Communication Design Thesis

In addition to coursework, an MFA in Communication Design at Texas State University requires doing a project and a written thesis. I applied levity and constructed a system of buoys that were installed in the river where viewers would see them and learn about uniqueness of the river.


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The Project

In the heat of a Texas summer, the San Marcos River is a welcome haven for numerous people to float, swim, and paddle in refreshing 72-degree water. Many river-goers are unaware of their spring fed surroundings, or that it is home to protected and endangered species. My thesis sought to expand efforts of the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP) in San Marcos, through the application of design for social change and human-centered design.

The Process

To produce my thesis project, I started with extensive observations and talking with the river community, particularly those involved in river protection efforts. I connected with staff of the EAHCP in San Marcos; they helped me to better understand the challenges facing the river environment. I began with mapping possible opportunities for uniquely applying design to aid in the protection of the river. Working with the EAHCP, I created proposals and prototypes that evolved into a re-usable river installation.

The Result

My thesis project strengthened conservation efforts by working to protect the San Marcos River while also engaging viewers to become more closely connected to a rare, spring-fed habitat.

The project result took form as a river installation of buoys and signs, strong enough to withstand a powerful current, changing water levels, accumulations of debris, and human interactions. Content included simple messages and images to quickly convey information to river-goers, using a tone of inclusion and humor. Documented evidence shows paddlers and tubers understanding intended messages: avoiding protected areas. The installation was designed to be re-usable and scalable to increase the reach of protective efforts.

View My Thesis and Video

Visit the Texas State Website to view my thesis

View project details to learn more about my approach and design methods.

The story of my thesis project was presented as a large video projection for my thesis exhibition. See it below:

Design Methods

Some of the tools used for research, organizing findings, and illustrating outcomes:

AEIOU Method

This method helped me sort through my many observations and to see behavioral patterns of river goers.

See research details


This design approach allowed me to test ideas, experience failures, and to devise alternative approaches.

See prototypes

Unobtrusive Measures

This method was used throughout my thesis project to observe people, this case without interactions, before and after project installation.

See my findings from observing people

Design Research

Trash sign experiment

Observations + Prototypes

Typical summer river traffic

Installation + Evaluation

Project installation in river

Texas Wild Rice (underwater)

Floating into protected area

Working to get out of protected area

Sign submerged in river

The wrong kind of paint

Improvement: two sided design

Seeking Understanding

To create something useful and meaningful, I immersed in learning about the river and the people associated with it.

See Texas Wild Rice and river trash

Communicating Ideas

Simple, friendly and informative messages helped people better understand the river and how they could help protect it.

See messages for buoys and signs

In the River

See buoys in the river

Copyright © Andrea Feathers 2024