Degree shows, Notebook

It’s showtime: A visit to the LCC and NUA graphics exhibitions

Notebook: 5 July 2017 | DEGREE SHOWS

Last year I managed to squeeze in visits to 11 different graphic design degree shows but this year with time against me, I’ve visited just three exhibitions – Reading (see my previous post), the London College of Communication (LCC) and Norwich University of the Arts (NUA). LCC and NUA were both excellent shows – not only was the work of a high standard with plenty of editorial design and typography to satisfy my interests, but it was also very well presented with careful editing, clear captioning and lots of space around it to allow it to breathe and to show the designs off to their best. There’s no point in a student spending a couple of years producing fantastic work only to then present it poorly.

Both LCC and NUA choose to loosely group the work into sections – printed magazines here, book jackets there and so on, rather than displaying the work by individual student, and (rightly or wrongly, depending on your viewpoint) this allows them to wheedle out the poorer designs and focus on the good stuff – which is refreshing for the exhibition viewer, and it allows for easy comparison across subject areas.

LCC was up first and on Wednesday 21 June I emerged from the Elephant and Castle tube station into bright sunlight, busy traffic and a wall of hot air. It was the warmest June day in London since 1976. I dashed across the highway and into the cool of the LCC plaza. The Graphic and Media Design show was held in a large exhibition hall just beyond the main foyer. At one end of the hall a huge and captivating tv screen (pictured top) projected students’ work, and along each side of the room selected items were displayed on smaller monitors on the walls and as printed publications on tables. An antechamber housed the students’ process books or ‘roughs’ which helped show the thinking behind their designs.

LCC has a rich heritage from its days as the London College of Printing and alumni include the magazine designers Neville Brody and Kuchar Swara, and the photographer Rankin. Graphics at LCC errs towards typography, information design and editorial design as well as ‘visual design systems, design for social change and design for moving image and smart media’. Students are encouraged to be exploratory in their thinking and their use of media and materials. Here’s a snapshot of some of the work that caught my eye:

An interesting set of characters from a type design project by Samuel Bloch

Intriguing spread from a book by Francisco Casaroti. The book is a compilation of the thinking and processes behind three of his major projects

Phoebe Salter’s ‘Two Points’ project features striking photography from Shepherd’s Bush and Smithfield markets presented in a newspaper format

A favourite of mine: ‘The Obsolete Directory’ by Dennis Lee – a documentation of visual research carried out around two phone boxes in Bermondsey and presented in a thick telephone directory-like publication on thin newsprint

Tim Lucraft’s ‘process’ books that document the thinking behind his major projects

Peter Roden’s ‘process’ book. It’s good to see the students put as much time and effort into presenting their thought processes and rough designs, as well as they do, their finished design

Ball bearings roll around on a lightbox and generate data that creates random backgrounds for posters. Richard Underwood’s major project questions the role of the graphic designer in a world of artificial intelligence and automation

The work at LCC was fascinating, and much of it was beautiful and thrilling to look at. Before I dashed off I just had time to pop into the illustration show and caught sight of this comic book called ‘Strainees: The Martian Curse’ with illustration by Miranda Smart. I think she may be someone to watch out for.

On Friday June 30, I was back in Norwich for the NUA shows. Graphics students at Norwich have a choice of three options after their first year of study. They can chose the straight graphics course (BA Hons Graphic Design) which has always been strong in ideas-based design as well as packaging and branding; or they can opt for the Graphic Communication route (BA Hons Graphic Communication) which encourages students to solve complex communication problems and push the boundaries of their discipline; or finally, they can take the Design for Publishing course which focuses on editorial design and typography across both print and digital. The Publishing students are often encouraged to work in collaborative groups which is such a sensible idea as it helps prepare them for life on the outside – they learn how to debate and reason with others, and they discover their strengths and weaknesses within the team. Matt Goss, Natalie Sowa, Alicia Mundy, Julia Clark and Crystal Loh all worked together to produce Dickybird magazine which ‘explores life through language’ and their display is shown below.

There was some exceptional typography on display from DfP student Matt Longley who had designed, and had printed, a complete magazine, Politics and New Liberty – a collection of long- form opinion articles. Matt had also turned his hand to type design and Pathfinder Mono and Mondrian are two typefaces he created in just seven days from initial sketches to finished product, both of which embrace the imperfections of design that come from rapid prototyping. Both projects are shown below and you can see more of them on his link.

Natalie Sowa’s publication Brothers looked at the interesting similarities between Obama and Putin through the use of found Google images and then carefully edited and juxtaposed those images to tell a powerful story. And Natalie’s American Anxiety posters highlight unsettling messages with quirky and unsettling typography (below).

Other Design for Publishing work that popped out at me was a set of OS map covers by Alicia Mundy, Sights and Sounds – a series of posters by Matt Goss promoting an exhibition of the story of Stones Throw Records, and Hannah Moulton’s designs for the online Bridget magazine.

I moved on and, housed in a separate space, I found the NUA Graphic Communication in_form show. The students and tutors had clearly worked hard to create a bold exhibition that showed the work off to its best with hanging posters, table-top displays, monitors and a… confessional box. It was all done with clarity, confidence and a real professionalism and there was a buzz, energy and ‘hot-house’ atmosphere that reflected the ground being forged by these particular students who are working on the edge of the graphic design discipline. Here’s a taster below with four posters and a mag from (in order) Sophie Norman, Jake Gilbert, Jonathan Leonard, Louis Scott and Jack Lambert

The Design for Publishing and Graphic Communication shows at NUA both have accompanying websites where you can look at more of the students’ work – and on Hannah Moulton’s page I discovered her Sunday Times newspaper designs (pictured below), a project that the students undertake in their second year and one that I help run as a visiting lecturer. (See link)

The LCC show has been and gone for another year but if you’re quick you might just catch the final day of the NUA show which finishes on 5 July. And both LCC and NUA are exhibiting at the D&AD New Blood festival in Shoreditch on 5-6 July.

Good luck to all graduating students.