Gabriele Colombo | Politecnico di Milano |

Sabine Niederer | Visual Methodologies Collective, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences |

Submission deadline: November 2, 2020

YouTube videos spread misinformation; celebrities and influencers raise awareness on social issues in their Instagram stories; Facebook reactions work as a shortcut for engagement; GIFs open up new avenues for more expressive communication. This special issue will look into charting a landscape of methods attuned to study such a variegated visual realm. Specifically, it will focus on the design of visual methods to study digital visual materials (Niederer & Colombo, 2019). One could say that employing visual methods to study visual content is a way to stay as close as possible to one’s object of study. But how to approach the study of online images with visual research and design techniques?

The 19th edition of Diseña will look into ways of interfacing online visual culture. It will shed light on different ways of reorganizing, reshaping, and republishing visual materials shared online, and prepare them for further analysis and interpretation. It will also focus on the role that algorithmic practices can play in such research efforts: which kinds of collaborations between humans and machines can we envision to better grasp the dynamics of today’s visual culture?

First, we are interested in methodological contributions discussing inventive ways to make sense of collections of digital visual content. Stock photography appears in multiple online sites, images move from one Pinterest board to another, Instagram feeds roll out endlessly on our phones, and YouTube videos are binge-watched with autoplay; Do we need to freeze this never-ending flux of content in order to understand it? How do we demarcate collections of visual content and make them ready to be studied? How do we collect and re-compose available visual materials to tell new stories about them? Here, we are especially interested in (participatory) ways of republishing online images and videos, such as the design of ad hoc interfaces and rapid catalogs for image search and analysis, or more fine-grained accounts of visual techniques for the study of visual content (sorting, recontextualization, re-arranging, summarization, cropping, and video mashups, to name a few). We also welcome contributions that look into ways of repurposing digital formats for the study of the visual (e.g., when a GIF becomes a research tool), as well as re-adapting analog formats for the study of digital content (e.g., telling a story with a catalog of hand-picked Instagram images).

Second, we look into the spread of online images and what Hito Steyerl has called “circulationism”, referring to how visual materials gain strength through their online circulation across sites, platforms, and engines. How exactly do images travel across online media and how are they transformed along the way, and what are visual ways of capturing and tracing these routes and transformations? And how can we design visualizations of these travels across platforms and through time, that do justice to the role of the platforms, the experience of the users, and the transformatory journey of the images themselves? We welcome design and research projects here that contribute to feminist data visualization, as described by Catherine d’Ignazio and Lauren Klein, as well as those that discuss and incorporate ethics of care in digital visual research, as ways forward for visual methods and the study of images.

Third, we wish to explore machine-aided analysis of visual materials and the critical analysis thereof. How do machines ‘read’ an image? How do different machine vision algorithms compare? And how can algorithms help us in creating alternative and experimental ways of interfacing (sets of) images? Machines render digital images visible, and they can also be the only ones to ever see an image (see the work of Trevor Paglen). Machines can even be the ones (co-)producing images. Where concerns over such synthetic images have seared since the streaming of the first ‘deep fake’ video, how else can we work with machines in creative co-production? Here, we welcome contributions that explore collaborations with algorithms, machine vision experiments, comparative and critical analyses of machine vision, and other ways of working with machines on the analysis of visual materials and the designs of its interfaces.

Submission topics can include, but are not restricted to:

Visual Methods for Online Images: fine-grained accounts of visual techniques for the study of (online) digital images (e.g., sorting, recontextualizing, re-arranging, summarizing, composites and collages, cropping, video mashups, video supercut, desktop documentaries); Studying platform vernaculars and visual (sub)cultures; repurposing formats for online visual culture for research (e.g., critical memes, research GIFs).

Collection: Methodological innovations in creating and working with collections of online images; Design strategies of interfacing sets of images; Rapid cataloging and ad hoc interfacing for research; Visual catalogs as narrative tools; Participatory annotation of collections; Visual storytelling with existing materials.

Circulation: Design and research strategies for studying ‘circulationism’ and the spread and transformatory journeys of online images (e.g., cross-platform image analysis; stock photography research; (feminist) visualization of image journeys).

Machine co-creation: Synthetic images, Computer vision as a tool for analyzing collections of images; Collaborative creative work with AI machines; Design and research strategies to counter discrimination and bias in AI.



Niederer, S., & Colombo, G. (2019). Visual Methodologies for Networked Images: Designing Visualizations for Collaborative Research, Cross-platform Analysis, and Public Participation. Diseña (14), 40-67.

D’Ignazio, C., & Klein, L. F. (2016, October). Feminist Data Visualization. In Workshop on Visualization for the Digital Humanities (VIS4DH), Baltimore: IEEE.

Paglen, T. (2016, December 8). Invisible Images (Your Pictures Are Looking at You). The New Inquiry, Retrieved from

Steyerl, H. (2013). Too much world: Is the Internet dead?. E-flux journal (49), Retrieved from