Contemporary Practice – Week 9: Message Delivered

Week 9 Lecture & Resources

Thoughts on Resources & Lecture

Lecture notes & notes on A Smile in the Mind book extract.

Making Ideas Material

Listening to the podcast where Susanna Edwards discussed ideas about message and medium with Sam Winston provided me with a lot of food for thought. I liked the idea put forward by him that designers should face their fears (which he believes is really just masked excitement about the unknown) and place trust in the process and their practice.

Photograph taken at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, 2016.

I wholeheartedly believe there is merit in using the act of physical making as a way to initiate and develop ideas, for example with something as simple as paint or pen and paper. As a very tactile person, I find it can be an incredibly useful technique which produces results – and sometimes happy accidents – that would simply not happen using a more digital tool.

There is always more than one way to approach a design “problem” and exploring different ways of seeing it is a good method to begin this process. His suggestion of using the senses to form a response to an environment or place could be an effective means of not only gathering information on several levels, but also of suggesting possible solutions.

Solar Annual Report

Serviceplan, a Munich-based agency, took a unique approach to creating an annual report for Austria Solar. It was made using innovative printing techniques and photochromatic inks which only become visible when exposed to ultraviolet light. You can see why this beautifully executed and carefully considered project was lauded and subsequently awarded the Cannes Lions Design Grand Prix in 2012 – an award celebrating visual craftsmanship.

Austria Solar 2011 annual report by Serviceplan. Image via Behance.

The idea that it’s completely invisible until UV light hits the surface of the paper is really clever, and it’s a powerful method of getting across the message that sunlight is extremely vital to life on this planet.

Guest Lecture: Anthony Burrill

I enjoyed the guest lecture this week by Anthony Burrill, who talked about the beauty and simplicity of typography as a medium but also as method of clearly conveying a message.

Times Square, New York City in December 1969. Image via Fonts in Use.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous “War is Over” slogan is a great example of this. In a way, it’s quite radical to use a Times Square billboard in the middle of New York city and only place large, black letters on a stark white background. The minimalist design approach means there is nothing to detract from the message and by setting the type at a scale that’s hard to ignore, it makes the message all the more powerful. I also like the idea of subverting the concept of an advertising campaign, by having peace as the product.

Meltdown Flags

Modified Canadian flag. Image via Meltdown Flags.

I discovered Meltdown Flags, a collaborative project created with the aim of highlighting the impact of climate change on the world’s glaciers in a visual way, as well as a form of digital protest to recognise the postponed, or cancelled United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26), which was due to happen in Glasgow during November this year. Serviceplan, a Munich-based agency, used the national flags of 17 countries with glaciers and reduced the white areas of each flag’s design, based on statistical data to depict the reduction of the glaciers over time.

Modified French flag. Image via Meltdown Flags.

The climate initiative “Meltdown Flags” combines data and design to show the serious consequences of glacier extinction. Flags are seen as symbols of the highest national representation and emotional value – especially among politicians. The concept behind ‘Meltdown Flags’ is simple: the effects of global warming and consequent glacier retreat is visualized in the flags through reducing the proportion of the color white in the national flags of countries with glaciers, according to historical data and glacier projections.

Service Plan
Modified United States of America flag. Image via Meltdown Flags.

I think this is a really powerful way to get the message across, partly because the public are so familiar with the standard national flags – they are instantly recognisable, iconic and politically powerful, so these modified versions are very striking because they subvert what we’re used to seeing and hopefully would provoke the audience to ask questions to find out more and learn about the impact of global warming.

Workshop Challenge

Front view of seed packet made from collaged and painted papers.

This week, I contemplated emotions that came to mind when I thought of Edinburgh, and how it makes me feel. After some time mulling this over, one of the words evoked by the city for me is nourished. The reasons Edinburgh has been nourishing are multi-faceted, as shown below.

Mind map of the ways Edinburgh has nurtured and nourished me over the years.

Edinburgh is a place I have had strong links with since returning to Scotland in 1995. I have spent most of my formative years there, including secondary school, university and college days, and I feel fortunate to call it home. Its vast array of festivals, music events and vibrant arts scene makes it a culturally rich place to live, which has definitely nourished my creativity. I have found that it’s a melting-pot of inspiration as well, and is somewhere I have forged connections with creative people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

There is also an incredible amount of really delicious food to be found there (not to mention a really diverse food scene with a world-class reputation), so I would include literal nourishment as an aspect of it too.

Back view of seed packet made from collaged and painted papers.

For this week’s workshop challenge, I made a seed packet to represent the idea of being nourished by living in Edinburgh. It’s a fertile place for giving birth to ideas, growing as a person (be it through forming friendships, developing creatively, or intellectually) and also has some really beautiful green spaces, which can be so vital to maintaining mental and physical health.

A view of Edinburgh Castle, from Princes Street Gardens, photographed in October 2020.
Planning the composition in my sketchbook.
Painting cartridge paper + cutting and collaging letter forms.

I couldn’t source the quite the right colours of paper for the lettering, so I improvised and used acrylic paints to mix my own colours and made a range of different “nurturing” shades of green. I wanted to create a colour palette that looked quite organic to give a natural, earthy feel to the overall look of the seed packet. I also used brown parcel paper and a photocopied, scaled down version of an Edinburgh cycle map – one of my favourite (green) ways to get around the city.

Cycle map of Edinburgh.
Some initial ideas I played around with in my sketchbook.

Visual Research

I looked at some real seed packets for inspiration this week.

Reflection on the week

I’m quite pleased with the result of the seed packet, especially as it’s a physical, tangible object with layers of tactility. Using acrylic paint gave the letters a visual texture, which adds to the overall effect, something akin to using a letterpress printing method. I would definitely like to explore this idea more in the future.

I think the composition works well, giving a sense of rhythm and playfulness to the lettering, which also evokes the energy and environment of the city itself. One way I could envisage developing the idea further is by perhaps creating a series of these seed packets, to explore the concept in greater depth. Another thing that I could look at is refining the design to make it look more like the packaging of a real seed packet, as opposed to a conceptual one.

This week’s learning materials generated a lot of thoughts for me and I absorbed ideas about the myriad ways you can approach a design problem, from the physical, to environmental or sensory, to using humour as a means of communicating, conveying a concept and connecting with an audience. On reflection, I think listening to Sam Winston talk about making ideas material may have subconsciously influenced my later decision to create a hand crafted piece as a response to the workshop task!


McAlhone, B., Stuart, D., Quinton, G., Asbury, N. 2016. A Smile in the Mind: Witty Thinking in Graphic Design. London: Phaidon.

Sherman, N.  2019 War is Over! (If you want it). Fonts in Use. Available at: [accessed 29 November 2020]

Serviceplan Group. Serviceplan visualises climate change with “Meltdown Flags” Project. Available at: [accessed 14 November 2020]

Meltdown Flags. Meltdown Flags. Available at: [accessed 14 November 2020]

Behance. 2012. The Solar Annual Report, powered by the sun. Behance [online]. Available at: [accessed 10 December 2020]

Cannes Lions. 2012. Bruce Duckworth on the Design Lions Grand Prix. Available at: [accessed 14 November 2020]

Serviceplan. 2012. The Solar Annual Report. Available at: [accessed 14 November 2020]