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The Collaborative Mix

Reflecting on classic models for Graphic Design working

GDE 730 Week 5

Collaborative Approaches to Design

1.  Research & analysed the different ways in which graphic designers produce work collaboratively.

2.  Research & analyse the essential components of collaborative practice.


In the first lecture this week, 'Design to Change the World' we heard from 2 designers who had been actively involved in collaborating with others.  The first of which was partnership Isabel Seiffart & Christopher Miller from Offshore Studios.  They discussed their printed publication project entitled 'Migrant Journal'.  The aim of the enterprise was to investigate and publicise migration on many and varied levels, including documenting non-human global movements, such as landscape, money and animals. 


There were a total of 4 designers working on the brief and they hailed from different countries, communicating only by remote means and migrating themselves during the course of the design & production process.  Whilst the collaborators physical locations undoubtedly led to some hiccups during the course of the project, the variety of contributors nationalities & backgrounds generated a model that reflected the purpose of the journal.  Furthermore, the invitations they extended to a variety of external professionals, illustrators & photographers, generated the rich global content they were looking for.  Likewise the production division for the journal were trusted to ensure that the designers strict parameters were met.  I assume that the printing team were previously known to the 4 key designers, as trust is normally something earned through reliability and consistency of delivery. 


Christopher Miller concluded by talking about designers expanding their horizons beyond commercial design for consumerism. The opening up of designer partnerships with professionals in other sectors could help society view design as something more worthy & valuable.

Morag Myerscough was the second speaker whose vibrant, colourful and energetic designs were seen as a tonic for the hospitals she has worked with.  Myerscough spoke of the importance of connecting with all stakeholders affected by her design proposals.  Although it was clearly important that she work closely with laminate manufacturers and painters to deliver her expressive designs, it was also vital that hospital staff and patients had their say during the early stages of the process. 


I was very interesting to note that her 2D design illustrations fell flat with the nurses at the initial consultation stages and they seemed concerned about patients that may need a less visually stimulating environment to recuperate in.  Myerscough stood by her designs on the whole, reverting to a 3D model method of presentation to better support the nurses visualisation of the space, at the same time asking for patient and relative feedback to gauge more opinion.  When responses returned positively and with an additional design for a more serene coloured room, the nurses were won over. 

Myerscough elucidated that patience was needed with the Formica laminate company, the wall cladding taking a year to resolve.  She also described the problems that ongoing collaborations can bring about, affecting timelines and finances.  

Lecture 2, entitled 'Graphics That Engage', presented designer Ken Kirton from Hato Studio and partners Seb White & Eva Kellenberger of Kellenberger White.  Both design studios demonstrated a focus on collaborating with the public.  There were elements of handing control over to individuals, to empower them to bring their unique viewpoints or creativity to a project.  Kirton described how Hato achieves this through endeavours that encourage co-creation through play, a model that is particularly successful with children, who do not have the barriers to expression that adults have.  Kirton's clients are predominantly cultural institutions, such as galleries, art spaces and museums.  These sectors are keen to engage visitors, thereby creating collaborative works and personal memories that invite an enthusiastic return visit and a celebration of their inclusive ethos.  Hato Studio provides the toolkits and templates that enable this engagement.  

Kellenberger White operate in the same sector with a mission to help the public to be part of the creation.  They produce artefacts that allow audiences to physically interact, the recordings of public involvement becoming the outcome rather than merely documenting it.  They also advocate working with others within the space of intended installation/work, how this helps the design process.  I agree that this is a useful action to take as the place evokes feelings, emotions and thoughts that could take a designer on an interesting, unexpected journey.  This reminds me of the 'Noticing the Ignored' week during Module GDE710, for which we left our inhibitions & preconceptions at the door and ventured out to really absorb our surroundings. 

As I watched and listened to the second lecture, I was struck by the power of collaboration with people outside of design disciplines.  These people bring extraordinary and unique ideas.  It feels like there is an infinite resource of untapped creativity within these individuals eager to show it's self.  Further thinking around this concept, I wondered how I could extract these enlightening outlooks from the stakeholders in my business proposal.  How could I engage them or use their voices, in quite a literal way?  

Workshops seem to be very successful methods of collating the opinions, perspectives and creativity of a group.  Furthermore, photographs, videos, writings and quotes, solicited through observations, questionnaires, surveys or interviews, would be valuable resources that could initiate unconventional design directions.  

Exploring more of the resources given this week, I was amused by the partnership of Anna Lomax and Jess Bonham.  In particular, their apparent disregard for each other as a potential working relationship.  Having known each other for years, studied together and worked next to each other in the same studio, they eventually began to see each others aesthetic differences as a powerful mix.  A slow partnership emerged through playing with ideas and discussions.  Maximalist Lomax and Minimalist Bonham saw the latent originality that their collaboration could bear, so joining forces to produce suggestive and tactile works, to much acclaim.  A great example of successful endeavour driven by opposite, yet complimentary, practitioners.

Another interesting collaborative perspective was presented by Liv Siddall as she discussed her partnership with Bruce Usher on Rough Trade Magazine.  The pair work well together, with Siddall generating quirky content to suit the Rough Trade brand and Usher leading the design of the publication.  What was more interesting though, was the way Siddall generated content.  Forced to work to very tight deadlines, she was extremely inventive when collecting pieces for the magazine.  This facilitated some clever strategies including giving bands a disposable camera and then using their reportage and documentary style photos for an article, or asking a wise and worldly musician to write a horoscope and placing Rough Trade store staff front and centre of a publication.  A magazine that communicated a truly honest & transparent multi-stakeholder viewpoint.

In an interview for director Tony Kaye described his collaborative partnership with acclaimed music director Rick Rubin.  There was a clear sense of admiration on Kaye's part for his collaborator and he expressed pleasure working with him because, although less experienced, Rubin respected Kaye's talent.  Kaye recalls that he supported and nurtured him, whilst also giving him the freedom to make decisions on the mutual project.  This is a great example of where 2 professionals with different levels of experience find harmony in a mentor/mentee approach.  Rubin clearly saw the potential in Kaye and it benefitted him to work with an up-and-coming director, who could inject a fresh perspective to an established practice - a kind of 'old dog, new tricks' method.  Kaye on the other hand, gained experience and skills from a practitioner whom he admired, developing his confidence in a new arena.



The idea's wall this week highlighted some key points related to the 'essential components of collaborative process'.  These were the main points I considered and analysed:


Alice finds an interesting collab. between an architect, construction co. & NASA to construct buildings for the Moon using 3D printers - I thought looking at 3D printers was a significant historical & exemplary piece of work in itself.

Responding to Harriet as she asks us to consider if we are looking at the right kind of collaborations for the particular question posed.

Realising that many of the fashion x collabs are examples of 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' mentality, in which many previously ridged ownership protection is relaxed in favour of potential profit margins!

Bayan suggests that collaborations bridge the 'missing gap'.  I agree but consider that the gap can be bigger than what a designer has to offer, but this is perhaps where more experienced practitioners can offer a mentoring role.

Piotr quoting Paula Scher here and debating whether 2 designers can work together at all?

I believe they can but there must be 'give & take' in the relationship and no defined 'leader' is required because you afford your partner the trust and respect to come to mutually agreeable decisions.  Having been a leader at Pentogram for many years, Paula admits and accepts that she is not the ideal partner in a designer/designer model.

Considering components that are essential, I believe that clarity is needed about each individual role.  Treading on another collaborators toes during the process could break down the flow, impacting on budget and timeframe. 

Having spent a good few days deliberating over selecting a exemplary & historically significant collaborative project, I empathised with Gary.  However I had hit a realisation that I was incorrectly searching for collaborations (which brought up mostly music & fashion)  Focusing on events or inventions of historical significance opened up a wider range of options, inlcuding many from outside design practice. 

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Workshop Challenge

Design, write & deliver an editorial piece illustrating a collaborative project that has led to an exemplary & historically significant piece of work (300 words & images)

It was whilst searching for a case study for this weeks workshop that I came across a 2017 article written in She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation by Jeremy Myerson entitled 'Scaling Down: Why Designers Need to Reverse Their Thinking'.  I was intrigued by the title and as I scanned the writing. I realised that the premise related to a recent and continuing shift of focus in business & therefore design. To move from designing for a mass global market (products and services aimed at connecting with many people on a limited level) to design that addresses the needs of micro markets and the differences rather than the similarities between them.

Austrian Designer Victor Papanek wrote a book in the late 1960's called 'Design for the Real World'.  He advocated for designers to develop a social conscience and championed an ideal where America's logo-types and pictorial markings were more engaging, with consideration for contextual location, tradition and activity.  He rebuked the work of design consultant Henry Dreyfuss, who developed 'templates' and sizing models based on average human data sets.  

Papanek's theories were largely ignored until the mid to late 1980's.  He was one of the first designers to consider the needs of particular people, especially those excluded from average human data based models, such as those with physical differences or those in the developing world.   He was also an ecologist and therefore very ahead of his time.  We now begin to see his theories surfacing in response to the social challenges of today.  Market centred design has made way for the more universal, inclusive people centred approach.  This standpoint delves in to specific human needs and experiences, empowering individuals and communities.  As businesses & organisations 'scale down', designers look for working models that support this direction.  Collaboration is key and Myerson concurs with his top tips for 'scaling down' including:

  1. Design with people, not for them. 

  2. Designers will need to get deeply involved with problems and co-ordinate input from a range of disciplines.

  3. Design based on real (& sometimes messy!) life not abstract ideals or stereotypes.

  4. Directly engage with stakeholders to reveal real opinions & lived experiences. 

  5. Improve human agency and empower users by improving peoples physical & phycological assets.

Reflecting on this idea, I wanted to choose a case study that was ahead of it's time, like Papanek, in placing the uniqueness of people at the forefront of their project.  I found the story of ISOTYPE and it's collaborators and decided this should be my case study.

Key points that made ISOTYPE exemplary and historically significant:

  • Created a visually stimulating, easily understood method of communication that took complicated quantitative data and made it accessible to the masses.

  • Involved a German constructivist collaborator with the ability to design simple, clear, symbolic images using a craft medium.

  • Developed, maintained & preserved throughout the disruption & risk of 1 civil & 2 world wars and beyond.

  • Led by a well regarded Austrian social scientist and political economist.

  • Reliant on the ability of a German female writer, scientist & designer, to defy inequality and transform works for public consumption.

  • The legacy that makes it's mark on today's communication systems. 

And so to the story...

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