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Dr Sally McLaughlin


Dr Sally McLaughlin specialises in qualitative inquiry, phenomenology, practice theory and research through design.

Her undergraduate teaching subjects include:

  • Ways of seeing
  • Schema and Non-linear Narrative
  • Visualising Research.

Her post-graduate supervision spans a range of design disciplines including fashion, lighting and visual communication design.

Sally’s own research focuses on the domain of visual communication design, still a relatively underdeveloped area of academic research. She says existing models of design expertise typically fail to consider the depth and breadth of practice involved in communication design and she is currently exploring a range of naturalistic approaches to the topic.

Sally is passionate about creating a research environment that genuinely contributes to design practice. “When I completed my PhD the only way a candidate could include a ‘practice component’ in their project was to structure that component around computing technologies,” she says. “While ‘researching through design’ is now more broadly accepted there are still many issues to be worked through in building a culture that understands and appreciates the rich possibilities of design practice as a mode of qualitative inquiry.”

Image of Sally McLaughlin
Lecturer, School of Design
CerTertTeach (Waikato Poly), BSc (Hons) (Syd), PhD (Syd)
+61 2 9514 8909


McLaughlin, S.M. & Gwilt, I.D. 2009, 'Comic Sequence' in Heller, Steven & Talarico, L. (eds), Design School Confidential: Extraordinary Class Projects from International Design Schools, Rockport Publishers Inc., Beverly, MA., pp. 188-191.


McLaughlin, S.M. 2012, 'Design expertise, practices and affordance', Design Research Society 2012: Bangkok, Design Research Society (DRS) Biennial International Conference 2012, Department of Industrial Design Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, pp. 1174-1189.
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The work reported in this paper is based on a study that adopts a naturalistic qualitative approach to the study of design expertise. The study explores the 'designer's talk' as a site for the articulation and dissemination of design expertise. Theoretical resources adopted in the study were drawn from a model of expertise developed by Hubert Dreyfus and from a wide body of phenomenological literature that informed this model. The Dreyfus model is based on a practice oriented account of agency and perception that offers a viable alternative to the cognitivist models of design expertise. The research discussed in this paper forms part of a larger study that seeks to identify a basic unit of analysis appropriate to working with the Dreyfus model. Two related analytic constructs - 'responsiveness' and 'affordance' - have emerged as central to defining this unit of analysis. 'Affordance' is a term coined by James J. Gibson to draw attention to the first person experience of the way in which action possibilities are opened up for the agent by configurations in the environment. This paper explores the relationship between Gibson's original concept of affordance, and the way in which it might be developed in the light of the practice oriented accounts of agency and action that underpin the Dreyfus model of expertise. Issues of intersubjectivity and the practicalities of coding for individual instances of 'responsiveness' and 'affordance' are discussed with reference to data drawn from the transcripts of formal presentations delivered by graphic designers David Carson and Stefan Sagmeister.
McLaughlin, S.M. 2011, 'Coding for Responsiveness: on the genesis of a coding system to analyse designer's talk', Proceedings of IASDR2011: 4th World Conference on Design Research, IASDR2011: 4th World Conference on Design Research, International Association of Societies of Design Research (IASDR) and Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, pp. 1-11.
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This study explores the 'designer's talk' as a site for the articulation and dissemination of design expertise. The paper discusses the development of a qualitative coding system generated in the course of analysing public presentations delivered by three prominent graphic designers: David Carson, Paula Scher and Stefan Sagmeister. The coding system is informed by theoretical concepts drawn from a model of expertise developed by Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus. Central to the Dreyfus model is the assumption that expertise is not something that is represented in the mind, but in the way that the world opens up for us. Expertise is manifest in the expert's 'responsiveness' to situations. The paper explores the value of the coding system as a tool for understanding ways in which designers orient themselves in the course of developing and extending their practice.
McDermott, R., McLaughlin, S.M. & Rissanen, T. 2010, 'Gaining perspective on one's own practice: reflections on a model for structuring practice-led research', CONNECTED 2010 International Conference on Design Education, ConnectED: International Conference on Design Education, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, pp. 1-6.
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In this paper we discuss a model for structuring practice led research projects. We present a theoretical rationale for the model, drawing on Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus' studies of expertise, focusing on the claim that in order to develop their performance, experts must develop the capacity to grasp practice situations from new perspectives. We discuss three aspects of the application of the model: the identification of a research question; the identification of alternative frames for practice; and the use of these frames to structure the practice led enquiry. We discuss some of the advantages of the model. these include: supporting the practitioner-researcher in moving beyond their own existing 'habits' of practice; ensuring that an appropriate breadth of approaches to practice are explored; integrating the investigation of historical and contemporary precedents with the practice components of the research; and introducing a degree of objectivity in to the evaluation of the research.
McLaughlin, S.M. 2009, 'Disturbance, Dialogue and Metaphor: the Study of Practices and Perspectives through Design Enquiry', Experiential Knowledge SIG conferences (Design Research Society (DRS) SIG,UK) - experiential knowledge, method and methodology, Experiential Knowledge SIG conferences (Design Research Society (DRS) SIG,UK), London Metropoitan University, UK, London Metropoitan University, UK, pp. 1-13.
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Practice theory (Reckwitz, 2002) provides an alternative to three approaches that currently dominate the study of culture: culturalist mentalism, textualism, intersubjectivism. Practice theory looks to background practices as the basis of our shared understanding of the world. Practices are routine forms of behaviour consisting of interconnected forms of bodily activities, mental activities, `things in use, and background understanding in the form of know-how, moods, feelings and motivations.
McLaughlin, S.M. 2009, 'On Being a Designer', Art.Media.Design | Writing Intersections, Art.Media.Design Writing Intersections, Faculty of Design, Swinburne University, Swinburne University, Melbourne, pp. 273-281.
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McLaughlin, S.M. 2008, 'Dialogical encounter: argument as a source of rigour in the practice based PhD', Design Research Society (UK) International Conference - Undisciplined!, Design Research Society (UK) International Conference, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK, pp. 1-14.
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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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McLaughlin, S.M. 2007, 'Conventional Metaphor in Design', ConnectED: International Conference on Design Education, ConnectED: International Conference on Design Education, University of New South Wales, UNSW, pp. 1-5.
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McLaughlin, S.M. 2006, 'Valuing Insight and Judgement: a hermeneutic perspective on the development of validating contexts for practice-based research in design', Speculation and Innovation: Applying Practice Led Research in the Creative Industries, Speculation and Innovation: Applying Practice Led Research in the Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia, pp. 1-15.
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The Western philosophical tradition has overlooked those forms of truth that are closest to us assertions that draw attention to aspects of the referential wholes that govern our concerned engagement with the world focussing instead on assertions that point to present-at-hand entities the sort of entities that can be decontextualised from our everyday practical concerns and recontextualised in terms of world pictures (theories). Designers, as makers, engage constantly with referential wholes adopting and/or developing appropriate frames of reference as they respond to design situations, making judgements about the final form of design outcomes with reference to relevant referential wholes, and in the case of strong design, bringing to the fore implicit aspects of referential wholes and/or reconfiguring those referential wholes. Space must be made to acknowledge the truth of work that explores the potential of artefacts to deepen and broaden our understanding of ourselves, of each other and of the world. This paper is a development of a previous paper (McLaughlin, to be published) in which I argued that designers proceed by developing orientations towards a situation and that the articulation of these orientations should be considered a contribution to the knowledge of the domain. In this paper I will briefly summarise and expand on that argument by considering issues associated with the validation of such contributions as research.
McLaughlin, S.M. 2006, 'The disclosive space as an object of study for practice based research in design', Working Papers in Art and Design, Volume 4, The Role of Context in Art and Design Research, Research Into Practice, University of Hertfordshire, University of Hertfordshire, UK, pp. 1-9.
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McLaughlin, S.M. 2004, 'New Knowledge in Design: a hermeneutic perspective on design activity and the production of knowledge', Design Research Society (UK) International Conference - Futureground, Design Research Society (UK) International Conference, Melbourne: Monash University, Faculty of Art & Design, Melbourne, Australia, pp. 157-157.

Journal articles

McLaughlin, S.M. 2009, 'Information design and the world that comes before us', Visual Communication, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 303-316.
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Technology or art? The practice of information design occupies an ambiguous position in relation to these very different approaches to making. Heidegger's critique of the metaphysical concepts of being, spatiality and mood provides fertile ground for developing an understanding of the way in which 'information design as technology' conceals. The ethical imperative for an alternative conception of information design is explored.
Selected Peer-Assessed Projects