Contemporary Practice – Week 11: Trends & Environments

Week 11 Lecture & Resources

Thoughts on Resources & Lecture

London Design Festival 2018. Image via LDF

I thought the Breaking News 2.0 installation that Patrick Thomas developed (as part of the London Design Festival in 2018) was an interesting take on the idea of an exhibition, as well as a comment on how we digest news and visual information. From watching the video footage, I imagine it would be quite an immersive experience to visit the exhibition. I like the fact it was also interactive, encouraging people to engage with it and actively contribute to it.

Graphic design by Patrick Thomas Studio. Image via Instagram.

The exhibition creates a kind of layered, multi-sensory environment where screens display words, occasionally interspersed with symbols, alongside printed headlines in multiple languages on a wide range of topics. In this way, the type creates a kind of visual texture.

It strikes me that this could create a bewildering effect for visitors, where they get a sense of being overwhelmed by information overload – something that is very prevalent in modern life, where it can feel like we are bombarded by constant data and different media vying for our attention. Sometimes the random graphic symbols obscure the text on screen, a visual representation of state or media censorship.   

Another element that makes the experience different is that it’s site-specific and every time the concept is brought to life, it will be different depending on the context.


China National Opera & Dance Drama Theatre poster. Image via Theatre Beijing.

In the introduction to our workshop task for this week, Tom Finn from Regular Practice talked about the differences in how typography is viewed, highlighting the fact that in parts of Asia, for example China and Japan, traditional calligraphy is perceived as having value because it is seen as an artisanal craft, whereas in the West, this kind of type could potentially be viewed very differently in the same context. So for instance, if calligraphic type is used for branding or logo designs, it could be viewed in a negative light by a Western audience, who would most likely view cleaner, more geometric/linear or digitally-created typography as having greater value.

Someone who has tried to bridge this gap between Eastern and Western cultures is ShaoLan Hsueh, a London-based Taiwanese entrepreneur. She developed Chineasy, an innovative visual system to simplify learning to read and understand Mandarin Chinese characters, or Hanzi.

Chineasy illustration. Image via Design Week.

She created pictograms to illustrate and help students to understand the meaning of different characters with clear, bold graphics. I think they are really effective, as they use the structure of the Chinese character to form the basis of the illustration. As someone with a very visual memory, I believe having a pictorial representation of a symbol’s meaning can help to make it more memorable too.

Chineasy illustration. Image via Design Week.

Workshop Challenge

This week I chose to do a case study on Urban Decay and how this brand is delivered in different countries.

Final design for case study editorial piece.

Urban Decay Case Study

Urban Decay is a cosmetics brand that has been shaking up the make-up world since 1996. The company broke the mould and could be described as a disruptor in the beauty industry, starting with a collection of unique products in colours that were radically different to what was available at the time.

The colour palette used for their initial offering of lipsticks and nail polishes was inspired by the grittier side of inner-city life, with names like Roach, Oil Slick, Rust, Smog and Acid Rain – not a traditional approach, in an industry awash with shades of pink, red and beige. They also pride themselves on their approach of “beauty with an edge,” advocating kindness over cruelty (as a brand strongly against animal testing), and self-expression with highly pigmented vibrant alternative colours.

Since starting in California, USA, the company has expanded across the globe, becoming a cult favourite for creative make-up fans and has opened stores in a range of countries, including Spain and the UK (including Carnaby Street, and King’s Cross in London). They also have a presence in Sephora stores, as well as concessions within department stores such as Macy’s in the US, and House of Fraser and Debenhams in the UK. In North America, Urban Decay has a “beauty junkie” loyalty programme, as well as a UD Pro membership for professional make-up artists.­

I reviewed a broad cross-section of Urban Decay’s international websites for America, Asia, Europe and Africa, to see how they represent their brand across different geographical locations and in different languages.

Examples of homepages from Urban Decay’s global websites.
Top left – USA / Top right – Russia / Bottom left – Mexico / Bottom right – UK

I noticed that in general, it seems that whilst there are subtle nuances catering to the local markets, and slight adaptations to account for the language differences, overall, the core identity of the brand is very consistent in terms of style. My impression is that someone who was familiar with the Urban Decay “house style” would easily recognise the brand, even in another language, because of the consistency in the tone of voice, logo, brand colour palette, stylistic approach and type of imagery used. The brand also has a set of complimentary typefaces that are incorporated into its visual language, allowing for flexibility within the brand identity.

This gives a sense of a coherent, strong and reliable brand – one that customers come to know and love. I thought it was interesting to note that on several of the websites for countries where English is not the main language, there was still brand messaging in English (perhaps because it is often considered a global lingua franca), alongside the native language for that country. An example of this is the Italian, Czech and French Urban Decay homepages, where the same image and “Good Vibes” strapline in English were used as the main hero image on the website header area, alongside wording in the local language.

Visual consistency across the Czech, French and Italian Urban Decay websites.

I also observed that the product names were consistent across the board, with the English names used globally, regardless of language that was local to the specific target market.

Editorial – Design development

Penultimate version of the editorial design.

For the editorial design, I my aim was to create a spread that emulated the Urban Decay branding, with a tonal purple colour palette and bold imagery. While creating it, my inspiration for the style and design approach was something akin to a visual lookbook.

Photograph of some Urban Decay packaging.

I also own some Urban Decay products, so I thought it made sense to use photographs of these in the editorial design, to give some context and add visual interest to the case study.

In order to create an authentic feel, I researched the visual language used on Urban Decay products and websites and tracked down a vector of the brand’s logo as well.

Screenshot from the Urban Decay USA website.
An earlier iteration of the editorial design.
Testing initial ideas for editorial page layout/background colours.

Reflection on the week

This week, I noted that there are many ways to deliver, and receive a message. It’s also worth acknowledging that sometimes a message we try to communicate is not successful. This could be because one message can be interpreted in a variety of ways, or that the meaning we are attempting to convey is not understood by the audience. It could also be a result of cultural differences or alternative/nonsensical meanings in another language.

Language is a fluid thing that’s constantly evolving too, and so the meaning of a word or phrase may change over time. The last few years have also seen a rise in image-based communication methods, such as the emoji, which is often used in lieu of words, to represent something in a pictorial way, particularly on modern social media. Even a single emoji can have multiple meanings or interpretations, depending on context.

Reflecting on the workshop challenge, and looking back at the previous editorial designs I’ve created for the module, I feel that my skills are developing in that area, as I can see a definite progression over the last few weeks. I think the way an idea is presented has a significant impact too – I noticed that putting the spread layout into a magazine mockup image really elevated the design, as well as showing it in the intended context.

In the final iteration of my editorial design, I added a textured “scribble” which I drew using a graphics tablet, intended to look like it was drawn with one of the brand’s eyeliners. I feel that this visual element really helped to marry the different parts of the design together and stays true to the Urban Decay style too. I also enjoyed adding a drop-cap to the spread, as this is something I hadn’t previously experimented with.


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London Design Festival. 2018. Breaking News 2.0 by London Design Festival at the V&A. London Design Festival [online]. Available at: [accessed 11 December 2020]

Theatre Beijing. 2020. Dance Drama LI Bai. Theatre Beijing [online]. Available at: [accessed 11 December 2020]

Chineasy. 2020. Learn About Chineasy. Chineasy [online]. Available at: [accessed 11 December 2020]

Montgomery, Angus. 2013. Chineasy – learn Chinese through graphics. Design Week [online]. Available at: [accessed 11 December 2020]

Wikipedia. 2020. Chinese characters. Wikipedia [online]. Available at: [accessed 11 December 2020]