Contemporary Practice – Week 2: Industry Today

Workshop Challenge

Part 1: Design Practice

Image via Strava

Leith Agency –

The Leith Agency is based at Commercial Quay in Leith, an area of Edinburgh, Scotland, which is a hotbed of creative agencies and design studios. Their motto is “bold ideas that work” and they employ around 110 people, with steady growth since they began in 2001. The company also has a branch in the Shoreditch area of London.

I was drawn to this agency because of their humorous, innovative work for an iconic Scottish brand, often described as the country’s second national drink, Irn-Bru (an orange fizzy soft drink). They broke the mould by using Scots language and unique wit in the memorable advertising campaigns they have developed for the brand across print, digital, TV and outdoor.

Image via The Drum

It’s clear that an agency based outside Scotland, or at least one without experience of Scottish culture, would not have taken this kind of approach – I feel geography and an intimate knowledge of the Scottish sense of humour, as well as a sense of playfulness have all played a part.

Lewis –

Lewis is a creative consultancy established in 2013, also based in Leith. They work with clients across several sectors including energy, financial services, transport, and the cultural and third sectors, including Scottish Power, Origo, Santander, Lothian Buses, National Museums Scotland and the Edinburgh International Festival.

Image via Lewis

The images shown are from a campaign they developed for an Edinburgh museum called Dynamic Earth, which brings to life the evolution of our planet via interactive storytelling.

Image via Lewis

Whitespace –

Whitespace is a creative agency based in the heart of the city of Edinburgh. They were established in 1997, currently have a team of around 64 people and are part of the Dentsu Aegis Network in the UK & Ireland. Their work covers brand identity, content marketing, creative campaigns and digital media, including mobile, web, AR and VR.

Image via Whitespace

Clients on their books include the Royal Academy of Music, Visit Scotland, Creative Edinburgh, The Fringe (Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival), the National Trust for Scotland, Innis & Gunn and Highland Spring (a Scottish mineral water brand).

Creative Edinburgh website, created by Whitespace

Part 2: Design Production

Alexandra Snowdon –

Alexandra Snowdon is a printmaker, hand lettering artist and illustrator based in Edinburgh. She works on a freelance basis and her clients include Harper Collins Publishers, Uppercase Magazine, American Greetings, Studio Oh and Design House Greetings.

Uppercase Magazine feature. Images via

Thomas Paints –

Image via Thomas Paints

Thomas Paints, aka Thomas Payne, is a traditional sign writer, sign maker and designer based in Longniddry, East Lothian, which is a short distance east of Edinburgh. He also does glass gilding, creates murals and runs workshops on sign writing.

Images via Thomas Paints

His work is beautifully crafted and provides a contrast to mass-produced, impersonal signage seen everywhere. Each of his signs are hand made and acknowledge the long history of his discipline, in addition to overseeing the revival and restoration of some of Edinburgh’s historic “ghost signs.”

Rockstar North –

Rockstar North is an award-winning video game developer in Edinburgh. Founded in 2002, they are probably best known for creating the Grand Theft Auto series of video games.

Their continuing innovation in games design has made central Scotland a hub for video game design and development – the city of Dundee in particular has a strong reputation for producing world-class graduates in the interactive field of computer games.

Reflection on Week 2 Lecture

After listening to the podcast, which talked about having a broad understanding of the history of graphic design as being fundamental to practicing in the field, I wanted to research some of the key figures and chose to look at the work of Margaret Calvert.

In my current job, I had actually recently encountered her work because I wanted to recreate a road sign that would look like those on found on a typical British motorway. This led me to reading about the typeface and design system she developed with Jock Kinneir, commissioned by the UK government’s Ministry of Transport.

Gouche sign maquettes. Image via

It was really interesting to learn about the mechanics of meticulously building a typeface from scratch using traditional methods, as well as the design considerations of creating a system which needed to be clearly legible when being driven past at speed!

This Wired article describes their process:

“Kinneir and Calvert created rules for traffic signs that have endured to this day. Consider the wide gaps in letter spacing typically seen on roadside signs: That spacing is derived from research the designers conducted on how type should scale according to the speed of traffic and the amount of information on display. For Transport, the unit of measure for spacing is based on the width of the capital letter ‘I’—a consistency in form which, over time, helped foster a sense of familiarity in drivers.”

new transport type specimen
New Transport – Type specimen. Image via

I also discovered Margaret Calvert has subsequently created New Transport, a redesigned digital version of the original typeface.

Punk Zines

The subject of Punk zines piqued my interest – particularly as it led on nicely from my research last week into the Punk aesthetic. I knew immediately which infamous zine cover was referenced in the podcast – it perfectly illustrates the DIY ethos of the genre.

Punk fanzine cover via Punk Girl Diaries

I continued looking in more detail at the visual history of the fanzine and gathered examples of zines from the early 1970s-era, through to 90s Riot Grrrl and more recent creative zines by modern artists and illustrators.

zines visual research
Visual research on the evolution of the fanzine.

I also broadened my visual inspiration moodboard from last week and expanded it to look at collage influences and layered type, as well as the artworks of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

My Pinterest board with visual research – a continuation of last week.

Reflection on Week 2 Resources

In the extract we were given from Drip Dry Shirts: The Evolution of the Graphic Designer, I was really interested to read about how developments in technology, such as the introduction of mechanisation and automation brought about changes in the design world, (e.g. how Linotype and Monotype systems gave rise to a much greater volume and variety of printed material). I also enjoyed discovering the close links between art and design, and the influence different art movements had on the output of designers at the time.

Pre-WWI: Orientalism/Japonisme/Exoticism

Visual culture from Japan began to proliferate in the late nineteenth century after the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed in 1854 between the USA and Japan. A good example of this is the work of artist Vincent van Gogh, who was influenced by Japanese art and amassed a collection of over 200 Japanese prints.

In the image above, the left shows a colour woodblock print by Utugawa Hiroshige and the right shows Vincent van Gogh’s painting Flowering Plum Orchard (after Hiroshige), which demonstrates the typical flattened perspective and use of heightened colour. The unusual composition also gives a sense of visual immediacy.

Early 20th Century:
Abstract Art & Modernism

The Swan, No 17, Group IX, Series SUW, painted by Hilma af Klint 1914-1915. Image via Tate
K VII, painted by László Moholy-Nagy in 1922. Image via Tate

Written Task

List 4 key evolutionary design steps that contributed to the identity of your design culture today in your country in your opinion.

Scottish Enlightenment

The Scottish Enlightenment was a period, circa 1730 – 1820, when Scotland saw a flourishing of ideas, art, literature and minds. The era was also characterised by an outpouring of intellectual and scientific accomplishments. 

Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. Image via Art UK.

During this period, Edinburgh became known as the “Athens of the North” due to the neoclassical architecture built in the Georgian New Town. The city’s Royal Scottish Academy and National Gallery of Scotland buildings, housing the national collections, were conceived by architect William Henry Playfair as an homage to the classical Greek temples of ancient Athens.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Design for Glasgow School of Art: elevation to Renfrew Street, Charles Rennie Macintosh.
Image via Glasgow School of Art Archives & Collections

A key figure in Scotland’s design landscape, Charles Rennie Macintosh was an architect, artist and designer who took a detailed and holistic approach to designing his interiors. Born in 1868 in Glasgow, his work is recognised globally and hugely influential, particularly on the Art Nouveau movement in Europe. The designs he created and brought to life for the Glasgow School of Art are one of his greatest legacies to the country.

The library at GSA. Image via Dezeen.

1947: The first Edinburgh International Festival is held.

Edinburgh International Festival was inaugurated in 1947 and has been a platform for the performing arts ever since, conceived in the optimism of the post-World War II era to encourage the “flowering of the human spirit.”

Edinburgh skyline. Photograph by C. McLaughlin

Edinburgh is now considered a festival city. Home to many festivals, it is probably best known for the annual Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest festival, which hosts performers from all over the planet. Other big attractions in the festival circuit include the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Edinburgh International Book Festival which began in 1983. The Edinburgh Art Festival, which began in 2004, is the result of a collective formed by the city’s galleries, artists and museums to ensure the visual arts have a prominent place amongst the other summer festivals.

The influx of people from all walks of life to experience the festival events, not to mention the fact it’s also a popular tourist destination as the Scottish nation’s capital, means the city has become something of a cultural melting pot, with influences from across the globe. This is evident in the city’s collective creative output, which is vast and varied.

V&A Dundee. Photograph by C. McLaughlin

2018: V&A Dundee opens.

Dundee’s regeneration has continued with the arrival of the V&A Dundee, Scotland’s first museum dedicated to design. It’s a unique piece of architecture in the city’s skyline, which pays homage to Dundee’s maritime past whilst still retaining a modern feel and was designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. The museum features a recreation of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s celebrated Ingram Street Tearooms ran by Miss Cranston (the original building was demolished in 1971).

V&A Dundee. Photograph by C. McLaughlin

I believe the museum is a timely acknowledgement of Scotland’s diverse design heritage and contributions to modern design, and I hope other Scots see it as a place of national pride in celebrating our achievements as a small but incredibly creative and innovative nation.

Reflection on this week

This week, I discussed and observed with my fellow students that where a designer is based geographically can have an enormous impact on their creative output – from the resources available locally, to the cultural influences, what the physical surroundings look and feel like, to the language and people they will encounter, and different types of clients they are likely to have. However, it’s also true that in the modern era of producing work via digital means – not to mention remote working by necessity during a worldwide pandemic – it’s possible to produce high quality work from almost anywhere. So for instance, you could feasibly be a designer based in one part of the globe and potentially have clients based in a completely different time zone.


Roberts, Lucienne. 2005. Drip Dry Shirts: The Evolution of the Graphic Designer. London: AVA Publishing.

Fitzgerald, Sharon. 2016. The Influence of Zen Buddhism on the Art of Georgia O’Keeffe. 2nd edn. Los Angeles: The Art History Channel.

Vergeest, Aukje. 2015. Face to Face with Vincent van Gogh. Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum Enterprises B.V.