From the Edges – Qianhui Zhao, Masters in Media Art at Wintec
In our ‘From The Edges’ series we feature Aotearoa NZ Academic Design Projects. Our practice as designers can be seen to be explored, pushed and perhaps become something entirely new where it exists at the edges of our practice in the world of academia. Free from the constraints of commercial outcomes and clients, designers explore and challenge existing paradigms.
In this article, we talk with Qianhui Zhao about her dissertation on Monsters in children’s picture books and childhood fears and postgraduate study in Media Art at Wintec.
What is your background and how did you get to where you are now?
After completing my undergraduate studies in the Graphic Design programme in my home country of China, I came to Wintec to study a postgraduate programme in Media Art. In 2017 I came to study in New Zealand and I started to learn and understand about the New Zealand culture and environment. New Zealand is a beautiful environmental treasure. It has beautiful natural scenery and rare flora and fauna. New Zealand has a deep-rooted culture of environmental protection, and the idea of environmental protection has become part of the culture of the society. In the process, I have had more access to nature and animals and my awareness of environmental protection has grown. At the same time, I feel sadness and anxiety when I see events such as pollution of the environment and climate change occurring. Therefore, during my master’s degree in media arts at Wintec, I chose to make a design project about environmental protection and raising environmental awareness, and I hope that this design project can have some impact and value.
At first, I was considering doing a book for an older age group, but after my own research and the advice of my supervisors, I ended up choosing children between the ages of 5 and 8 as my target readers. Because environmental themes have aspects of boredom and seriousness for children, I chose to present them in the form of an interactive book. In this way the theme is made interesting and vivid, thus making it more conducive to catching the attention of younger readers. The content of the story is presented in the form of questions, which makes children no longer just a listener. They can find the answers themselves in the book based on simple questions. Meanwhile, more opportunities for interaction are provided when adults and children read together.
Can you give us some background on your dissertation project?
The topic of my dissertation is “Monsters in children’s picture books and childhood fears” and the research question is “Do stories featuring monsters in children’s picture books play a part in managing childhood fears?”. In this dissertation, I explore my research question by analysing bibliotherapy, the relationship between children and monsters, and the visual design of picture books.
Media coverage of terrorism and environmental change increased children’s fear of death and the future. Children may express their emotions differently from adults and may not be able to articulate their feelings clearly in words. As a result, this can lead to adults not noticing the child’s fears or underestimating the extent of the children’s fears. Picture books can assist children in overcoming or alleviating their fears, and the characters and stories may help children to express feelings that they cannot put into words. Monsters inspire fear of the unknown through their grotesque appearance and behaviour, and they can be a metaphor for all the fears and dangers of the human imagination, so monsters can be seen as a unique psychological tool to help children overcome fear and anxiety.
What were the catalysts or inspirations for your dissertation?
My supervisor helped me a lot regarding the selection of the topic for my dissertation. I have read articles about how media coverage of terrorism and environmental change has increased children’s fear of death and the future. Thus there is an interest in the possibility of design works that enhance people’s ability to recognise and cope with fear. Children’s picture books with monster images are a good entry point for research. The role of the monster is present in children’s minds from a very early age, and it affects not only children’s fears but also their ability to manage their fears.
I think that a polluted environment is also a form of monster for children. I designed the book not to create more anxiety for readers, but to give these young readers an awareness of environmental issues while not just remaining in anxiety, but having the confidence and strategies to tackle these issues.
What was the most challenging part of your research/study thus far, and how did you overcome this?
Firstly, the biggest challenge in this research and design was how to present serious and negative information in a way that is more appropriate for children aged 5 to 8 years old to read. This approach should stimulate children’s interest and at the same time better convey knowledge about environmental protection. This question has been revised through my extensive reading of relevant literature and books, the advice of my mentor, and my constant thinking and revision of information. After completing the project, I did a couple of reader tests, and the feedback from the results was that children enjoyed the book, and helped them think about how they can protect our environment.
Secondly, I had no experience with origami or making interactive books before completing this design project. The typography and colour design of a flat book is different from an interactive book. Therefore, I had to keep researching and learning the structure and design of other pop-up books. By constantly modifying my structures I was able to achieve the best results. For example, when I designed the pop-up whale, it was completed through studying and researching the structure of existing pop-up ships, and through making countless prototypes and improvements, I finally achieved this structure.
Why did you choose this particular program/Wintec to complete your Masters?
I love art and design. Art is a way to appreciate nature, life, and society and design is the thinking, choice, and judgement of society, nature, and life from the designer’s point of view. A good design makes the world more enriched and perfect.
I have been studying graphic design since my university days, and during my studies in China, I had contact with some design courses and teachers from Wintec! I found that Wintec’s teachers and design courses were excellent and friendly, which made me very interested in studying at Wintec. It did turn out to be true that my design tutor, and thesis supervisor, were both very helpful, and I am very grateful to all those who helped me. I also feel very fortunate to have completed my Masters in beautiful New Zealand.
What are your goals and aspirations for the future?
Next, I would like to apply for a Ph.D. to continue my studies and research on art and design. I hope that in the future, I can produce better research and work to serve the community as well.
How can people follow you or where can we see more of your own work?
At this stage, my important goal is still to research and study to improve my knowledge of design and related aspects, and I also hope to have better work to show you in the future. Feel free to contact me via my email: email@example.com.