Interesting Things – Bank of England Uses Dr Seuss To Learn About Clear Communication

Interesting article which caught my eye, especially after looking into the use of graphic novels to communicate complex information to adults.


Part 2 – Exercise 4: Too much or not enough information

Look around locally and identify a coming event and design two posters to promote it. Make the first poster full of details and descriptions about the event, when and where it’s taking place, what’s going on, how long it lasts, how much it costs and what to expect. For the second poster apply Occam’s Razor to pare back the information to a bare minimum.

Now ask yourself and other people if you can, which of the designs works best. What is the key information you need to include?

I chose to design posters for the Surrey County Show, a large agricultural show that takes place every year near to where I live. I started by reviewing the Surrey County Show website to collect information about the event. There was plenty 🙂

I decided that the poster would feature a striking image of an iconic farm animal. The image would be taken in the summer, showing countryside in the background, to give a sense of a summer, agricultural show. I also wanted the image to be a little humorous as the County Show is very much a family event and I wanted an image that would appeal to children and families.

I decided to use a stock image for the poster. Originally I had planned to use a Highland cow as a very typical animal that you might see at a country fair but I could not find a suitable image which had been taken in the sun (it is always raining in the Highlands, apparently!). Instead I found an image of a sheep that I could use.

My sketched design ideas for the two posters are below.

The Final Posters


My General Thoughts on the Poster Designs

I wanted to try to make the detailed design still work as a poster, so I spent a lot of time experimenting with fonts, font sizes and layout to try to keep all the information of the poster readable. The size and style of the fonts were important in making the different elements of the text stand out, and spacing was also important in separating the different pieces of information on the poster.

In the minimum poster design, my rationale was that, because the show is a big annual event in this area, most people will already know about it and really just need a prompt that it is coming. For people who are interested and need information, they would know to do an internet search to go to the website for the details of the show. The image and font design in this poster are critical as they are also conveying valuable information about the event – the image indicates that the show involves farm animals, it’s fun and it takes place in the summer. The font suggests strong and no-nonsense – words that I would use to describe a farmer. The font is also very easy to read.

Feedback on the Designs

My Husband

My husband felt that the detailed design worked better. He felt that the layout was more ‘balanced’ and he felt it was important to know the location of the show – information which is included on the detailed poster and not on the minimal design.  He didn’t really like the layout of the text on the minimal design poster, particularly the date, which he felt was cumbersome to read.

OCA Thames Valley Group

The group also preferred the detailed poster as they felt it provided more value in the information it gave. Interestingly no one suggested that it needed less information or that it appeared too cluttered! The only feedback was that the ‘exciting’ and ‘unmissable’ words needed to be separated out from the rest of the text a bit more, possibly using speech marks, and that the attractions should come before the prices, as logically you would want to know what was on first before you decided whether to pay for it.

For the minimal design, members of the group felt it needed the location where locals didn’t feel this was so necessary as they knew where the show was held each year.

What was very clear from our discussion is that the intended audience for the poster and its location, paid a large part in dictating its content. If the poster was located by the side of a road, the minimal design would work better. On a notice board, the detail design would be better as people would be more likely to step up to the board to read it. If it is a well established event, locals don’t need as much information on the poster.

Because both posters were deemed to ‘work’ depending on their location, I revised both following feedback:

Some Thoughts on Requesting Feedback

It is not clear to me at the moment, how much I should explain the rational of my designs when requesting feedback. Is there a danger that I might prime or lead the reviewer towards my preferred option? If I don’t provide any context, is there a danger they will ‘miss the point’ of my design? If the reviewer is in my target audience, should they even need any context and if I feel I have to explain my design then does that indicate it’s not really working? Is there a danger that reviewers just jump on the most obvious design without thinking more critically about what they are looking at? If only get a suggestion for a revision from one person in the group rather than the majority, then should I dismiss it? Lots of things to explore further here!

Interesting Things – Nick Tankard

I saw a print of this illustration recently by Nick Tankard and was overawed by the detail in it. The image is made up of the tiniest fine ink lines. It must take countless hours to produce. I would never have that level of patience (even if I had the skill to create something like that!). I thought the resulting light and shade in the image was amazing.

Nick Tankard: Place Charles De Gaulle, Paris

There are more illustrations from the artist on his website here:


Artists – John Duffin

The New Ashgate, our local gallery in Farnham, has a small exhibition on at the moment titled “City Life”, bringing together printmakers and illustrators in an exhibition of city landscapes.

I was particularly drawn to the prints by John Duffin, especially this one ‘Thames Bridges’. The detail is simply amazing and the unusual perspective gives a fantastic view up the Thames, like coming into Heathrow on a plane!

The New Ashgate Gallery website, says this about John Duffin’s work:

John Duffin is a well established Printmaker who makes images of city life. He is a member of Royal Society of painter Printmakers in London.

John Duffin is a print maker and painter well known for his striking black and white prints focusing on great architecture, depictions of modern life in urban environments and city streets at different times of day. He mostly uses etching techniques to create his limited edition prints, which consists of drawing through hard ground wax with a sharp needle onto a copper plate, favoured for its sensitivity and subtlety. John Duffin draws cross hatched lines of varying densities to create spatial compositions including London motifs in particular, working from small pencil sketches he creates whilst out walking in the city streets gathering inspiration. He works mainly in black ink on bright white paper resulting in dynamic contrasts between shadows and highlights. John Duffin also plays with view point, with the perspective often tilted so that the viewer is made to look down from above onto the buildings and structures within his etchings, giving a strong, impressive feel.

Artists – Emma Dunbar

The New Ashgate in Farnham, our local art gallery, is holding an exhibition of paintings by Emma Dunbar, titled “Journeys Afar and Back in the Kitchen”. I adore Emma’s paintings! I like the bold, bright colours, the colour pallettes and the subjects of joyful flowers and the occasional animal. I also really like the flat, almost two-dimensional and slightly ‘child-like’ quality of the paintings.

The photographs here (from the New Ashgate Gallery website) simply cannot reflect how incredibly vibrant and full of life these paintings are.

Emma Dunbar: A Riotous Bunch on Yellow

Emma Dunbar: Fresh From The Flower Market

Emma Dunbar: Lone Walker

The New Ashgate Gallery Website, says this about the exhibition:

“29 April to 17 June 2017

Emma Dunbar: Journeys Afar and Back in the Kitchen

We are delighted to welcome Emma Dunbar back for her much anticipated new solo exhibition. Emma paints in Hampshire and Cornwall. Her attraction to colour and the decorative qualities in everyday objects provide the foundation for her art.

Emma works mainly on board in acrylic, occasionally incorporating collage with gold and silver leaf. Her training as a printmaker is evident both in the use of blocks of flat colour and in the way she scratches through surfaces to reveal pre-laid colours underneath. This exhibition draws inspiration from daily walks and recent trips to Greece, Iceland and Austria. Beautiful fruits in the greengrocer, her brown cats, Eric and Ian, and Simon the dog, next to her ever growing collection of mugs and jugs with flowers from the garden, all come joyfully together to celebrate the ordinary.”

Part 2 – Research Point: Critiquing Your Own Work.

How do you approach being self-critical? What issues does it raise?

When I critique work I have done, I will try to step away from the work for a while and then come back to it, with ‘fresh eyes’ in an effort to see it in the way someone viewing it for the first time might see it. I try to put myself in the viewer’s shoes and see the work as they would see it.

I will also ask myself the following questions:

  • Did I meet the brief? Have I done what what required?
  • Have I really thought hard about what I’ve created and made an effort to create something good, rather than been lazy and produced the most obvious thing?
  • Am I pleased with what I have produced? Do I think other people will like it? Do I think the intended audience will ‘get it’.
  • Is there a clear rationale to what I have done? Can I justify what I have done and explain it.
  • Are there any little ‘niggles’ about what I have done? Anything that doesn’t feel quite right? In my experience, ‘niggles’ should always be listened to as they indicate an underlying design problem with the work.

Issues with being self-critical:

  • Trying to judge what is ‘right’. It is hard to know how far off the mark you are when you have no idea where the mark actually is!
  • Having to second guess what the target audience thinks. I can only critique within my own experience – other people my have a very different view.
  • Comparing my work with what others have done and deciding it is rubbish, when maybe it is just different.
  • Being so familiar with my work it is difficult to make an objective judgement on it.
  • Being too hard on myself – nothing is ever good enough.
  • Conversely – becoming too wedded to one ‘brilliant’ idea, especially if I have invested a lot of time and effort in developing it that I can’t contemplate having to let it go.

My husband is the person I will most likely go to for a second opinion on my work. I am also fortunate in that I can attend the monthly OCA Thames Valley Group meetings where I can meet my OCA colleagues face-to-face and where we regularly critique each other’s work.  I can also share work on the OCA Facebook pages and forums.


Part 2 – Exercise 3: Visualising Your Ideas

You have been asked to design a leaflet for an organisation, inviting people to to volunteer for a task. In addition to a title the information has been broken down into four chunks each of about 120 words. You will also need to leave space for contact and address details.

Working with a sheet of A4 paper or larger if you prefer, and ignoring the actual words and subheadings, explore the different formats for leaflets that are possible. Consider and experiment with options for final size and types of paper as part of your visualisation.

The organisers are particularly interested in trying to attract new people. Your job is to find a way to make people want to pick up the leaflet.

For this exercise, I chose to design a leaflet for a cat shelter which would encourage people to come forward to volunteer to temporarily fosterer a cat while it was waiting to be re-homed.


To create a leaflet based on an A4 sized sheet of paper, encouraging people to temporarily foster a cat. The leaflet should attract new volunteers and should entice people to pick up the leaflet.


I did my research for the leaflet by reading about cat fostering on the Cats Protection website and pet fostering on the RSPCA website.

Target Audience

  • Most likely women, although cat ownership by men is becoming increasingly common.
  • Cat lovers
  • Older women who have no kids, older kids, or whose kids have left home (young children can make a nervous cat stressed and scared so it is not recommended to bring a foster cat into a home with young children).
  • Someone who spends a lot of time at home and will have time to care for a foster cat.
  • Someone who has a calm and stable home environment.
  • Someone who owns their own home (as opposed to renting as pets are typically not permitted in rental accommodation)
  • Someone who is patient and caring. Someone charitable who would like to give something back.
  • Ideally someone who does not already have pets.

Where to place the leaflets (based on the target audience)

I considered my typical ‘cat fosterer’ as a woman aged late 40s upwards,  a ‘lady-who-lunches’, quite community spirited and involved in community activities. Possible locations for the leaflets could therefore be:

  • Community centres, arts centres or adult education centres
  • Coffee shops
  • Garden centres
  • Churches or religious community centres
  • Charity shops

Styling of the Leaflet

As the leaflet needed to grab attention and attract cat-lovers, I decided that the front cover would feature a large photograph of a cat, either looking cute or slightly forlorn, with the question ‘Could you foster a cat?’ prominently displayed on the front cover.

I imagined the four sections of text would cover:

  1. A statement of the need for cat fosterers.
  2. How fostering helps / what are the rewards
  3. What is involved and do you qualify?
  4. FAQs – how will you be supported?

I also had to print out blocks of text with 120 characters (I used a 12pt font) to get a rough idea how much space would be needed on the leaflet for the text – it was a lot more than I imagined.

In the leaflet designs, I mixed text with images to break up text and make the leaflet more interesting to look at. The images would be photographs of cats.

I was also careful not to have text crossing over a fold in the leaflet as this would make it more difficult to read.

Leaflet Designs






Visualisation Methods:

Thumbnail Sketches

These were quick and simple to produce and would probably serve as a useful tool during a face-to-face discussion for quickly explaining an idea. I’m not sure they would be ‘professional’ enough to present as a proposed design layout for a client.


This was a ‘neater’ version of the thumbnails above. I am not sure they add much value over the thumbnails other than they look neater.  These drawings would not be appropriate to quickly visualise an idea in a design ‘meeting’ as they take too long to create. I might consider presenting these to a client, especially if the design was complicated enough that to produce a digital mockup would take a lot longer than the drawing. However, if the client wanted to make changes to the design, then it would mean drawing the whole layout again from scratch each time.

One significant disadvantage of these two dimensional drawings is that it is hard to visualise how the user would use and interact with the leaflet. In this leaflet, the content of section 2 is on the back of section 1 but this is not obvious in the drawings. I thought I had got the drawing wrong and had to look again quite hard at the physical leaflet to check!

‘Wireframe’ Layouts

I created these digital layouts in Photoshop. One significant advantage was that I could easily create the layout to scale as I used an A4 sized document and was able to place blocks of text with 120 characters. They also have the advantage of looking professional and of being editable. Disadvantages are that they take a bit longer to create and again, it is difficult to visualise how the leaflet would be used. In the layouts above, the front cover is actually the last layout, which logically does not make sense.


I thought a series of photographs of my mockup worked quite well as they give more of a sense of the three dimensional nature of the leaflet.


It occurred to me that if one of the issues of a two dimensional drawing is that it is hard to visualise how a user would interact with it, then one method of visualisation would be to show a video of the leaflet being used. I thought this method worked well, particularly for a leaflet with a more complex design (like this one) which is harder to represent in a two dimensional drawing. Perhaps combining this method with a drawing that showed the leaflet sections in more details would be an effective solution.

3D Modelling?

If the video gives a good representation of the leaflet in use, perhaps an even better method would be to create a digital, three dimensional prototype of the leaflet which shows an animation of how the leaflet would be used. The disadvantage of this would be the time, effort and specialist skills needed to create this type of mockup. I think it would depend how much the client was paying 🙂

Face-to-Face Meeting with Mockups

If it was possible to have a face-to-face meeting with the client, possibly a very effective way to review the leaflet designs would be to take the mockups to the meeting and let the client play with them.


In terms of visualisation method, I think it depends a lot on who the audience is, whether they are remote or present, how often the design might change (i.e. do the drawings / mockups need to be easily ‘editable’) and how much time and effort it is worth spending on creating the mockups or layouts.  Thumbnail designs would be fine for a ‘brainstorming’ design session with colleagues,  physical mockups would be good for clients who are present with you, wireframes and video may be a good solution for remote clients, and perhaps 3D animated modelling might be worth the investment for a high-value product. I also felt that the more complex designs would benefit from multiple visualisation methods.

In terms of the leaflet designs themselves, leaflets that you traversed in the same way that you would read a book, worked best. Some of the designs, such as the one shown in the video, did not work very well because the flow of the sections did not feel logical. I also felt that the final ‘Next Steps and Contact Details’ section needed to be quite closely connected with, and visibly close to, Section 4 – FAQs. This was because if the reader was inspired by the leaflet to apply to become a cat fosterer, I wanted the contact details to be immediately visible for them to take action, not hidden around the back of the leaflet, so for example, on the leaflet shown in the wireframes, I felt quite strongly that section 4 and the contact details should be on the same page on the back of the leaflet.



Exhibitions – A Printmaker’s Journey

Last week I saw a wonderful exhibition of prints curated by and featuring a lot of the work of Angie Lewin. The exhibition was an introspective review of Angie’s work which also showed works by other artists that had influenced her and were important to her through her career.

I have always adored Angie Lewin’s work.  She depicts wild plants often in the places were they grow, such as cliff tops, hedgerows or beaches. Her images show how plants naturally grow together, often tangled and overlapping and she focuses on the distinguishing features of the plants – their form and structure, which gives a quite an abstract and graphical feel to her images. There is a wonderful 1950’s feel to her prints.

What was particularly interesting about this exhibition is that it also showed work that had influenced her own journey.  A painting by Alan Reynolds that she had seen when she was 14, was on lone from the Tate, and it is fascinating to see the obvious parallels with this painting and Angie’s work. I found it very insightful, and quite a privilege, to see how other artists had influenced Angie’s own images.

Summer: Young September’s Cornfield 1954 Alan Reynolds 1926-2014 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1956

Angie Lewin ‘Lakeside Teasels’



Part 2 – Exercise 2: Book Cover Design

Your brief is to design a stunning and contemporary cover for one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed authors, HG Wells. Your challenge is to create cover designs for three of his books that work as a set and establish the books as timeless fiction.

The books will be published in a paperback format and need to include
the title, author’s name, publishers name and trademark. You only need
to design the front cover and spine.

Making notes in your learning log:
• Identify the research you might need to undertake and the gaps in
your knowledge. Can you identify any primary research that will help
you? What resources could you use to undertake secondary research?
• Use the mind mapping technique to explore your keywords. Explore both extremes of obvious and radical solutions to the brief; what’s the most obvious way of responding to it and what radical creative solutions can you come up with?

When you have a range of ideas, as well as the notes in your learning log, make some
rough drawings or sketches to show your ideas. You can do these on paper or on a
computer. If you are using a computer don’t forget to keep some of the tryouts and early ideas. Call them something like idea #1, #2, #3 and keep them in a separate folder. You may well want to come back to them later and use some of the ideas that you didn’t use this time for another exercise.


  • Develop three designs that work as a set for HG Wells books.
  • Covers should be contemporary but ‘timeless’.
  • Design the front cover and spine for paperback books. The design should include the title, author, publisher’s name and trademark.

Research for the HG Wells Book Cover Design

Primary research could involve:

  • Reading the books (or listening to an audio book). Establish what the books are about – what is the ‘mood’ and atmosphere of the book (light hearted, comedic, dark, sombre, sinister..)? Are there any iconic symbols or recurring themes that feature in the story?
  • Review the covers of other editions of the books – what kind of designs have been done before?
  • Does the publisher have their own specific design requirements for the book covers?
  • Who is the target audience for the books? Are they particularly masculine, feminine etc.?

Secondary Research

  • Read a book synopsis (I tried this and found the synopsis did not describe the mood of the book).
  • Watch a film adaptation? This can be risky as films often deviate from the book and may leave out parts of the story.
  • Ask someone who has read the book to describe the story. Also risky as it relies on this person to give a full an accurate account of the book.

‘Swipe File’ Ideas

I reviewed the covers of other contemporary HG Wells books and other books in a similar gothic genre. I also looked for ideas for design elements that would reflect the Victorian times in which the books were set. Examples are here.

Developing Ideas

I felt that it was imperative to have a good understanding of the book to be able to design an effective cover, not just the details of the story but also the general mood and tone of the book. I felt that the best way to do this was to read the book. Due to time constraints, I chose to read three of HG Wells’ short stories:

  • The Empire of the Ants
  • The Moth
  • The Door in the Wall

I started by taking brief notes of each of the stories and picking out key words and themes for each:

Mind Mapping

I then used mind mapping to explore the general themes and tone of all of the stories.

All three of the stories are told ‘after the fact’ by a narrator who was a witness to events in the story. They are all set in ‘the present day’ which, in effect is Victorian / Edwardian England. The ‘victims’ in each of the stories and the narrators are all educated, professional men.

There is a theme in all of the stories of normality being irreversibly disrupted by some sinister event. The ‘victims’ in the stories are all ordinary people who have done nothing to deserve or invite their misfortune. The stories are recounted with an air of resignation or sadness that ‘things will never be the same again’.

Another common theme of the stories is that they all play on the idea of ambiguity as to whether a sinister event is real or imagined.

Design Rationale

The brief requires the designs to be ‘contemporary’ but ‘timeless’. For a contemporary look, I decided to work with a design that was quite simple and minimal, with lots of white space and possibly in black and white. Gothic novels very often have a black background but I wanted to try something different. A common thread of all of the stories is that of an ordinary life impacted by a sinister event, so I wanted to book designs to convey this sense of ‘normality’ with a hint of something hidden or lurking ‘in the background’.

Thumbnails for my design ideas are below:

Sketches of Ideas

I created ‘sketches’ of my design ideas using a combination of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create simple mockups of the designs. The images used in the designs where created using preview image files from Shutterstock, which I manipulated in Photoshop. The text used in the moth images I constructed myself in Photoshop.

Idea #1

In these designs I wanted to combine the silhouette of a key object of each story with another element of the story’s theme – an ant head with a background of the Amazon, a moth with a background of an academic paper about moths and a panther with a background of a beautiful garden.

Idea #2

This is a very simple design using the outline of the key object of the story, i.e. a moth, an ant or a door or panther.

Idea #3

This is a variation of idea 2 above where the silhouette is black. The book cover is then just black and white.

Idea #4

This design idea again combines the silhouette of the key object of the story with another element from the book. This time the silhouette is white – effectively a negative space. I liked this idea as it hints at the object (the moth, the ant, the panther) may or may or not actually exist.

Idea #5

This idea is the same as Idea #4 but introduces coloured backgrounds with each book having a different colour. I liked this but felt it looked a bit similar to Penguin Classic book design.

Idea #7

This design uses a simple black and white colour scheme. The image was printed out, drawn over with charcoal and then scanned to a digital file. Again, I like the slightly sinister effect of the black lines drawn over the moth and ambiguity of the moth being partly hidden.

Idea #7A

This design is a variation on Idea 7 above but uses a coloured background.

Idea #8

This design uses a large silhouette of the key object (ant, moth, panther). To increase the sinister feel, the silhouette is in blood red. There is no title on the front cover (just on the spine). With no title on the cover, it may encourage people to pick up the book to investigate.

Idea #9

In this design the book title and author are dominant. The key object (ant, moth, panther) are small silhouettes. This hints at the seeming innocuous nature of the object.

Idea #10

This design uses a lot of white space and an abstract layout for the moth image.

Idea #11

This design uses a small repeating pattern of the key object ( ant, moth or panther) which is used to form a border around the edge of the front cover. A closer look at the border reveals the ants hidden in the design. This plays on the idea of something sinister being hidden in the ordinary and everyday.

Idea #12

Similar to idea #11 above, this design creates a pattern from the story’s key object (ant, moth, panther) . A closer look at the pattern reveals what it is made up of.