My name is Emma and I am a Junior Graphic Designer specialising in motion and identity design. I have recently graduated from the Glasgow School of Art – in the midst of a pandemic of all things like c’mon? Gies a break? – and all the while looking for my first job, I have been encouraged to set up this research / writing blog.

After leaving high school, I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to study. I liked art? But I wanted something that would allow me commercial success and, you know, a job. My careers councillor suggested Graphic Design. Designing album artwork and posters for bands and stuff? Cool! I embarked into the semi – adult world of higher education starting with an NC course in Visual Communication at City of Glasgow College before progressing to an HND. These 3 years shaped me massively, not only as a person and being able to venture outside of my home town and meet new people, but as an aspiring designer. From refusing to want anything to do with computers and typography to embracing everything related to design history and theory, I began to wonder where my practice could potentially develop. I always wanted to look “deeper” into a project, I loved the research aspect of design (even though I have been countlessly told off for maybe spending a wee bit too much time on this stage) and the opportunities for conceptual aesthetic development I could draw from every piece of research I came across.

When it was time to go to University, I had always had my sights set on the Glasgow School of Art. I couldn’t tell you why, but I just knew I had to go there. I grew up in a pretty grey town just outside of Glasgow and so always considered the city my home. It made sense for me to study there as I had become inspired by the close knit creative scene and ‘anyone can dae it’ attitude that would otherwise have seemed so daunting in the likes of bigger cities such as London. After a few open days and talks from graduates speaking of studio spaces, collaboration, conceptual design thinking and impressive folios full of larger than life success stories, it was enough for any young starry eyed design student. Sorted. This was my school whether they liked it or not. Thankfully, they did like it.

The next 3 years was exciting, daunting, exhausting but all in all worth it. Aside from meeting great friends and a whole host of fantastically talented and driven classmates, I was taught a lot about my self worth, finding my specialisms, embracing my ideas with confidence (and always with a touch of humility) and the value of learning. Developing new ideas, admitting when you are wrong and putting in the work to better yourself and ultimately your practice became a goal that ran alongside my studio practice. Engaging in student events and societies, and even leading one for a while, helped strengthen my sense of identity as a practising design student. I am grateful for the basic technical skills I was able to develop in College which allowed me to free up more of my time to developing new skills and opportunity for idea exploration and self improvement.

Graduating was always going to be bittersweet – I just didn’t expect it to be quite this bitter. It truly felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me and after wallowing for a bit (pretty sure I was entitled to it) and struggling with picturing my future, I began to get back to work. Staying up doing work ’til 1am cause you slept in ’til 1pm, class zoom calls and a struggle to fight back the urge to hunt for some bugs for Blathers (Animal Crossing – duh!) soon turned into submitting to start ups and projects aimed at providing creative graduates the exposure and support that would have otherwise been lost through cancellation of degree shows. This sense of community reignited the drive and excitement for the creative industry that had been shattered by Miss ‘Rona.

Eventually, I finished. I submitted to my degree show, I created a portfolio and I came away elated with a 2:1 Bachelor’s in Communication Design. I attended a bizarre final send off quiz / impromptu serenade with my classmates and tutors over zoom and had my exit tutorial.

And now I’m here after being encouraged to engage in a writing practice that puts my thoughts out into the world (God help us all) in order to strengthen my interests in design writing and research. I hope you enjoyed this short biopic, I’m sure it was enthralling, and I hope you stick around and come back to check out what else I’ve rambled about.

Cheers, Emma.

InPractice: A short case study

One of my final year projects at art school had me look into the disconnect between research and physical design practice. The two never seemed to marry up or consider each others existence. So when presented with a brief to conceptualise and design a publication, it felt like the perfect opportunity to finally force them together.

The Brief: Conceptualise and design both a printed and digitised publication centred on the theme of graphic design / typography. It must be dedicated to the late Wim Crouwel and you must generate / curate content to include in it.

I am a fan of many online publications such as Aiga and It’s Nice That as well as printed material such as Disegno and Art Review. However I always found myself constantly looking for something more within these publications. Something that can offer continuous learning and inspiration and be picked up at leisure, but not quite a book. Something that is aesthetically rich and exciting to hold, but not quite an image heavy coffee table book. I often found myself sifting through online journals and research papers throughout design projects, looking for theoretical principles and ideas that can back up my design decision making. And I noticed (not that it’s really that hard to do so) how bland and heavily academic these papers were. How could something that holds so much excitement and interesting ideas possibly look so difficult and uninviting? I was sick ae it.

To my surprise I had unintentionally hit upon a long drawn discussion about the disconnect between design academia and practice. The two seemed so disparate despite existing in their own wee paradox. Others were sick ae it too.

I set out collecting my favourite essays and journal pieces that fit into the theme of technological influence on design (a core interest of mine) and made sure to include a few shorter think pieces and interviews to break it all up so as not to be too word heavy. Aptly named it the ‘technocrat’ issue, and we were rolling.

In order to create the basic design layout for the publication, I studied the core elements of essay/journal layouts and identified some key components to their makeup. Title (genius!), abstract, body, references, images and captions and bibliography. Separating the design into these key elements helped break up the heaviness and monotony of the typical essay structure and offer the space needed to make subtle design choices and typographic care that would offer a more enjoyable and inviting reading experience.

The back of the publication is reserved for a collection of bibliographies from the essays found throughout and offer a sort of “space saving” that allows the reader to continue seamlessly from one reading experience to the next.

Utilising characteristics commonly found in essays/ journals inspired smaller design decisions for formatting interviews and additional information. The interviewee replies are indicated by small initials in the gutters of the page, reminiscent of footnote indicators and reference points. The borders of the page include footers and headers indicating what section of the publication you are on and additional links to portfolios, websites, etc.

The online counterpart aimed at fostering connection between researchers, writers, designers, lettering artists and anyone and everyone interested in the creative industry. The InPractice site acts as a sort of message board / social media hub for all specialisms to connect, find similar interests and share resources that would benefit their practice. The content collected from this shared space would have the chance to be featured in upcoming issues, breaking down entry barriers for aspiring designers and writers looking to get their work seen.

Ultimately InPractice acts as a design education resource that can be accessible to anyone, bringing exciting ideas and abstract themes to the forefront and encouraging new audiences to engage with the industry, regardless of experience.

Cheers, Emma.

Exorcising Haunted Monuments

This is a condensed version of a longer essay I wrote in my 3rd year of University surrounding the implications of Colonial narratives on our perception of the documented world. The essay has been reformatted to coincide with current day discussion on the presence of racist and colonial monuments.

Colonial monuments across the world cast insidious shadows of histories past across town squares and city streets that have since become melting pots of cultures and ideas. As of late these monuments, standing proud in the peripherals of public consciousness as they enjoy their lunch break in the town square, have become subject to vandalism, removal and a wider discussion. How do we address complacency, education, and the dismantling of a white washed historical narrative that has permeated our collective memory and caused systemic oppression to Black people around the globe?

The narrative on colonialism we are taught throughout school, in media and our wider environment is designed. It is designed as much as any other governmental institution (ie. prisons, universities, museums, archives, etc.) that exerts a state of control. This narrative can be seen to stem from around the time of the expansion of the British empire and colonial rule, the Enlightenment Era. Wealthy white businessmen and philanthropists collected various ‘exotic’ pillaged treasures from the ‘new world’ and displayed them in curiosity cabinets; curated, designed and fetishised to impress other wealthy white men and applaud the cultural progression of the Western world at the expense and exploitation of ‘othered’ civilisations and cultures. 

With this in mind, we can argue that the legacy of these monuments were built to maintain and perpetuate the idea of revolutionary legacy and cultural progression, an ideal many anti-protest groups have rallied under to protect the integrity of these monuments. But what they tend to forget is the insidious underbelly from where this progression originated. This kind of white anxiety arises from a fear of being forgotten or losing a sense of security and safety within a society that was built for and around us (white people). We saw similar and violent anxieties arising during the migrant crisis (2014) where a sharp increase in racial hate crime was reported throughout the UK and Europe – no thanks to some media coverage.

We cannot forget the ‘alternate’ history that this progress was carried on the back of Black labour and exploitation. To disregard this narrative and relegate it as a past ‘mistake’, we absolve all individual and state responsibility, and ultimately erase the credibility and collective experience of Black people. The irony of the matter is the fear of ‘forgetting’ history through monument removal is exactly what is happening on a wider, more harmful scale.

A colonial spectre haunts the UK unable to find a final resting place in the dusty archives of our society. The state and the archive live in paradox, the state attempts to repress and control these archived narratives while the archival evidence of colonial structures ultimately lead to the unraveling of state control when they are not ‘exorcised’. We can see then remnants of colonial heritage appearing time and time again, manifesting through our collective conscious until adequate education and discussion is undertaken from every voice. We must address the web of racist structures and reflect on our own complicit value structures that we have been taught and continue to perpetuate.

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