Franck Celhay does not care much for opinions, at least when it comes to graphic design. With a keen interest in semiotics, branding and communication design, the Associate Professor at Montpellier Business School is on a mission to help establish a theoretical basis for graphic design to best legitimize the field as a knowledge profession. By doing so, Celhay hopes to address the misguided assumptions that design is solely a creative pursuit and has therefore no objective basis for appreciation.
“I think there’s this belief that design is more of a practice without a theoretical background,” Celhay says. “Graphic design is perceived as artistic (i.e. subjective), which is true, but this produces a romantic belief of the designer as an artist, as someone waiting for inspiration. But in fact, it’s more about hard work, about knowing techniques and having knowledge in art history or semiotics to be able to produce a good solution.”
Drawn to art and illustration at an early age, Celhay recently obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design at the Ecole Supérieure des Métiers Artistiques in Montpellier. In the years prior, he pursued a career in marketing management and completed his PhD on package graphic design and innovation at the University of Bordeaux. This being wine country, Celhay worked as a consultant for several wine companies such as Maison Sichel, completing various marketing and semiotic studies, and communication design projects geared towards European and international markets. At the same time, he joined Montpellier Business School as an associate professor.
“We probably still have to define what the rules of design research could be, taking into account the specificities of the nature of design.”
Defining the rules
With a focus on the visual impact of products on consumer beliefs and behaviours, Celhay aims to broaden his research as a Design United Research Fellow, working on a project with Delft University of Technology on package design and visual communication.
As a design researcher working at a business school, Celhay speculates that graphic designers are seldom viewed as learned professionals by those in management. In order to resolve these design management issues and to improve interaction between designers and managers, Celhay maintains that developing a solid, theoretical foundation for design is the way forward. Furthermore, he is convinced that design has more than enough space for innovation as an academic discipline.
“We probably still have to define what the rules of design research could be, taking into account the specificities of the nature of design,” Celhay claims. “Maybe this will imply at one point to do research in another way, to leave room for creativity and experimentation in the sense of trying new things.”
Graphic design 2.0
Like most communication professions, graphic design has had to adapt to the dramatic shift from print to digital platforms. Nevertheless, Celhay recognises an abundance of research opportunities in the areas of web, interactive and motion design, and big data. While innovation has brought about many new challenges, Celhay believes that it has also opened the door to novel approaches to design that are worth exploring.
Personal profile of Franck Celhay
Research Fellow 2017
Legitimising graphic design as a knowledge profession