Student Design Brief #1: The Results


Posted by: Creative Times on March 12, 2012 10:12

The Creative Times Student Design Brief series is well under way. We sent the first brief, devised and written by Dan Shannon, to three willing students just over four weeks ago. Here, we reveal the fantastic results, talk to the students and Dan explains the thinking behind the brief.

When I sent out the first brief to 3rd year graphic design students Nichola Watkiss (University of Chester), Laura Stanworth (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Kelcey Braine (University of Cumbria), I was worried. Not because I doubted their ability – on the contrary, the standard of all the participants in the series (15 students over five design briefs), had exceeded expectations. No, I was worried because writing a decent brief had proved far more challenging than I had anticipated, and I knew I had to devise at least four more that would prove equally taxing for the other students.

My original intention had been to keep things easy, but as I got to grips with being the guy who creates the problem (instead of the one who tries to solve it), I realised that setting a trivial challenge would have proved a worthless exercise for our participants. My reasoning here is simple – in an industry where graduates are already expected to work for free (often on rather uninspiring projects), it seemed somewhat cynical for me, as a designer and postgraduate student myself, to give our student designers two weeks to design a corporate logo for company X merely for our viewing pleasure.

My original intention had been to keep things easy, but I soon realised that setting a trivial challenge would have proved a worthless exercise for our participants.

With that in mind, I decided it best to beef things up a little. The intention of this design experiment is to gain an insight into how different designers interpret the same brief. In this first series I challenged Laura, Kelcey and Nichola to devise a symbol for Buy Nothing Day, the international day of protest against over-consumption and corporate greed. All three designers rose to the challenge with great enthusiasm and submitted work that not only demonstrates different viewpoints, but also hopefully adds something of real quality to each designer’s portfolio.

There is an obvious contradiction in designing a symbol to represent an idea that exists in an anti-corporate space. Nichola (images 1-4, above) recognised the need for ownership, and her solution, one imagines, could easily be adopted and drawn by protestors who need only remember that it’s a barcode and a line. The resulting variations in heart rate would certainly make things a little more interesting. She also paid heed to the requirement that the symbol should be easy to paint by hand.

Laura (images 5-8, above) recognised the need to make activists active – her solution encourages protestors to disrupt the shopping experience by covering up prices with their own BND price tag stickers. The price tag is also used as a symbol.

Kelcey (images 9-12, above) uses the idea of the barcode coupled with the stop sign as a device to communicate the potential positive outcomes of shopping less.

Can you give a brief outline of your approach to graphic design and any thoughts you have on your practice in general?

LS: I see myself as quite a versatile designer, with skills and interests across several areas of design, and my approach is often witty or playful. I also have a particular love of typography, which features heavily in my work.

NW: Everything must be designed for a purpose, and I think graphic design should have visual impact and make a difference. I enjoy identifying problems and solving them through considered visual concepts.

KB: The research process is a big part of my practice. I mind-map and try to find crossovers or elements that could be combined visually, and develop these – though I try to avoid obvious design solutions.

Buy Nothing Day (and similar movements) tend to split opinion. While some people champion the cause, others dismiss it as useless. Do you have an opinion regarding the BND movement, and if so do you think this affected your work?

LS: I suppose I didn’t really have a strong opinion towards Buy Nothing Day, so in this respect it didn’t affect my work. I saw it as a design problem I needed to solve. I do think it is a pretty good cause; my main issue with consumerism is large companies taking business from local independent stores. Rather than develop a logo for signage, I wanted to create something that protesters could actually use. I do like a good shopping trip, so unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be joining the protest!

KB: I think that Buy Nothing Day is actually quite a passive form of protest, and requires little thought. Individual action on Buy Nothing Day wouldn’t make an impact, and would go unnoticed, so I felt it was necessary to create something understandable to increase awareness of the movement. The idea that BND could be practised as part of everyday life and with minimum fuss drove my concepts and led to my final symbol.

NW: My immediate thoughts regarding Buy Nothing Day were concerned with over-consumption and its effects on the environment, but I found that most people hadn’t even heard of BND before and didn’t know what it was about. This informed my approach – I wanted to design a symbol that would not only grab the attention but would also educate people about BND by focusing on one of the main reasons for its existence.

Regarding the brief, was there any part you had particular difficulty with? Do you think this shows in your work? Did any particular limitation help you reach your solution?

LS: The brief was difficult – much harder than I thought it would be. There is already a lot of anti-consumer protest imagery on the web, such as bar codes as prison bars, and I didn’t want to get stuck in the trap of reproducing imagery. Instead, I tried to create something that would become synonymous with Buy Nothing Day specifically, and therefore decided to use the abbreviation ‘BND’ in my logo. The requirements for simplicity and ease of reproduction informed my final outcome over slightly more complicated solutions.

NW: It was difficult – especially as I didn’t want to do anything too obvious or rely on clichés. I found it easier to get the obvious ideas out onto paper first, and then I was free to consider my solution in more depth.

KB: One aspect that I considered was the positive influence that Buy Nothing Day could have. This was quite difficult to visualise, because even in the name there is the negative word ‘nothing’ and trying to convey somebody doing nothing proved somewhat awkward. This led me to consider the ways in which we are told not to do things for positive reasons, and I felt that using the stop sign – which saves lives – was an interesting and appropriate choice.

Was there any part of the brief that you thought was particularly open to interpretation?

LS: I think the brief in general – with it asking for a ‘symbol’ and not referring particularly to either a pictorial or typographic outcome – was open to interpretation.

KB: The need for the symbol to work internationally informed my idea of using the bar code. Within this there were various ways to tell people not to do things. People interpret the cultural limitations of language differently – especially when using the abbreviated form ‘BND’ – so there was still the potential to use language, though I personally steered away from this option.

NW: This brief could be approached from many different angles, and it’s definitely something that would be interpreted differently by different designers. I think each approach would reflect the designer’s opinion about BND and what they were hoping to achieve by designing the symbol in the first place.

Many thanks to our student designers for their hard work. To view the brief they responded to in full, click here

Images: 1-4: Nichola Watkiss sketches, final symbol design, posters; 5-8: Laura Stanworth sketches and developments, final symbol design, application of the design; 9-12: Kelcey Braine sketches and development, final symbol design, the symbol in context.

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