Professor Masood Masoodian asked tricky things already as a child


A good researcher has tunnel vision sensible for details, visual design expert says.


Things must not be taken for granted, says Masood Masoodian.  Photo: David Lewis

Professor Masood Masoodian, what do you research and why?

I do extensive research on the various aspects of visual communication design. The subject can be approached from three angles: it is possible to concentrate on the production process, the actual visual artefact or then on the effects such artefacts have on the recipient and on society in a broader sense.

In my installation lecture, I will concentrate on how data can be visualised in a way that adds to human knowledge. Knowledge, for its part, is a condition for an understanding that can lead to changes, such as consideration for the environment or a healthier life. My past research focus has been on design of visualisations linked with energy conservation, health and the spread of diseases, and the use of time, for example.

How did you become a researcher?

Like many others, I became a researcher gradually. I had an inquisitive mind already as a child and I wanted to know why things happen, which is perhaps why I was constantly asking difficult and annoying questions. The professors whom I met on university project courses sparked my enthusiasm for research and ultimately led me to pursue a doctoral degree. They have had a greater impact on my research career than anyone else has.

What have the high points of your career been?

The work of a researcher for me involves ups and downs, and a considerable amount of my work over the past 20 years fit into these. However, I do not focus on either of them, thinking instead that the failures help me alter my ideas and in so doing, to steer the path into the right direction.

The high point of my career was, perhaps, getting my doctorate, as it made me an independent and competent researcher. I no longer had to do research in the shadow of a supervisor.

What is the most important attribute of a researcher?

A curious mind is number one. Things must not be taken for granted. One needs to understand the 'why' that lies in the background. A researcher must have genuine interest in finding answers to these 'why' questions. Second, a researcher must have an eye for details, but at the same time, must also have the ability to see details as part of a wider context. Although tunnel vision is often needed, it must not be allowed to constrain thinking by being narrow-sighted. It is important to be able to steer it sensitively in a new direction.

What do you expect from the future?

Making predictions is not easy and most of those who attempt to do it fail dismally. Nevertheless, I hope that people would become more conscious of data, and that they would want to understand it better.  We run up against bad visualisations every day, but I believe that as consumers of information our expectations are increasing, and as designers of visualisations we are improving. 

Masood Masoodian and Aalto's other newly tenured professors will speak about their research in lectures to be held on November 15 at 14.15. We hope to see you there! Check the program here.