People

Professors Keith Owens, Michael R. Gibson, Michèle Wong Kung Fong, Clinton Carlson and Eric Ligon, make up the core of the DRC’s group of faculty researchers. (Professor Ligon also serves as the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs of UNT’s College of Visual Arts and Design). Together they marshal over 85 combined years of experience in design research and professional practice, and in bridging the gaps between the two, as well as design education, design management, and grant formulation, writing and service. Each of them has the capacity to bring a unique blend of experiential knowledge, skills and habits of mind to a wide variety of applied and evidence-based research initiatives.

Depending on what the parameters of particular projects call for, this group can be configured as a collaborative, or into a two- to three-person working group, or individual members can form strategic partnerships with faculty from disciplines across the University of North Texas (UNT) System. Members of this group have sustained working relationships with a wide variety of UNT faculty and researchers from outside the Department of Design for over a decade. This approach ensures that DRC research partners have access to and benefit from the entire spectrum of scholarly and institutional resources offered by the Department of Design, CVAD and the UNT System. 

Biographical information and a synopsis of each member's research interests and expertise is listed below. More in-depth information about each of these faculty members can be found at the UNT Faculty Profile System.

Keith Owens, Associate Professor, Communication Design

He is a tenured member of the Communication Design faculty at UNT CVAD, and has held a full-time faculty position there since August of 2003. He has served as the Managing Director of the Design Research Center (DRC) since July of 2010, when the DRC began operations as the first design research-focused teaching and laboratory facility in a university-level setting in Texas. Prior to this, Associate Professor Owens worked closely with his colleagues Michael R. Gibson and Eric Ligon to develop and gain university and state-based Board of Higher Education approval for the instantiation of the DRC and for the graduate programs it would service. Owens’ primary charge as Managing Director is to facilitate design-driven, interdisciplinary, evidence-based research that seeks to help resolve pressing real-world problems in the north Texas region and beyond. Under Owens’ directorship, the DRC has secured and fulfilled UNT-sanctioned research partnerships with the Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton, Texas-based PBS affiliate KERA and Downtown Dallas, Inc. (an organization dedicated to improving the economic and social well-being for people living in the core neighborhoods of downtown Dallas). Owens’ and the DRC are also currently leading “The UNT + Big Thought Initiative,” an educational research and community engagement project that will result in the opening of a trans-university Institute dedicated to creating more robust and sustainable approaches to fostering and advocating for integrated arts teaching along with increased community engagement in public school settings. The central goal of this Institute will be to gather evidence to support and effectively measure the link between art-based forms of inquiry and expression and the critical thinking skills necessary for successful engagement with other academic subjects. He began teaching Communication Design as a Lecturer at Texas Tech University in 1985, and later earned an MFA in Sculpture from West Texas State University in 1989. He practiced Communication Design professionally in San Francisco and later as the owner of his own firm in Dallas from 1991 to 2001.

Michael R. Gibson, Associate Professor, Communication Design

He is a tenured member of the Communication Design faculty at The University of North Texas College of Visual Arts and Design (UNT CVAD). Since July of 2009, he has held UNT CVAD’s post of graduate programs coordinator in Design with a Concentration in Design Research. The core courses in this program are facilitated at the Design Research Center. Prior to assuming this position, Associate Professor Gibson worked closely with his colleagues Keith Owens and Eric Ligon to develop and gain university and state-based Board of Higher Education approval for the instantiation of the DRC and for the graduate programs it would service. He began his career as a full-time, university-level Communication Design educator in the fall of 1994 at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) after earning an MFA in Graphic Design with a minor in Design Research from the University of Michigan in 1993. He began teaching at UNT CVAD in the fall of 1998. Gibson has presented widely on his research and scholarship in and around improving the facilitation of design education from middle-school through graduate-level study at juried venues such as the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA’s) Design Education Conference Series (11 times), the College Art Association (CAA’s) Design Sessions (6 times), the Design Research Society (DRS’) International Conference (once), and The International Institute for Information Design (IIID) International Conference (twice). His material in his discipline’s scholarly journals that examines how the learning experiences of students who must learn to abet their design processes with digital technology has appeared in Visible Language, The Information Design Journal, and Design Education in Progress, among others. He has managed a strategic design consultancy since 1987, which has afforded him numerous opportunities to attempt to bridge the divide between the practical demands of professional practice and the need to account for how the results of design processes affect and are affected by a broad spectrum of social, technological, economic, environmental and political issues. His original and applied research projects have addressed issues in children's and women's health, media ethics, the introduction of design processes in middle-school and high-school settings, the application of select theoretical approaches (failure analysis, activity theory, actor network theory) to improve interaction and user experience design, and freshwater conservation. 

Eric Ligon, Professor, Communication Design; Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, CVAD

Until he assumed his current position as UNT CVAD’s Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in August of 2011, he had been the undergraduate program coordinator for the  communication design program in the Department of Design since 2004. From 2007 until late 2010, Professor Ligon worked closely with his colleagues Keith Owens and Michael R. Gibson to develop and gain university and state-based Board of Higher Education approval for the instantiation of the DRC and for the graduate programs it would service. He began teaching in this program in 1991, and has taught a broad array of communication design courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels since that time. He is especially adept at teaching Typography and at facilitating learning experiences wherein students are challenged to iteratively develop complex systems comprised of type, imagery, diagrams, illustrations and other visuals. He is the President and cofounder of BrailleInk., a non-profit organization that designs and produces dual-use, braille and print children's books that encourage sighted and blind individuals to share reading time. His design work in this area, as well as the research that informed it, has been featured in People Magazine, the Lions Club International Magazine and a wide variety of local and national newspapers, as well as many radio and television news programs. He also collaborated with his colleague and Design Research Center Managing Director Keith Owens to redesign the entire visual identity system for UNT, as well as the new visual identity system for the University of North Texas at Dallas. Professor Ligon earned his MFA in Communication Design from the University of North Texas and his BFA in Communication Design from the Pratt Institute. 

Michele Wong Kung Fong, Assistant Professor, Communication Design

She is a full-time member of the Communication Design faculty at UNT CVAD. The current focus of her teaching load and her research is located in the areas of interaction design, typography, design thinking, brand identity and motion design. She holds an MDES in Graphic Design from North Carolina State University, where her primary research involved examining ways to improve the learning experiences of high school and college students who were being remotely mentored by college students using interactive tools. Her current applied research investigates the intersection of interactive media, mobile learning, information design, cognition, learning style theories, well-being, critical thinking and users. She has published in the scholarly journal Visible Language, as well as Iridescent (published by the International Council for Graphic Design Associations, or ICOGRADA) and in the Proceedings for the 2010 International Conference on Interaction Design. Ms. Wong Kung Fong is principally interested in understanding how to improve conditions for meaningful and healthy user/information experiences and interactions in both online and offline environments. She has presented her applied research on information design, e-learning, human-computer interaction (HCI), well-being and design education at 7 national and international conferences since 2009.

Clinton Carlson, Assistant Professor, Communication Design

He is a full-time member of the Communication Design faculty at UNT CVAD. The current focus of his graduate-level teaching load is located in design pedagogy, which involves teaching the MFA and MA candidates in the Design programs at UNT CVAD how to effectively plan and teach conceptual and formal design skills to inexperienced design students. His undergraduate teaching load involves helping students develop and successfully execute complex systems of visual communications in print and in interaction design. His design practice has focused on brand identity development, information design, and web/interactive for the last five years. His information design piece “Journey of Transformation” (client: World Vision, Washington, D.C.) was selected for inclusion in the AIGA’s National Design Archives in 2002, and he has produced both print and electronic work for clients such as Radical Learners, Gazehawk, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline of Nebraska and Clear: for a Meth Free Loveland (Colorado). Before beginning his appointment at UNT CVAD in the fall of 2011, Carlson taught Communication Design for 2 years at the University of Northern Colorado. He holds an MDES from the University of Alberta and a BFA in Communication Design from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. His current design research involves designing and testing alternative communication systems to improve public safety during food recalls, and using participatory design methods to develop health-related visual communications in micro-community settings (such as Key West, Florida).