Theorical Framework [for educators + students]


O’Neill used the Design Exploration model from the Interaction Design Research (Fallman, 2008) triangle approach. There are 3 areas in this research approach: Design Practice, Design Studies, and Design Exploration. The Hotel Excelsior project falls into what Fallman define as the Design Exploration because it aims to:

“provoke, criticize, and experiment to reveal alternatives to the expected and traditional, to transcend accepted paradigms, to bring matters to a head, and to be proactive and societal in its expression” (Fallman, 2008, p.8).  The Design Exploration research model used in the creation of the Hotel Excelsior typography consists of three chained elements: the Artefact, a 1966-based hotel logo from San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Phenomenon, the use of mid-modern design as a Cold War government’s progressive values, and the Statement, which was to provoke a pro-active thinking in a weak democratic context. Yee explains about Fallman’s research model: “Design exploration is a way to comment on a phenomenon by developing an artefact that embodies the statement or question that the researcher is attempting to critique” (Yee, 2009, cited in Asseo and O’Neill, 2012).


1. Immersion

By immersion and role-playing, the designers were taught to see history research as something fun and pertaining to our current historical moment. Our mood boards were musical scores from the 1960s, from both US and Caribbean culture.

‘Designers think more in terms of solutions rather than in terms of problems. Their approach is not systematically based, but they immediately react to stimuli in the design environment. The reflection-in-action approach is far more systematically based, but is oriented towards knowledge-in-action’ (Alexander and Winnie, 2006, cited in Asseo and O’Neill, 2012).

2. Student-centered

Hotel Excelsior was a project that promoted on the student a Personal Causation, ‘being an agent of change in the environment” by promoting the finding of one’s meaning in human history, without the need of entailed fame and recognition, but implying a deep meaning in human society’ (De Charms, 1968, cited in Asseo and O’Neill, 2012).

3. Project Based Learning (PBL)

Screenshot of landing page at Tikiwiki site (2008).
Screenshot of landing page at Tikiwiki site (2008).

Design practice historically is taught in an apprenticeship learning manner. Where a senior designer teaches in an academic environment the know-how of the “craft” of design as well the design principles. The design practice changed drastically in the 1980s due to the technology and social factors that came because of it. Presently the designer of the early 21 century needs new skills (paraphrasing and adding AIGA Educators Community proposal):

  • Ability to use software applications
  • Ability to create systems
  • Understand users context and their experience
  • Empathy so that they can understand user experience
  • To manage transmedia systems
  • To collaborate (intensive) and communicate with people outside their field
  • To have Executive Functions
  • To have strategic thinking
  • To have multiliteracy


Screenshot of working file at Tikiwiki site (2008).
Screenshot of working file at Tikiwiki site (2008).

The acquirement of those skills needed a different approach. Project Based Learning is an educational method in which students acquire new knowledge by doing (working and researching) for an long period of time in a wicked problem and in a real world situation. Various team members moved to other places as they were graduating, so the Hotel Excelsior project needed to accommodate a Co-location team.

Iva Illich
Iva Illich’s book on education

It also became an open process, finishing the project in a public manner, enabling the presentation of both artefact and process during research and developing phases. A focus group was organized in Argentina, it was presented also in a pin-up session at Beta Local, in Puerto Rico and latter in a typography congress at Cyprus. O’Neill chose Beta-Local, a local non-profit post-academic study and artistic production programme. Beta Local’s principles are based on the ideas of Austrian educator Ivan Illich pro active approach by students and it fitted into Beta Local’s open process policies. O’Neill latter used Beta Local for other design projects for similar reason: ‘Beta Local was chosen because it promotes exploratory projects that do not conform to local standard ways of practice. “Standard ways” refers to institutionalized learning that strongly depends on bureaucratic procedures that do not allow flexibility’ (O’Neill, 2013, p.72) [link].


The Intertextuality tool from O’Neill’s resilient thinking model Real-time Respond Planning (RTRP) [link] was chosen as a way to solve the designers predicament. RTRP is from O’Neill’s doctoral research Developing Methods of Resilience for Design Practice (2013). The Intertextuality tool is one of a 9 tools system that is grouped in a 4 set resilience behavior pattern in order to self-taught the design practitioner strategic resilient thinking.

Intertextuality – Acknowledge and create dialogue with previous authors/creators (this cancel out the tabula rasa) and connect with what has taken place, and value interventions that may be forthcoming’ (O’Neill, 2013, p.26)[link].

Analysi of the O center
Analysis of the O central axis. Left the original O.

The challenge was to finish an alphabet from an original lettering that has formal typographic errors (for example, the “O” lacked a central axis), created by designer Ernie Potvin (1960s), while at the same time being loyal to O’Neill and the team contemporary moment. O’Neill chose the Intertextuality tool, as the key to solve the design problem because of the importance of acceptance and Publishing history’ errors (Publishing is another of the RTRP’s tools as a reflection on both the process, error and wanderings) . These historical errors are Puerto Rico’s failure in the government’s modernist national project and in the Hotel Excelsior, it is manifested in the lettering’s typographic errors. Also through this intertextual action, it allowed keeping the original lettering errors, while at the same time designing from a formal Uncial calligraphic style and using as visual references the Puerto Rican posters from the 60s. For example of this latter, is the “LL”  typographic ligature articulated by team member Rachel Hernandez Pumarejo.

‘From the very beginning of the project there was a conflict between which venues were more effective to answer our research question: to fix the typography errors, which is an act of tabula rasa that we have inherited from the European conquista or use these errors as part of an intertextual action. Treating the lettering as text, in Julia Kristeva’s semiotic approach, the logo and its individual letters have no meaning on their own, as the meaning resides on their connection with the on-going (then and now) cultural and social-political processes. To eliminate the errors would be to eliminate it’s meaning…’ (Asseo and O’Neill, 2012, p.36).

Download the Hotel Excelsior typography for free, HERE. Upload your use of the font with the hashtag #hotelexcelsiortype.

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