A. FLINN

maker | designer | educator

“Superhero” Characters for Qualitative Research

I was approached by Dr. Kakali Bhattacharya to illustrate a set of four “superhero” characters for her Introduction to Qualitative Research course. She had specific design ideas for these characters. Her descriptions for the characters follow:

The first superhero, Insight, has the ability to trigger the authentic inquirer within. What do we know and understand about who we are as human beings? Why should we care about others? What do we desire to know passionately? How does our desire for knowledge fit into the larger world? How do we have these understandings about our beings and our desires? Unless we know ourselves, we cannot talk about anyone else, or tell anyone else’s story.
Superhero drawing –and has a third eye, female (non-White), cape, spandex suit, purple

The next superhero is Dr. Goggles, who has special visionary powers. How do we see the world? How does the world see us? How do we engage in an interconnected relationship with people? In qualitative research, we are constantly in an entangled relationship with the world around us. We are shaped by the world and the world is shaped by us. What might be our blind spots when we put on different lenses to understand the world based on our histories, experiences, desires, memories, hopes, and dreams? Our blind spots render many truths, relations, and practices invisible to us.
Superhero drawing – lab coat, big steampunk glasses on, Don King hair, gender male, ethnicity, non-White

The third superhero is the Chameleon, who can shapeshift, move in and out of multiple worlds, live in between worlds, and blend in easily in different spaces. This superhero can understand multiple perspectives without being attached to any specific one. This chameleon can tell stories about her adventures in different worlds, in how she morphed herself to connect with these worlds and how she overcame challenges in her travels.
Superhero drawing– female, spandex, multicolored swirling colors, ethnicity unknown.

The final superhero is the Surrealist, who can tell stories, paint pictures, and present realities that are complex, playful, and thought-provoking. The surrealist highlights illusions, impressions, and contradictions. The surrealist is a storytelling trickster. Questions to consider to gain the Surrealist’s powers are: What stories rise to the surface? What stories remain uncovered? What stories are partially discovered? How do we decide to share our stories? How does translating other people’s stories translate us? We will have to make choices about what we will share with the public at large, and how we will share such information. What assertions should we make and what should we keep in play and why?
Superhero drawing– Kind of like a French Danny Devito character, with a paintbrush, and mustache, has a cape.

The conversation we had over the design of these characters was rich, and she gave me a lot of freedom and wiggle-room with the development and final designs of the characters: I changed the Surrealist to a black woman in homage to some of my favorite living artists (Kara Walker and Carol Ann Carter) and I decided that Insight should be genderfluid, among other design decisions. I think the biggest change I made was to not draw spandex action figures. I wanted the heroes somewhat grounded in reality, with practical clothing that expressed who they were.

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