. (2012) She writes that these visualisation tools 'carry with them assumptions of knowledge as observer-independent and certain, rather than observer co-dependent and interpretive. (2011: 1) Drucker argues that human experience is not well served by existing digital tools of visualisation and calls for a radical reworking of the current conventions of graphical expression. This paper argues that the field of visual communication design is well placed to assist in this radical reworking. Designers understand the rhetorical conventions used to display information and the ways in which to manipulate these visual strategies. Importantly, they are also keenly aware of the impossibility of neutrally represented information. At the core of the visual communication discipline is an understanding of the contingent relationship between form and content – of the fallacy that information can be independent of its means of expression. To make this point the paper will be divided into two sections. First, a brief discussion of three information visualisation practices: scientific, journalistic and artistic. (Hall 2011) I will discuss how traditionally, visualisation was used solely as a scientific tool for discovery, a method for understanding and analyzing large data sets, and how more recently it has been used in journalism to simpli...
Sadokierski, Z.A. & Sweetapple, K. 2013, 'The Book Spotter's Guide to Avian Titled Literature', Praxis + Poetics: Research Through Design, 2013 Conference Proceedings, Praxis + Poetics: 2013 Research Through Design Conference, Northumbria University, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, UK, pp. 39-42.
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In order to remain relevant in the digital age, physical libraries have to strengthen their position as social and cultural spaces. They need to find ways to challenge existing users perceptions of the collections and how they are accessed and presented. In an attempt to engage with these challenges, the University of Technology Sydney Library redesigned its visual identity and interior spaces, and commissioned us to create an installation in the central stairwell. From our initial research we formed the following question: how can we design a creative work (installation) that suggests the library is a space for play and discovery? This paper reports a practice-based research project with two intrinsically linked outcomes:1. An installation: `Avian Titled Literature'; 2. A hybrid exegesis: `Field Guide to Avian Titled Literature'. The project is the first iteration of a larger, ongoing research project investigating ways visual communication design could encourage serendipitous discovery, browsing and more playful engagement within libraries.
Sadokierski, Z.A. & Sweetapple, K. 2012, 'Drawing Out: How designers analyse written texts in visual ways', Design Research Society 2012: Bangkok, Design Research Society Biennial International Conference 2012, Department of Industrial Design, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, pp. 1646-1659.
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This paper discusses the methods practitioner-­researchers use to analyse written texts. Much attention towards the written word in design discourse is directed at typography - how words are used visually to communicate meaning. This paper considers the written word from a different perspective. Here, we aim to reveal how designers analyse written texts for research and ideation. We describe a range of methods we have developed through our own research and practice, as well as analytical approaches other practitioner-­researchers use. There are many approaches to the analysis of texts - for example, semiotic (Kress and van Leeuwen 2001, 2006), content (Krippendorff 2004), discourse (Gee 1999) and more recently visual methods (Rose 2007). However, we are specifically interested in the methods designers use to draw out ideas, understanding and inspiration from written texts - a focus that is not directly addressed by any of these existing approaches. Importantly, many of the methods we describe here are widely used in design practice, but are not acknowledged or reported to be useful in a research context. Therefore, it is valuable to reframe these practice-­based methods within a research context and claim their scholarly contribution. In this paper, we describe three approaches to analysing written texts, which we have named Visual Abstraction, Focused Data-­mining and Exploratory Data-­mining. Each approach is supported with examples and anecdotes by practitioner-­researchers;; ourselves and others. Examining our own work allows us to trace initial text analysis through to final design/research outcomes, illustrated with examples from the entire process. To conclude, we discuss why these methods are a meaningful contribution to design scholarship.
Sweetapple, K. 2010, 'How del.icio.us: the impact of social bookmarking tools on the learning experiences of Visual Communication Design students', ConnectedED:International Conference on Design at Sydney, International Conference on Design Education, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, pp. 1-5.
One of the key pedagogical strategies in first year design is teaching students to develop an independent, critical eye. To make independent judgments is an essential part of a design students education; and deep, sustained visual research is essential to this development. But how, among the millions of images out there do they find the `right ones: the visuals that will assist them in making informed decisions? Pre- Information age it was through the library, which has the advantage of offering material that is selected by academic staff and specialist librarians the gatekeepers of quality and relevance.
Palmer, C.G., Gothe, J., Mitchell, C.A., Riedy, C., Sweetapple, K., McLaughlin, S.M., Hose, G.C., Lowe, M., Goodall, H., Green, T., Sharma, D., Fane, S.A., Brew, K. & Jones, P.R. 2007, 'Finding integration pathways: developing a transdisciplinary (TD) approach for the Upper Nepean Catchment.', Proceedings of the 5th Australian Stream Management Conference. Australian rivers: making a difference, Australian Stream Management Conference, Charles Sturt University, Albury, NSW, Australia., pp. 306-311.
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Roxburgh, M.W. & Sweetapple, K. 2007, 'The Cartography of Theory and Practice', ConnectED: International Conference on Design Education, ConnectED: International Conference on Design Education, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, pp. 1-6.
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Strickler argues that the growth of visual communication as an academic discipline can only occur if there is an âempirical bridge between theory and practiceâ (1999: 38). Such a bridge is also a precondition for the evolution of visual communication as a forward looking and reflective industry as opposed to one that simply responds to the dictates of the market. However, building this bridge is no easy task; visually articulate and practically oriented students are reluctant to engage with theories that may challenge their passionately held understandings of design. All the more so when the commonest mode such inquiry is conducted through is reading and writing. The challenges and problems of writing for visual thinkers has been well articulated by Grow (1994). That such students are resistant to forms that they are generally not well equipped for or confident in is hardly surprising. Couple this with a seemingly near universal questioning of the relevance of theory by aspiring practitioners and it would seem the odds are stacked against such an enterprise. In this paper we will reflect upon efforts to build this bridge through design theory curriculum using visual mapping tools drawn from constructivist education theory. The efficacy of these efforts is explored through both quantitative and qualitative student feedback.

Journal articles

Lorber-Kasunic, J. & Sweetapple, K. 2015, 'Visualising text-based data: Identifying the potential of visual knowledge production through design practice', Studies in Material Thinking, vol. 13, pp. 3-19.
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An increase in the availability of digitised data coupled with the development of digital tools has enabled humanities scholars to visualise data in ways that were previously difficult, if not impossible. While digitisation has led to an increase in the use of methods that chart, graph and map text-based data, opportunities for visual methods that are non-aggregative remain underdeveloped. In this paper we use 'Writing Rights', a collaborative project between design and humanities scholars that examines the process of writing the 'Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen' (1789), to explore this issue. Through a series of visual experiments we discuss how the production of knowledge is enacted textually, within the written language, and graphically with the visual arrangement of the text. We argue that by drawing on the domain expertise of design, with its commitment to the semantic potential of the visual, practices that more wholly account for the qualitative nature of humanities data can be developed.
Sweetapple, K. 2013, 'Designing Distance: a first-person visual narrator', Message, vol. 1.6, no. 6, pp. 14-23.
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This article argues that the literary concept of 'distance' is a valuable theoretical framework through which to understand how designers affect viewer experience. This article argues that s designer's choice of typeface, composition, image treatment, colour, etc. _ are visual building blocks used to construct a point of view. Through the comparison of canonical written and designed texts, I will show how the equivalent of the literary first person can be found in visual work. The task of this article, however, is not to equate the visual with the verbal, but rather to identify the design decisions that can be equally described as characteristics of a first-person text.
McWhinnie, L.J., Sweetapple, K. & Benjamin, A.E. 2007, 'On Judging a Book By its Cover', Journal of Visual Communication, Vol 6, No 1., vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 123-127.
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The following reviews are a response from a philosopher and two designers to the design for the Penguin Great Thinkers series. The contents have not been read by the design reviewers, instead their response is to the physicality of the books, and as such should be considered more a review of the books design than their contents.
Sweetapple, K. 2007, 'Power Dressing: a critique of design authorship', Research Journal of the Australian Graphic Design Association, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 1-8.
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Non traditional outputs

Roxburgh, M.W. & Sweetapple, K., 'Work/Play: 30 Years of Visual Communication', UTS GALLERY.
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This exhibition surveyed the work of some Australia's leading visual communication designers spanning the past 30 years. Participating exhibitors were asked to exhibit a single piece of work and design a piece of visual communication that explained the creative process they went through in conceiveing and executing that work.
Sadokierski, Z.A. & Sweetapple, K., 'Unlikely Avian Taxonomies', Unlikely Avian Taxonomies, Page Screen Studio, DAB LAB Gallery; Object Gallery; Wedge Gallery (Kinokuniya Sydney).
A collaborative research project, investigating how visual communication designers approach data mining and poetic information visualisation, the work was published through a series of exhibitions and public events over a two-year period. Invited to speak about this work at the Art Gallery of NSW Learning Symposium (15 March, 2014). Led to invitation to write a book chapter on practice-led methods for analysing written texts.
Sweetapple, K., 'Map of Sydney: Avian surnames', Mapping Sydney: experimental cartography and the imagined city, Local Consumption Press, Sydney, DAB LAB (University of Technology, Sydney).
This is one of six works included in the exhibition. 'Avian markers' construct a map of Sydney - each bird representing a household with an avian surname (938 in total). Together they form a flock of birds hinting at a coastline and inland suburbs. This map explores the poetic potential of conventional quantitative and cartographic data and in doing so raises questions about visual representation of information and the tension between the scientific and the aesthetic.
Sweetapple, K., 'Map of Sydney: Avian surnames; Map of Sydney: Fish surnames; Map of Sydney: Celestial surnames; The Browns; The Blacks and The Whites; The Greens and The Reds.', Mr Salmon and Mrs Sparrow: Experimental Cartography, -, DAB LAB, University of Technology Sydney.
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This visual research contributes to the field of information visualisation, an area that is seeing enormous growth due to computer literacy and access to data sets, but which remains under-theorised from a visual communication perspective. The research understands the agency of information visualisation, in this instance cartography, and exposes it as a rhetorical system loaded with social and cultural codes. Although the notion of maps as partial documents is not new, very little research has been done into the aesthetics of authority, that is, the role that visual conventions play in continuing to assert neutrality. This body of work begins to redress this gap. 'Mr Salmon and Mrs Sparrow' was comprised of six maps, a substantial body of work that builds on my visual research into experimental cartography, particularly the rhetoric of cartographic language. Through the exploitation of cartography's semiological systems the authoritative, seemingly neutral, visualisations are revealed to be partial documents. Although the visual language of these maps reflect the conventions of mapping, the quantitative data sets are absurd: these are maps of Sydney residents who share surnames with bird and fish species, celestial bodies and colours. This exhibition was part of Sydney Design 2010. The significance of this work can be measured by its inclusion in two national collections: A set of three maps (Map of Sydney: Avian surnames, Map of Sydney: Fish surnames, and Map of Sydney: Celestial surnames) was purchased by the National Library of Australia and by the UTS library. The Map of Sydney: Fish surnames was also purchased by the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Sweetapple, K., 'Incidental Data', UTS Gallery.
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