Week 8: Critical Reflective Journal

This week’s resources took us back to our case study creatives, answering the questions:

  • What would you like to be doing that you are not doing in your work?
  • How important are side-projects and are you currently working on any?

As with previous weeks, there was a wonderful range of answers from the creatives. Manchipp from SomeOne said that he wouldn’t choose anything else, because he has worked very hard to create an agency to enable him to do the work he wants to do: a variety of projects that stretch him, that are radically different and strategic and forward-thinking. From there, the studio is inventing its own projects and software to allow it to further its working processes and techniques.

Sam Winston has found that he has designed his career so that he can’t imagine not doing what he is doing, and that he tends to create his side projects and bring them into reality as his main project.

Sarah Boris would like to work more with other materials such as rugs and textiles for homeware, and creating collaborations in order to do so.

Intro recommends getting outside more and that personal projects take the pressure off main hustles, maybe by allowing you to be more objective about them?

It feels like a range of answers approached in a different way: clearly, each individual is enormously satisfied with what they do, and it is nice to get behind their public image.

What would I like to be doing that I am not doing in my work?

COLOUR! I want to use all the colour. I typeset mono fiction books and sometimes I worry that my use of colour is not developing.

I want to be starting more of my own projects that mean something and push boundaries and are seen by more people. I want to collaborate with others in different fields to create projects that are really special.

What side projects am I working on?

Currently, I am finishing off a friends’ wedding stationery for their wedding on Friday, which is the first I’ve done. I offered to do it as I had never done a set before and was interested in creating a range of products with the same theme. It’s worked well: they are simple and are based on a piece of artwork the couple commissioned. I’ll have better photos when the wedding is here!

On top of that, I am doing maintainance work on my aunt’s non-alcoholic drink range. The drinks and brand are her creation, and I worked with her to develop the logo, branding, labels, photography and website, as well as point-of-sale materials. It’s been developing for the past eighteen months or so, and as her business grows, the needs of the labels change too. For example, I have recently added EAN barcodes to the labels so that they can be sold into distributors and larger shops. Sometimes this kind of work is frustrating and not creative, but it is very much necessary and part of the deal when taking on work like this. It’s a pleasure to see my aunt’s business build and flourish.

Other self-started work is … nil at the moment: I’ve chosen to focus on the course and work time-wise and do not want to split my attention further. I’ve turned down some commissions for this reason, and they wouldn’t further my skills enough to be worth it. Harsh, but true. However, I do have a few ideas percolating that I would like to bring into life when the time is right.

Brian Eno: Oblique Strategies

I had not heard of this before, but I can see how these cards have had an influence and the idea has been used by other people. The cards themselves seem difficult to get hold of, and so someone has created a webpage using the cards. Wikipedia also lists a few examples:

  • Use an old idea.
  • State the problem in words as clearly as possible.
  • Only one element of each kind.
  • What would your closest friend do?
  • What to increase? What to reduce?
  • Are there sections? Consider transitions.
  • Try faking it!
  • Honour thy error as a hidden intention.
  • Ask your body.
  • Work at a different speed.
  • Gardening not Architecture.

They are a useful intervention when you feel like a creative project has slowed to a halt and you can’t see a way around it. The cards do not necessarily introduce any new ideas, but the randomness of the selection of the card, and that they are written by a creative authority, gives your mind permission to step outside of itself and consider a different option.

A while back I bought the School of Life’s “Know Yourself” cards, and School of Life is on our reading lists quite a bit, so here I am, going to be a little vulnerable. These are questions designed to make you question yourself, rather than suggestions by Eno. (I’ve preselected cards because they aren’t all to do with careers and vocations, and there is a limited amount I want to put public on the internet):

Lift five things that are important to you in your life. How much of your time do you give to each of these?

Family, friends, creativity, food, running. These seem to be quite broad! I don’t spend enough time with family: although I  call my parents once a week, and text in between, I can go weeks without talking to my brother. That’s not always my fault, and we are always there for each other when needed. Friends: I don’t have a core group of friends as such, I feel like I flit between different groups, and always have. I have great friends through work and activities and then some I’ve picked up along the way. Sometimes I try to combine groups, which can go great or terribly. Creativity is my main occupation, and what I spend the most time thinking about. It might not be the type of creativity I am supposed to think about (for example, the course, or work) but my mind is usually creating. It has taken a long time to learn how to refine and focus my ideas. I’m not a foodie: I like eating food, preferably when I haven’t had to make it! I see it more as a fuel but do appreciate good food.

Rank in order of importance for you in your career: money, status, creativity, social impact, colleagues.

Creativity, colleagues, status, money, social impact.

What often impairs your decision-making process?

Perfectionism, or the idea of what it should be. I sometimes worry about the execution and the minor details so right that I stall because to carry on would create something imperfect. Sometimes I get so caught up in the planning and excitement of the idea that I find it challenging to see it through to the end. It’s almost the opposite of the other. Both of these things I am tempering with CBT-style techniques.

When do you cry or want to cry (as an adult)?

I’ve always been pretty tearful. Whenever I face a hard situation, my default physiological response is to cry. Upset? Tears. Sad? Tears. Anger? Tears. Frustrated? Tears. It would be more useful to express my negative emotions in other ways, for example, anger, by not crying as it can look infantile when in a professional setting. Why this response has developed has an interesting root (not for the internet). Sometimes, though, if I am alone, I have a massive cry, let it all out and then I find my bounceback is greater than it would be suppressing the emotion.

What things do you often buy that don’t – on reflection, much of the time – actually satisfy you that much?

Clothes and confectionary! Oh, the dresses look so lovely modelled by lithe models in bright studios! When I get them, I am reminded of how much the clothes are pinned for the photoshoot, and how by modelling the clothes to the average shape, they fit nobody quite right. Forget about trousers: they are designed for people without thighs. The newness quickly wears off. With sweets, the idea is always more satisfying than reality.

I Ching

I came across I Ching as it was mentioned as being used by Mary Malone in His Dark Materials as a way of helping her make a decision, much like the Brian Eno cards. It does involve, in the books, a certain otherworldly element, but it has been used as a system of divination the Chinese culture for over two millennia.

Short and long yarrow stalks are used to form long and broken lines of six (a hexagram), and there are sixty-four hexagrams arranged like so:


Through a process I don’t quite understand, the stalks go through the process of “dividing and counting, dividing and counting and setting aside … she soon found the ritual coming back … she came to the numbers which indicated the hexagram she was being given … and then she looked up the meaning. She read:
Turning to the summit
for provision of nourishment
brings good fortune.
Spying about with sharp eyes
Like a tiger with insatiable craving.” (Pullman, 2011).

The hexagram meanings given seem to be more like horoscopes: open to interpretation and how much can it really give you? However, it is a system that absorbs the diviner ritually and gives a new perspective that allows the diviner to make a decision.

Weird stuff I’ve been reading/watching/absorbing

Throughout the course we’ve been recommended to absorb as much “weird stuff as possible”. I’m not sure this week is weird, but it is a look at the world outside design!


what if? by Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd

A belated birthday present, a book that has been mentioned to me several times over the past few months, and a friend decided to buy it for me! He also bought me London Underground by Design, which I need to crack open.


Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year Exhibition

I’ve been to this a few times over the years – sometimes I’ve loved it and sometimes not. They always display the images so small. I want to be able to feel as if I can fall into the photos! This year was great, and some amazing images.

Projection of the Saturn V and Apollo XI mission to the Moon on the Washington Memorial, Washington DC

A life-size video of Saturn V was projected onto the Washington Memorial (the giant obelisk) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the successful Apollo XI mission. Here’s a live feed.


NINE, from the book “KickAss Plays for Women” by Jane Shepard, directed by Coral Tarra

A friend’s flatmate starred in this play at a tiny pub theatre in South Kensington, and we went along. I’m always interested in going to see new and weird things, and to support friends. I had no idea or expectations of what to expect, and was quickly drawn into the room where the two nameless characters were kept captive by unseen people or things. The event overview describes it aptly: “NINE explores the need for connection, and the tender, brave and brutal search for the understanding of what it is to be human. A harrowing, funny and tender account of the psychological and sometimes painful cost of survival.”


Pullman, P. (2011). His Dark Materials. 1st ed. London: Everyman’s Library, pp.713-714.



Week 8: Mind the Gap

Studio Practice

What skills do you have? What skills do you need?

  • Write a list of your skills and a list of skills/ ways of working/ thinking/ or area of knowledge that you wish to develop
  • Create a design that summarises a process model that works for you at the moment; highlighting the skills you have and the gaps you have.

This piece of work needs to communicate your process model.

This could be a diagram or a 3D statement that clearly communicates a thought process that is relevant to you at this moment (how you deal with weaker skill gaps and how you maximise your talents).

Over the progression of this module, I have been keeping a mental note of skills that I admire in others on the course and case studies that have been presented to us. It’s fascinating how differently each of us approaches the challenges and to experience it with the other students means that my experience is widened about ways in which the briefs can be seen.

What skills do you have? What skills do you need?

  • Write a list of your skills and a list of skills/ ways of working/ thinking/ or area of knowledge that you wish to develop

The list of the skills I would like to build came quickly to me. They are:

  • Depth & 3D: giving my creations layers and a real sense of three dimensions (even if in 2D)
  • Video: How to storyboard and shoot an effective short video, and edit in programs
  • Short animations: like above. I see both of these skills as adding a fourth dimension, time, to my work
  • Razor-sharp photos: Yes, I think I take alright photos now, but how to make them super-sharp and convey a story
  • Creative layouts and white space: I can do it, but want to take it to another level
  • How to stage photoshoots with multiple objects: Like Yuki Hannes and her Ace & Tate shoots
  • Creative coding: how to use technology and data to create art and design that have depth and substance
  • VR: how to use the technology to help and educate

I also thought about soft skills that would help me as a designer:

  • Pitching ideas: how to craft a killer pitch that will win me work and/or funding
  • Self-promotion: how to really get myself out there
  • Confidence to approach and collaborate with people I want to

These ideas are just the start!

What skills do I have at the moment?

I find it really difficult sometimes to own what I can do, but so far:

  • Typesetting and typography: this is my job so I would be concerned if I didn’t have confidence in my skills to do this
  • Artworking: ditto!
  • Print processes and effects: years of working in production means that I know a lot about small and large scale printing processes, and I keep up with the latest technologies
  • Logistics and schedules: from sorting and distributing small village newsletters to embargoed Star Wars annuals, I can sort things where they need to go
  • Interactive PDFs: I am really proud of my application PDF!
  • Getting absorbed into a project and putting my heart into it: I love adding little easter eggs and bits of design into my work to interest the reader
  • Thinking outside the box and going on a bit of a tangent – sometimes a pain, but I am trying to harness this for unexpected results.
  • I am more resilient than I give myself credit for.

What skills do you have? What skills do you need?

  • Create a design that summarises a process model that works for you at the moment; highlighting the skills you have and the gaps you have.

This week didn’t go to plan: I experimented and failed. That’s OK.

I was really inspired by Yuki Hannes campaign’s for Ace and Tate, particularly because she used everyday objects that you wouldn’t expect to find in an editorial shoot. Talking to Stuart, I thought that still-life photography would be something that I could work on this week and expand my skill set.

A few weeks ago I identified the double diamond method as a process that I most identified as working towards. Of course, mine not as foccused as the model, but I feel like this is fine.

I wanted to invoke the sense that I was drawing on skills that I already had, and so I started looking around my room for objects that would reflect that: and discovered that they were all warm, brown and honey tones. I set up a studio background using my bed frame and a cork board for the base:

IMG_5405 copy.jpg

This is the start of my idea process: not a blank space but one already shaped by my experiences. The corkboard is one I refashioned from a large cork board we used to have in my parents’ kitchen, and I made it into a smaller one for a world map poster for my brother. It was still too big for his room though, so I nabbed it when I was back at home. It fits perfectly, coincidentally, into space in my new room.

The items I gathered were very personal: the bottom joint of a recorder gifted to me by my grandfather when I used to play; and my first wooden recorder. I performed at Sadlers’ Wells on it (music was my first creative pursuit). The circular lamp was made by my dad in a “let’s make all our gifts Christmas” and casts interesting light on the background. The photo album was a birthday present from my friends with some truly awful photos of us all in, and I happy-cry every time I see it. The snake headband is a piece I made for a Medusa-fancy dress costume a few years ago, and the brown tape represents an essential part of screenprinting! The little wooden block is a letterpress “R” that an old colleague gave to me when I left my last job, and it has been wrapped up in the brown paper to keep it safe.

Using these objects was recognising the creativity and experiences of the past and putting them together to make something new, by using a skill I hadn’t tried before.

I started laying objects out, and used a lamp as a spotlight to create shadows with my main light as the fill light. Objects came in, and out, and although my intention was to take one ensemble piece with all the items, playing and trying out different arrangements was part of the process. Here are the images in the layout:


In my animation, the first view to be seen is the background, which then fades into white. Then items laid out on the screen in a purposeful no-grid. I’m used to using column and page grids every day and I wanted to cut that sense of security from myself when I started. One image fades, then a series of words also fade in between the images: Explore, Define, Source, Build, Show; to describe the process by which I feel I work from. Build is important in this context: making something from little pieces, bit by bit.

The type is an outlined blue against the warmth of the images, as a contrast between emotions and codified words. The outline is deliberate too: the words may go some ways to describe the process, but there is something that goes inside too. The words also grow in size to reflect the complete of the project (which I have taken to be linear. My confidence in projects is often more winding).

The timing and overlap of images and words are important as often there isn’t such a clearly defined, 1, 2, 3, and stages come together and overrun. The time as things are shown and are hidden means that it’s not too overwhelming: things occur as they are supposed to.

Here is an image of the words together (not as they appear):


Show is the last word the displays in the centre, after the other words and images have faded. It is the most fragile part: the opening of the wings to show the project to the world and to receive feedback, whether invited or not.

The final image grows from the centre: the image with all the objects together.

So I tried to make something I never had before, and it failed! I’m going to keep on working on animation skills for the next module.