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RESPONSE placement #1: style development

Updated: Aug 20, 2019

I've been a part of the RESPONSE placement with Nottingham Contemporary since October now, and I thought it would be a great thing to show here as a way of documenting it for myself while reflecting on our progress.

If you haven't heard of RESPONSE before, I'll give you a quick summary here: it's a placement which involves a group of NTU students from different schools and practices, collaborating with the Nottingham Contemporary gallery to create a small publication documenting our response to the current exhibitions, events and community projects at the Contemporary. This also involves getting an inside look at how the Contemporary works, and who does what to make the gallery run as well as it does with such a wide reach. It also involves a little launch party when we release the publication, which will be seen and potentially picked up by anyone who comes into contact with the Contemporary.

This academic year, two groups of students are involved, creating a volume of the publication each, with their own themes and goals. These two groups are then split into 3 to tackle each part of creating the publication. As part of the Design team (made up of 6 other students too), I'm responsible for establishing an editorial design style for our publication and then typesetting and laying out all of the articles written by our Text team, combining them with illustrations and photography from our Image team. At this point, we've found examples of inspiration, contacted printers for quotes, and most recently established a style with typeface choices, colour palettes and general layouts following a 2 column grid - but before that, I'd like to show how we've gotten here. Firstly, we started with finding some editorial design inspiration (mainly via Pinterest):

We all agreed that a modern but gentle approach would work, particularly when taking legibility and accessibility into account - although we wanted to have fun with the design, we didn't want to detract from the words of the articles either as a lot of hard work would be put into them by our peers. We found that the examples we picked out had very strong, limited colour schemes that gave the publications a clear identity, also maintaining their consistency. Other characteristics we identified in our examples was the use of modern, sans serif typefaces, duotone or monotone photography, and the treatment of overlapping shapes and text or text and photography to create layouts that were slightly unconventional and therefore more eye catching, without affecting the legibility of the text. Using these pieces as inspiration, we started to develop test spreads to share within the Design team, in order to get a sense of our individual styles and preferred outcomes. Here's a sample of the tests I put together:

I tried to replicate the strong colour palettes and use of justification to create defined columns, with pull quotes standing out of them to attract more attention, as well as the overlapping of shapes and text to lead the eye around the page and create a sense of interest that would otherwise be missing. Although I liked my tests, I felt they were lacking in terms of polish and that the composition of columns could be more effective. I did like the idea of using a full bleed background colour though, as in my second example, and I felt that the typefaces I chose could work, especially with all of their different weights, which could aid in defining the information in the header and footer. Following this, we defined our colour palettes. The Text team made the decision that the issue should focus on 3 main themes: Gender, Race and Community - so we devised a palette for each theme. The other members of the design team, such as Hannah and Mel, worked with the palette but had different approaches:

I really loved how Hannah's (left, above) concept uses space, particularly on the right hand page; the columns and article title fit together really effectively. I also (surprisingly) really liked that the columns were left aligned, creating interesting shapes through their rags, rather than being justified. I hadn't tested anything but justified text, but seeing this made me realise how much more organic and easier to read left aligned actually is. I also really liked how the spread is balanced; the block colour on the left balances the heaviness of the text on the right. Mel's concept (centre and right, above) really utilises the idea of overlapping text and image; though it may make the text slightly illegible. In particular though, I love how the page number and header/footer information is placed vertically up the side of each page; this is a really interesting choice, and I feel it avoids distracting from the body text as it isn't legible at the same angle. Moving forward from these tests, we developed more of a final concept as a team, taking the ideas that worked best from all of our styles, just using one of our colour palettes:

Overall, we felt like this style is a great culmination of all of our concepts, while also being highly functional and allowing the text to be legible. We decided to use the Futura family for our body, pull quotes and article text mainly because of its legibility but also due to its modern feel - it fits with our use of block colour due to its boldness. We decided to use a different font, Letter Gothic Std, for our page numbers and information at the sides of each spread in order to differentiate from the body text while fitting with our modern but organic, hand-made feel given off particularly by our natural, rounded forms overlaying the text. We also thought the monotone photography fits the dark text well, and that this would help to tie the different themes together as they all have different colour palettes. After deciding on our editorial design language, we started to think about other pages needed in our publication, such as the contents pages and the pages marking the beginning of each section. We rediscovered some of the tests Mel had done earlier in the project and developed them to fit more with our developed style.

We decided to retain Mel's original typeface choice of Impact for the theme divider pages as we felt the contrast of stroke and filled text worked best in this typeface, compared to the Futura Bold used for the article titles. We felt that the use of our colour palette, consistent header/footer and the natural illustrative forms overlapping the titles would be enough to maintain consistency on these theme pages so that they wouldn't stick out from the article pages. We really liked the result of our changes and feel that the spread meets its function in communicating the theme of the articles following it; on first glance, the part that stands out is 'gender' due to its bold nature. The dividing pages also introduce the colour palette of each theme, so we felt it would be best to use the white background of the article pages to create a smooth transition between the themes rather than using a full block colour background of orange, as this may feel sudden or disorientating for the reader. After developing a template for the dividing pages, we altered it for the second theme, Race:

We decided to give this theme a slightly different layout for the natural ribbon forms, so that each theme has its own identity. We may still develop these theme pages further by potentially incorporating a key illustration or photograph from one of the articles in it as there is quite a lot of space on the right hand page - but currently we feel this serves as a break for the reader that isn't too busy or overwhelmed with text as the other pages in the publication will be filled with content.

The second example above is a spread featuring a poem from Taylor and illustrations courtesy of Dora; here, we haven't used the two columns like on other spreads due to the format of the text being a poem. We have retained the format that the poet intended without reducing point size, and without pushing the lines of the poem across two, which would change the pace of the verses.

Overall, I'm really happy with the progress we've made so far and the visual language we've established for the publication and now I just can't wait to get on with creating and finishing the rest of RESPONSE Issue two: volume one - which should happen throughout next week! How exciting!

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