My thesis project has been a gratifying, challenging, eye-opening experience. I began the project with the simple intent of exploring graphic design education in an unconventional, approachable way, and then it took on a life of its own. The end result is The Design Deck: a Playing-Card Guide to Graphic Design. In my Thesis Statement, I will reflect on my project through a number of sections, including: my goals, research process, design process, Kickstarter campaign, and future plans.
The Design Deck got its start in January of 2014. I had been researching graphic design education techniques for the four months previous, but had been planning to use the research to create a middle-school curriculum. I decided that the content would be better suited to a simpler, more accessible medium (and one that would be feasible to create without having my Phd in education theory), and the idea of a deck of cards rose to the top.
My main goal for the deck was to have it deliver concise, practical information about graphic design in a way that non-designers could enjoy and understand. We are all surrounded by graphic design every day, and I believe that is is a hugely important skill that most people could benefit from knowing more about. But design is strangely underrepresented in most streams of education, and people know nothing about about it, let alone how to do it themselves. I wanted to defy that convention, and make a graphic design learning tool for the masses.
The other goal was to have the deck be beautiful. No one is going to want to learn about graphic design from a deck that is poorly designed, so it was a top priority. Also, I knew that if this product was to have any commercial success, it would have to look very attractive and professional. Profit was obviously not the point of the thesis, but I thought it could be a fortunate side-effect if I did the cards well enough.
My final goal was to learn more about graphic design myself. While I have been practicing design for a few years, I still have a lot to learn, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to expand my knowledge base and discover more about the whole field of graphic design.
The Research Process:
I had been researching for four months before I began focusing on the Design Deck, so I already had a lot of material and direction. There is an impressive amount of literature on the practice and theory of graphic design, much of which I either had in my collection, or had read during my previous classes at McMaster. I perused through eight books on graphic design and typography, documenting the choicest bits of information that I thought would work well in the deck. After that, I synthesized the information I had accumulated, and started shaping it into a coherent collection that would cover most of the essentials of graphic design. Throughout, I did supplementary online research to fill any knowledge gaps that appeared. After I had accumulated 52 pieces of what I deemed to useful design information, it was time to start designing.
The Design Process:
Being a type nerd, the first decision I made about the design deck was what typefaces to use. The typeface has a huge impact on the overall aesthetic of any design, so I deliberated about my choice for a while. They two fonts I ended up choosing were:
- DIN Pro (DIN Light, DIN Medium, DIN Condensed)
- Adobe Garamond (Adobe Garamond Italic)
These are two elegant, subtle fonts that would lend themselves well to my design. As for colours, I chose red, gold, black, and white. And the shape elements I chose were simple lines, boxes, and circles. These all harken back to traditional card design, but I arranged them in a modern visual style. I thought it would be an interesting juxtaposition to have classic playing card elements used on my clearly unconventional cards. After coming up with the initial designs, I sought the opinions of many of my friends and fellow designers, took their critiques into consideration, and settled on a final design.
The Kickstarter Campaign:
On Professor Hamilton’s excellent recommendation, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the production of the cards, and to garner public interest in the idea. I treated the campaign as an integral part of my thesis—an exercise in advertising and marketing, which is an essential part of graphic design. I filmed a video, wrote and designed the Kickstarter “storyline”, crafted press releases to send out to news and design websites, and tried to make as attractive a campaign as possible. I set my goal at $600, and was delighted to have it met in under 20 hours. Three weeks later, at the time of writing, funding has reached over $7,800, or 1290% of my goal. The project was written about by DesignTaxi—one of the biggest design websites, and by a popular curated goods website called Cool Material. The campaign has gone beyond what I ever expected, and I am thrilled to be able to deliver the Design Deck to over 300 people.
Future Plans and Conclusion:
The Kickstarter campaign is ending in a week, but I plan to keep the momentum going by opening an e-commerce website so people can still purchase the Design Deck. The funding has gotten up to a sufficient level that I’ll be able to produce 2500 copies of the deck, made by Bicycle®, which should keep the world supplied for a while.
In conclusion, I think I have achieved my goal of creating an attractive deck of cards that can teach design to the public in an accessible way. It was a tremendously rewarding experience, and my first venture into entrepreneurialism gives me a hankering for more. I think it is an exciting idea that the world can potentially understand and appreciate the art of graphic design, and I hope to help make it a reality with the Design Deck.
Here is the printed version of my anti-fracking poster:
The purpose of this poster is to increase the general public of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing. It assumes that the audience has a basic knowledge of what fracking is, and attempts to illustrate one particularly nasty danger of the practice—the leaching of poisons into the water supply. After seeing the poster, people should have a greater awareness of the dangers of fracking.
This poster was designed to stand out on crowded walls and bulletin boards. Its dark, ominous colour scheme and unique, charred texture will set it apart from other colourful posters.
Although the text is also very important, the strongest feature of the poster is a spider-like fracking crack that occupies the centre of it. It will attract people’s attention, and once they come closer to look at the poster they will be able to read the words. The poster is clearly about a negative issue, so the copy is written in a scientific, neutral style, so as not to overwhelm the viewer with the message.
Another important criterion for the poster is for it to look very professional. It seems that often anti-oil campaigns can look quite amateur, as there is usually not much financial support for them. It is easy to dismiss a message if it is on a cheap-looking poster, so this poster was designed to look professional and to delver the message in a classy way. This was done using the font DIN pro, a neutral but elegant sans serif, and a muted, dark colour palette. There is lots of space around the words and objects, which makes the poster look calm and intentional.
A goal of the poster was also to convey the idea of fracking destroying the earth, but in a symbolic, simplified way. This was achieved by using increasingly darker greys going down the poster to show layers of the earth, and a geometric yet random-ish spider shape for the cracks. There was a thin layer of blue at the top of the poster to represent the drinking water table that fracking destroys.
All of these elements combine to create a poster that catches people’s attention with its creepy imagery and then delivers the message that hydraulic fracturing poisons water supplies.
Here is the digital version:
I’ve recently been working on my poster trumpeting the cause of banning hydraulic across the land. There are many potential approaches for this topic, including Pathos (emotion), Logos (logic), and Ethos (ethics). I think that most good campaigns would use a combination of the three, but below is a little experimentation with using them individually.
After playing around with hand drawn ideas, I decided to move things onto the computer and try a few more ideas. The methods of Logos and Ethos were appealing to me more than playing with people’s emotions. I think that trying too hard to pull on people’s heart strings can cheapen the message, and especially with such a strong, persuasive case such as banning fracking, there is no need for it. I find that logic and ethics lend themselves to a simplistic, clean design, so that the message really shines through. Below are a few of the poster trials from my experimentations.
As I thought more about the final product, an ad campaign I had seen in the Toronto subway system came to mind. It is an ad for homelessness awareness, which could be a very emotional, sappy issue. But instead of going for your emotions, this ad presents a clean wall of text that tells a story about a day in the life of a homeless child. It doesn’t assault you with its message, and gives the viewer the freedom to read it or not. And I have a feeling that a lot of people do!
Inspired by this, I thought I would try the idea of a “wall of text”, and use it as a figurative representation, as well as a means of delivering lots of information. I use the text to represent the ground that is being drilled into in the fracking process. The drill line and subsequent fractures wind through the text, parting it as they go. I typeset the text at a small enough size that from a distance it looks almost solid, and there are enough words on each line for them to fit around the fracture lines.
At the top and bottom I put the tag line “Could you please frack off?”, which is supposed to be an edgy play on the profane-ish sound of the word “frack”. It is in a messy, bold typeface called Fingerpaint, that looks a little like smeared oil or blood, and gives it a rough, organic texture that contrasts with the rigid smoothness of the other text.
I chose to make the poster very long and skinny to play on the incredible depth of a fracking site. Some of these sites can go up to 10,000 feet deep. Making the poster thin gives it an interesting look, sets it apart from other standard posters, and lets the concept come to life.
I’m going to keep developing this concept, but I like how this poster works on two levels: the initial impact of seeing the obvious representation of a fracking well, and also the more subtle but substantial information delivered when the viewer comes closer and reads the body text of the poster.
I was recently given a job as Graphic Editor at The Globe & Mail newspaper in Toronto for the summer of 2014.
I’m tremendously excited about this opportunity, and was quite honestly shocked when I got it!
The initial part of the application process was to submit what they described as a creative résumé. They didn’t give much info beyond that, but they said to “surprise them”.
I thought I would take the opportunity to practice a little custom typography, photography, and graphic design. I was pretty happy with the results, and apparently so was the G&M, as they put me through multiple interviews and then gave me the job!
Here it is:
I’d love to hear what you think of it! It was a lot of fun to work with photographs and digital design.