Category: Baseline shift

Typography alumni talks: a look at our future

This week was a very special Baseline shift event. Alumni from the Typography department returned to give us an insight into how their careers have progressed since graduating. Graduates from the past 15 years shared their broad range of their different experiences in the design industry with a room full of Part 1 students. Some lucky Typography applicants even joined us for a portion of the talk before being swept away back to their portfolio day. For all of us, it was a look into our futures.


Sarah Newitt

Sarah Newitt graduated in 2003 and currently works as Design Director at Kiku Obata & Company. She works on brand identity, signage and editorial projects in the fields of art, culture, commerce and the public realm. Sarah was part of one of the last years to complete the four year BA degree course at Reading, and she completed her dissertation on wayfinding. This ultimately played a huge role in securing her first job, as she was approached by the  Design Research Unit after presenting it at her degree presentation. Her relationship with DRU led to her designing the wayfinding material for Clapham Junction station. Over time, her interests moved away from wayfinding, so when she was approached by fellow Reading grad Fraser Muggeridge (who also visited us very recently), she took a job working alongside him. Working at Fraser Muggeridge Studio, which is known for typography and book design, Sarah learnt a lot about refining the visual side of her craft in a 9-year stint. But she needed another move in order to expand her career in new direction. A decision to focus on branding took Sarah to another extreme – a job at Small Back Room, a leading branding agency. This was a stepping stone into a new area – and an insight into a more corporate, strategic world.

‘When I worked at a huge branding agency, it was more like two thirds thinking and one third graphics.’

In 2015, Sarah was approached by Kiku Obata & Company. She began working on a freelance project before being offered a permanent job with them. She now works there as Design Director, overseeing a range of complex projects for high end clients. Her roots in maps and signs still serve her well, but the creativity she is afforded at Kiku Obata lets her approach these disciplines from a fresh perspective.

‘I still work on signage and way finding, but in a much more exciting way than before.’


Liam Basford

Liam Basford is the most recent graduate among today’s speaker, having left in 2015. He currently works in Birmingham in the fields of branding and advertising. After graduation, he faced the problem of deciding whether to stay in his home town to work, or move to London, where there were many more design opportunities, but much more competition. He also faced the dilemma of which area within design he wished to work in, branding or advertising. During his studies, Liam completed two internships during second and third year. At the end of the course, he won a job at branding agency Fresh Britain where he learned about brand strategy and completed his biggest project, the rebranding of Bear Grylls. As of very recently, Liam works as an advertising creative at an agency called Chapter .

‘Advertising is trying to communicate what the brand stands for.’

Liam kindly shared some of his design top tips with us, emphasising the importance of sharing your ideas with others as design is a collaborative process

‘A great portfolio will get you an interview, a good attitude will get you a job.’

Within the term ‘graphic designer’ there are so many disciplines. It’s good to be a ‘jack of all trades’ as long as the quality of work is not sacrificed. Liam suggested that as designers, we identify our two strongest skills and use them. In his case, he combined his typography skills developed whilst studying at Reading and his love of illustration.

‘Enjoy what you do, don’t take what you do for granted. Design is one of the few jobs you can get where you can express yourself on a daily basis.’

Liam also emphasised the importance of always continuing to learn. He’s recently taught himself skills in film editing, for example. For him, the course at Reading provided a grounding in the theory of design, but kept his mind open to the need to keep embracing new technology and new ways to express ideas. A printed sheet of paper is not the only way (and, these days, seldom the best way) to convey a message!


Rachel Anderson

Rachel Anderson graduated in 2009, and then went on to do the MA in Information Design here at Typography. After graduating, Rachel worked as a visual designer at Nokia, designing many different types of apps including an app store. She moved on to join the design team at Microsoft as senior visual designer. She’s now a senior product designer and mentor at Firefly Learning where she works with UI, UX and product strategy.

She was asked for some tips about how she migrated from feeling like a ‘print’ designer at uni, to becoming so focussed on digital products:

‘A lot of the design principles translate across different types of design.’

In response to a query about how to present and sell work, she took a classic approach to getting clients to focus on objective criteria.

‘Don’t ask people if they like your design, ask if it solves the problem.’


James Hannaford

James Hannaford, a MDes graduate from 2008, is now Head of Creative at Jack Wills, working in packaging, branding, window design, social media, and digital design. He works on all design aspects within the company, leading a team of six people. Websites, shop windows, social media, branding material and brand identity are under his control, and he signs off everything creative before it is sent out, communicating with company members all over the world. Design is such a fast-moving industry, so the Jack Wills brand is constantly refreshing to ensure it stays relevant. It’s important for the branding to appear holistic, whether a customer opens an email or looks in a shop window the same key branding elements should be recognised.

Starting at Jack Wills as a junior artworker three months after graduating, James initially worked on catalogues.

Whilst at the University of Reading, he did some internships working on printing presses which really expanded his knowledge and understanding of the printing process and finishes that are available. But it’s connecting his diverse interests in design, print, advertising and fashion that provides James with his greatest satisfaction at work

‘The best part about working at Jack Wills is interacting with the team.’ – James Hannaford

As well as working full time at Jack Wills, James also does freelance work, mainly focusing on brand identity. When asked how he finds time to undertake so much work, he responded that he just really loved what he does and is very dedicated.

‘I find freelance really engaging, but you have to really want to do it.’ – James Hannahford



The end of the talk played host to a short question and answer session with the alumni. When asked about how they felt the course at Reading fed into their everyday lives as designers, the prevalent response was that the strong emphasis placed on typography at Reading was a key underlying skill – and one not possessed by many graduates from other universities.

‘Typography is a differentiator. Not every course has that grounding in typography or the expertise that we’re exposed to.’ – Liam Basford

‘There’s a good grounding in theoretical, historical and practical approach. After you know the rules and have mastered what design is, you know when you can break them.’ – James Hannaford

‘I have friends who took courses at other universities and they sound a lot like fine art. It seems exciting when you’re at university, but it’s much more difficult to make the transition into the real world when you’re met with a brief.’ – Liam Basford

Another point brought up by a few of the graduates was the benefits of the Real Jobs scheme. Working to satisfy a client helps us to develop key skills, whereas BA courses at other institutions can be more conceptual. Real jobs give us stories to take to interviews, where you’ve had to overcome problems specific to you. They give you a much more unique experience in design.

The way the course at Reading is set up (receiving a brief and working on it with consideration to the client requirements), is much like the ‘real world’. The graduates all appeared to agree that the course at Reading really prepares graduates for going out into the world of design.

In concluding, Sarah made a point about understanding when to fight for your principles, and when to let things go. She suggested that a thorough understanding of design theory, copied with mature, help you know the limits of an argument

‘You need to know when to let things go and when to fight your battles.’ – Sarah Newitt

James’s final thoughts were focussed on making understanding the relationship between design print, and, contrary to what many people might expect, making the point that a digital-first approach without a full schooling on the many possibilities of print can lead to rather bland outcomes.

‘The grounding in design for print really helps when moving into digital design. With a purely digital background you’re very grounded in the use of grids, having a print background gives a much more fluid approach.’ – James Hannaford

We’re tremendously grateful to all our visitors for giving up their time to inspire and inform the next generation of Reading graduates. We’ll be keeping an eye on what they do next, and looking forward to another round of Alumni talks next term.

Creativity, Ideation, and Process Workshop

Wendy Mclean, a Teaching Fellow in Studio Art at Reading, led a fun and interactive workshop about creativity, ideation, and process in today’s Baseline shift event. The aim of this workshop was to get us graphic designers thinking outside of the box and analysing objects in depth through different methods of thinking. As designers we are often constrained to think in a certain way and we can feel limited in our approaches to design. This workshop encouraged us to explore thinking strategies and methods of observation that we do not usually adopt in our studies or practice. As stated by Emily Nash in Part 1:

 ‘It was a very interactive workshop that helped us break away from the way graphic designers think and interact with colour, texture and form. It was interesting to see an artist’s point of view.’

Creative ideation processes

Before beginning the workshop Wendy introduced us to some of the work she is interested in and the psychological ideation that artists come across when creating these artworks. The first painting Wendy presented us with was Mary Heilmann’s Save the last dance for me. She observed that although paintings never move, they can create the optical illusion that portrays a quality of motion.

Mary Heilmann, Save the Last Dance for Me, 1979, acrylic on canvas, 203.2 x 254 cm

To help us visualise these psychological concept she showed us some of her own work. She revealed what the inside of her studio looks like, and talked us through some of her own paintings.
Her interest in the gaps between units in a painting and the abstract methods of psychology used in her Man at devils backbone painting were all extremely eye opening and helped us think of different ways to approach creativity and come up with ideas for different projects. Wendy further explained the ideation behind her paintings by explaining the different modes of thinking: fast thinking or intuition and slow thinking which is an analytical approach. She described how artists use these two approaches to assess their work. We got the point that an awareness of our type of thinking will help us understand our actions. Wendy stated that:

‘Within painting I slow down to not accept the first intuitive and impulsive idea. I slow down to query my attraction to it ‘. 

Wendy’s Studio
Man at Devil’s Backbone, 2008, Oil paint on board, 35 x 25 x 3.2 cm

Workshop activities

In terms of composition, artists and graphic designers deal with the same set of factors (space, colour, texture) as well as portraying information or a message visually. To emphasise this point, Wendy gave us 5 minutes of sitting back to back with a partner, with one person describing an object in their sight and the other drawing it on a piece of paper. It was interesting to see how well people can describe objects and really understand their form and qualities.


This lead us to analyse the term ‘attention’. What is meant by attention? Some students at the workshop claimed that the term could relate to attention to detail, a designers attention on the user or client , or the capturing of the user’s attention through design. These were all valid points but what Wendy emphasised was that attention is the giving of time to look at the complexity of your work. This took us on to the second activity which involved the observation of objects. Different types of objects, like a bag of oranges, an oar and a plant, had been scattered around the room. In groups of three or four, students were told to analyse these objects and describe them without actually stating what the object is.

We were then shown a 2-minute Peep Show from the exhibition, Mathematica, called Powers of Ten, produced in 1977. The video shows the close-up view of a man sleeping near the lakeside in Chicago, from one meter away. The landscape steadily moves out until it reveals the edge of the known universe. At a rate of 10-to-the-tenth meters per second, the film takes us towards Earth again, continuing back to the sleeping man’s hand and eventually down to the level of a carbon atom. The video, at a scientific level was quite hard to comprehend but the whole concept of looking at an object from up close and from far away was what lead us onto analysing the object in-front of us from different viewpoints. When looking at our object up close, we began to make observations that we hadn’t made before. Some of the objects were dirty and had cobwebs on them meanwhile others had a certain texture to them that hadn’t been noticed in the previous activity. From far away the shape and form of the object was noted as well as other details including the irregularity of the objects.

‘The workshop was extremely eye opening and made us think in depth about observation’

– Darcy Richmond, part 1

The perception of colour and texture

How artists interact with objects that they replicate in their paintings is extremely interesting and relevant to us as designers. Wendy explained how before designing we need to make observations on our client and look at the project brief from up close but also view it in the bigger picture. There are so many considerations that need to be made before actually understanding our brief and our user needs. This concept was embedded in a video by Derek Jarman ( ). It’s title is Blue. There were no images, just the colour blue that would flicker throughout the video giving an atmospheric and physical effect. Jarman’s poem was read throughout this video and it was interesting because we learnt that Jarman’s eye sight had deteriorated over the years of his career which is a challenging obstacle especially for an artist. It made us think of the relationships we have to a colour. How we use language to describe a colour is different to how we perceive them. For example the terms ‘reddish-green’ and ‘yellowish blue’ are colours that we can name but they are difficult for us to imagine without actually seeing them. So how do u describe colour or texture? Learning to do this helps artists truly connect with the object or scene they are depicting in a painting. If we took a similar approach and analysed our users or our designs in such depth it would increase the level of understanding of what we have created and push us to make designs that have a great meaning and portray a message effectively.

Looking, differently …

Studying Graphic Communication at Reading means that we are often subjected to interacting solely with fellow designers including our lecturers, alumni of the department and outside speakers that work in the design industry. What was special about this workshop was that Wendy kindly gave up her time, as a lecturer from an art department, to take us on a journey into the world of art and show us how artist’s think about their work and come up with ideas. The workshop was inspiring and got all of our creative juices flowing. By the end of it we had learned diverse methods of thinking and observing which will help us look at design problems from a broader perspective, as well as from up close and in detail. We also learned about stopping and reflecting on our work in the way an artist would stop painting and look at their artwork from different angles and viewpoints to find ways of improving it.

Generally, graphic designers have a a particular way of analysing their own work and design problems. Wendy’s workshop showed that observation, attention and the analysing of objects can be done in many different ways, and that a range of techniques from outside our discipline might help enrich our practice as designers.

IBM iX: design thinking, processes and opportunities

Week eight of Baseline Shift’s Wednesday morning sessions marks a very exciting occasion. A visit from Milly Longbottom and Will Trickey, alumni of our department who graduated from Graphic Communication and Typography in 2016 and who now work at IBM.

Originally associated with being instrumental in inventing the computer, IBM is no longer focussed on physical product design. Instead, they take on service-based, user-friendly products for blue chip clients across the world. IBM designers like Milly and Will therefore produce and work on a lot of digital projects.

IBM iX is IBM’s client-facing design agency, working to produce products sold or used under the name of the client. Members work directly with their clients to follow a very user-centric design approach. Many of their clients are very large: well known companies including IKEA, Selfridges, Ford, the National Grid and Nationwide.

Milly and Will went straight into the company after graduating, starting off by undertaking a three week course in basic client-interaction skills. This was completed at an IBM office in Winchester and involved learning about business, design thinking and technology. They then worked together on a huge project conducted for BP, illustrating the true extent of the big-names they are involved with. It’s a sign of how big company’s, with the right recruitment and training in place, can let new starters loose on important projects at a surprisingly early stage in their careers.

In the loop

The design carried out by IBM iX is very people-centric. The client and the user’s needs are considered at every step of the creative journey to ensure that the end product result is suitable and usable. Milly and Will also explained the ‘design loop’ strategy that they use, based on the double diamond diagram common in many design thinking implementations. This involves an infinity loop with different points representing each stage in the continuous design process. These stages are exploring and observing users, reflecting in order to bring ideas together and finally making something that solves the problem in hand.

Connecting with Reading students

As well as informing students about their design process and life at IBM, Milly and Will also advertised the unique design opportunities available in the company. These include summer internships, year placements and graduate design consultant schemes (the path in which Will and Milly both entered the company on). Having placed a huge emphasis on the social aspect and the friendliness of everybody on the design team, these opportunities seem very attractive to students on the Typography and Graphic Communication course, which Milly and Will believe provides a brilliant foundation for a route into IBM.

‘The IBM session on Wednesday was a fantastic insight into the world of working in digital design, which drew on concepts of design approaches learnt in first year. It provided a detailed and exciting approach to what it would be like working in digital design, particularly at IBM’ – Aanand, Part 2

Workshopping: the design process

A project at IBM usually begins with a one to two day long workshop session with the client. Milly and Will took us through a condensed version of their journey, giving us an insight into how a highly successful agency functions, in the space of an hour.


This workshop emphasised the importance of what is known as ‘design thinking’ in producing a product which is functional and successful for the intended user. This involves ensuring that the user is at the heart of every product that is designed. Milly and Will emphasised the importance of this as being the designer, you are not the intended user of the product being designed. It is therefore essential to gain as much information as possible from the perspective of the user, who knows the problem and has specific needs which must be met.

Students were proposed the problem of trying to find accommodation to rent at university and used what is called an ‘Empathy Map’ to think the personality and situational traits of different types of people who could potentially be posed with this problem. This ‘user’ or ‘persona’ was placed in the middle of the empathy map and students were tasked with recording what the user might be thinking, saying, doing and feeling in relation to their situation or problem. These factors including actions, quotes, expectations, reactions and values of the user were presented on post it notes and placed in the correct section in order to create a massive ‘mind map’ of ideas and thoughts related to the problem and user. After this, post it notes were grouped together into themes and can be rearranged into a user journey. Stickers were used in a ‘dot voting’ process to arrive at a key user-centred plan for a problem solving strategy.

Portfolio review sessions

A few keen students were given the opportunity to show their portfolios to Will and Milly in order to receive feedback from a designer in the industry.

‘Both Milly and Will offered an exciting opportunity for us to take part in half hour workshops, where they critiqued and advised us on our portfolios and CVs. I found to it so useful. Overall, this session was of great value and has confirmed the fact I am on the right tracks in the design and content of my portfolio. It also inspired me into wanting to undertake a placement in digital design’ – Aanand, Part 2

‘I felt like the portfolio review gave me a general overview of what employers are expecting. Milly gave me a lot of constructive feedback and I now feel more confident about applying to summer internships’ – Sophia, Part 2


One of the strengths of the course at Reading is the quantity and quality of professional people we get exposed to, whether it’s printers, designers or creatives in other fields. For Milly and Will to give up their time to share their knowledge and time with us felt amazing. It’s also really positive to see how Reading graduates are valued by their employers, and can forge successful careers so soon after graduation.

David Pearson: Flowers, Football & Fonts…

David Pearson began his talk to Typography students at the University of Reading citing three things that sum up what really interest him – the first and last having a direct impact on his work as a prolific, award-winning book cover designer. The second he admits, possibly less so…

Pearson recalled his time as a student – the intimidation he felt from who he described as the “gatekeepers” of typography and this impenetrable discipline he initially struggled to work within. Grasping the differing personalities of typefaces was what helped him to understand how they could be best used; the other details seemed to simply “fall away”. The essence and character of type forms is a core tenet of Pearson’s work and is a huge part of why he has been so successful in capturing just the right tone for hundreds of different classic book titles.

Pearson places emphasis on using type as the main image of a design, hence his company name Type as Image. To give an example, one design he enthusiastically cited was his cover for The Gentle Author’s, Cries of London. The ‘C’ is personified as if literally crying out, and the punctuation bursts through the decorative border, bringing a joyful exuberance to the composition.

The Gentle Author, Cries of London

Throughout his talk, it was clear David wanted to highlight the need to not shy away from collaboration in any facet of design. He described with fondness the “dignity” that the illustrations by Lucinda Rogers gave to Baddeley Brothers, highlighting how valuable the uniqueness of her style was. He then went on to speak about his long-standing partnership with Paul Barnes, a well-regarded type designer (and Reading alumnus) and co-founder of Commercial Type. David’s work often involves manipulating type in extravagant ways, and it was revealing that he often asks for Paul’s ‘permission’ for his more extreme morphing of letterforms.


Illustration of Jon Webster die-stamping a crest, by Lucinda Rogers from Baddeley Brothers, a book about the work of a family-run specialist printer in the East End.

As designers, there is a risk that we stop sharing our skills and become inwardly focused, quickly becoming disillusioned and frustrated with the work we are creating. By collaborating and sharing our knowledge and skills, we can avoid the common and insidious pitfalls of tropism that David himself confessed to sometimes succumbing to.

Pearson takes great pleasure in seeing how readers physically interacted with his redesign of the
 classic George Orwell novel, 1984.

The best design, Pearson believes, often comes from an open and honest dialogue not just between designers but also with clients. It came as a surprise when David told us that many of the books he is commissioned to design covers for haven’t even been written yet, thus a dialogue with the author is crucial to understanding what message the book has. This healthy relationship Pearson has built with authors and type designers over the years has given him a greater artistic licence to “bastardise” many existing typefaces and to give them a more appropriate voice.

The biggest takeaway that students had was David’s naked enthusiasm and excitement about the work he is doing. It was extremely refreshing to hear someone talk with such glee about their practice. When you see David’s work and hear him speak about it, it is evident he is a perfect example of someone who is passionate about their career and loves the work they do.

Research introductions

In today’s Baseline shift event, research division lead Alison Black, along with other members of staff including, Jeanne Louise Moys, Sue Walker, Gerry Leonidas and Eric Kindel, discussed and showcased a range of different research projects that they have worked on throughout their careers, as well as discussing current and ongoing projects. For Part 1 students, this was a first experience of hearing tutors speak about their personal research interests. Reading is a research-intensive university, and our Department is ranked 1st in the last UK Research Assessment Exercise for the quality of its design research. For many of us, this stat played a part in why we chose to study here.

Jeanne-Louise Moys

Jeanne-Louise Moy’s interest in research began in the 1990s whilst working as a designer in South Africa where, at the time, there were many design projects of national importance – for example, redesigning the flag, coat of arms and currency. Companies began redesigning their identities to align with the new democracy, and designers began to experiment and explore the possibilities of a new graphic language.

From this point, Jeanne-Louise formed an interest in how “good” newspaper designs, that embodied appropriate design theory, contradicted the emerging possibilities of newer publications, and how graphic language can transform across different platforms. With this in mind, Jeanne-Louise began research on the subject of how typographic presentation influences readers’ judgements. Her approach was to translate the complexity of the wide range of possible variations into artefacts, in order to undergo user testing. This research indicated that people tend to form consistent judgments of documents using similar levels of typographic differentiation, even when the typefaces are kept consistent.

Other research projects that Jeanne-Louise has been involved with include working alongside health researchers from the University of Aberdeen as well as working with the Cabinet Office, analysing complex legal documents and how these work as both printed artifacts as well as on emerging digital platforms. More recently, she has been looking at typographic differentiation within digital learning environments, and testing in real environments using real content.

Alison Black

Alison Black described her research approach in 5 fundamental tasks:

  • Examination of small parts of large problems
  • Taking a user-centred approach to problem solving
  • Producing communications that support end users
  • Evaluation to confirm that this support has been realised
  • Developing awareness of information design and discourse about its process

As an example of her work in action, Alison explained the process and execution of a research project that involved designing soil moisture forecasts for farmers in Northern Ghana. This project was carried out by Alison and Matthew Lickiss alongside a research team in the Meteorology Department at the University, who produce climate and weather models from which forecasts can be made. Alison and Matthew’s task was to find out how to make this data interpretable by a range of Ghanaian farmers, some of which were non-readers. This involved user testing with the farmers of northern Ghana to arrive at largely pictorial displays of data . The final product used illustration and limited text, which made it clear and easy to use.

Another research project that Alison discussed was providing information to support carers of people with dementia. Making information manageable, usable and appropriate was the main goal. Alison explained that she began her research by working in discussion groups with carers, which revealed that the had difficulties using the information they had received, with one saying that he kept all the information in a big carrier bag, but never used it. The next step was to make prototypes for user testing and gathering feedback to create a final handbook with clear and visually appealing information about dementia and how to care for for people with the condition.

Recently, Alison also completed a research project that explored the presentation of health claims on food packaging. For this project she worked alongside Lauren Quinn, a part 3 student, who completed this research as part of The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme. They aimed to find out whether or not the heavily regulated health claims influenced the buyer’s decision or whether the packaging design was of more importance. They designed three different variations of packaging, each time varying to graphic style and also prominence of health claim and completed user testing in order to collect data. Overall it appeared that the imagery and design of the pack had a larger impact and was more influential than the health claims themselves. After this event I spoke with Lauren Quinn (pictured below, presenting a poster about the project), who explained how beneficial this project was, and how she learnt a lot of specific research techniques such as collecting qualitative data efficiently.

“I would definitely recommend getting involved in a research project such as this one, as it was a really good experience and boosts independent learning.”

Sue Walker

Sue Walker has a particular interest in children’s books and how information is presented to young children. However, today she discussed a research project that focussed on how you can use an indoor environment to engage people with important topics, such as antimicrobial resistance, titled “IDAPPS – Information design and architecture in persuasive pharmacy space: combating AMR”. The team for this project included people from several different departments in the University including Architecture, Pharmacy and external partners, too. The aims of the project were to reduce antibiotic misuse which could, in the long term, lead to our being unable to use antibiotics to combat microbial infections. With the focus being on community pharmacies, they worked with the Day Lewis pharmacy in Woodley to develop and test design proposals. As Sue has a passion for using archives for research purposes, the Departments collection of Isotype posters detailing how to fight tuberculosis became the starting point for this project, and she began by looking at other examples of Isotype work from the 1920s.

Five different external design teams proposed solutions to the communication problem and Sue highlighted two initial proposals; the first being life-size cutouts of illustrated people which carried messages about antibiotics and were displayed in and around the pharmacy. The second solution were rotating cubes, which each told a different story about resistance when you twisted them. The cubes were accompanied by other communication tools, including knitted bugs, which were inspired by the large shelf of knitting wool displayed in this particular pharmacy. Some of these bugs talk and explain different information about antimicrobial resistance, whilst one of the bugs is made using a thermochromic wool and therefore it changes colour to show a good bug changing into a bad bug. Sue stated that this was a fairly risky and challenging project, involving people from different disciplines, and a lot of information to pull together in a very short time, in order to create a successful outcome.

Gerry Leonidas

Among other roles, Gerry Leonidas is the Programme Director for MA Typeface Design, and Enterprise Coordinator for the School of Arts & Communication Design. He began by explaining how much of his research involves typeface design, which he describes and “a social enterprise”.

Gerry took us through some of the history of typeface design and the research that he has done alongside colleagues. He described Fiona Ross’s current project, looking at the role of women in typeface design history. He explained how these women changed the world of communication, but their names were unfortunately never recorded.

Further discussion was made on how there are different factors that affect whether a typeface work well, and what criteria we can use to judge them. Fonts are to be looked at in the context of their use, and analysed based on their appropriateness.

Eric Kindel

Eric Kindel described always having had a love of graphic design and being interested in how information is presented graphically. In the early years of his research career, he also became interested in editorial design due to his passion for writing and history.

The three research pursuits he spoke about were: print effects, graphic information and stencils (which he claimed to be one of his “nerdy” devotions). Eric showed us some of his early writing on print effects in an  article about moirè effects in print, in Eye Magazine.

In terms of graphic information, Eric has worked with other researchers in the department on the Isotype Revisited project. Some of this research can be seen the website and a number of different elements came out of the research, including an exhibition at the  in Victoria & Albert Museum. Another follow on from this project is the current Picturing science for children, which can be followed on its vibrant twitter account.

Eric has conducted detailed research into the use of stencils. He has been involved in reconstructing all the stencil maker’s tools and desks for stencilling and in order to understand the techniques that have been used historical to create stencil letters. He worked collaboratively with typeface historian, James Mosley, and typeface designer, Fred Smeijers, in this historical reconstruction project. Eric explained how Fred Smeijers made the stencils and Eric used them, as a stenciller would have done, for his research. He showed how combining letter stencils made in two halves make the letter look like it hasn’t been stencilled at all.  He also talked about Benjamin Franklin’s stencil set, and how he has traced the history of the Parisian stencil maker, Jean Gabriel Bery, who made it. Another element of this stencil research includes gathering examples of stencils used for advertisements on walls in 19th century, France. This practice arose to circumvent taxation on paper posters. The research topic is an ongoing one, with a plan for publication sometime soon. Updates to follow on!

Closing thoughts

Overall, this baseline shift event gave us a great insight into the extensive range of research projects that happen within our department, and it was really interesting to hear about all the different topic areas that staff members have been focussing on. Here is what some of the students who attended the talk had to say about their experience:

“I was quite absorbed by Eric’s research on stencils in terms of seeing it as an alternative to printing at the time and its potential commercial use …but what drew me in most was how the stencils were made. That is what really made me think “Wow this is cool I would love to have done this!””

– Pedro Martins, Part 3

“I thought it was really interesting finding out what research goes on in the Department. I see research staff around all the time but never knew exactly what research topics they are interested in and how they carry out their research. The research that Sue spoke about was really interesting. I also enjoyed hearing about some of the topics that PhD students are working on from their supervisors, as there are so many different routes to go down in design research”

– Katy Smith, Part 2


The basics: a guide to good writing and referencing

In Typography at the University of Reading, a huge importance is placed on having a good academic writing ability. Week four and five of the Baseline Shift sessions therefore aimed to sharpen the writing skills of students, with talks on professional writing and referencing.

Week four kicked off with ‘Let’s eat Grandma!’, a talk from Kim Shahabudin from Study Advice. This session focussed on academic and professional writing, specifically the role and importance of clear communication.

Students were asked to choose one word to describe academic writing and a word cloud was produced. This incorporated the views of all students, with the bigger words representing a larger number of people who all responded with the same word.

From punctuation, spelling and grammar to writing styles and the impressions they give to others, the talk really covered a wide range of points. The importance of appropriate word choice and good paragraph structure was also emphasised.

‘I didn’t expect such basic things to be enforced so much’ – Joanne, Part 1

Typography student’s knowledge was put to the test with an interactive quiz to reinforce the information that had been given, with prizes on offer for the winners!

Following this, week five played host to a very important talk on referencing. The talk was led by Karen Drury, one of the Department of Typography’s two Liaison Librarians.

The talk included vital information for students of all years across the department, with as much as 20% of first year essay marks being dedicated to referencing. Even more so for Part 3 students, who are currently working hard on their dissertations.

The talk covered all bases of referencing including how, when and why referencing should be used as well as different styles of referencing, which involves guidelines as to how the information in the reference should be structured (the Harvard style being favoured within the department!)

As a little reminder, the Harvard referencing system is structured as follows:

Author (Last name followed by first initial), year published, title of work, place of publication, name of publisher, pages used

For sources such as journal articles, the publication information is replaced by the journal title, volume and issue numbers. Websites are also slightly different, the date the source was accessed must be included as well as the URL it can be found at.

Talking to some members of Part 1 after the talk, it became clear that, before university, referencing was not as strictly enforced as it is here.

‘I’ve done referencing in the past, but it was never this rigid and strict’ – Joanne, Part 1

Being from a department such as typography, the materials we are required to reference are often different to that in other fields. As well as the more common sources such as books, journal articles and websites, Karen really clarified how we should go about citing materials such as pictures and artworks. She emphasised the basic reference structure which involves four major pieces of information: author, date, title and publication details (such as the place of publication and the name of the publisher although this varies depending on the item being referenced).

Through interactive quizzes, handouts and a variety of examples, Karen really simplified the referencing process, giving students a greater understanding of what is involved in citing correctly.

‘Learning about the specific reference structure to use was really helpful, and the quiz really helped consolidate all of the information given in the talk’ – Ruth, Part 1

Karen also recommended some different tools which are available to assist in referencing such as reference managers (Endnote online, Mendeley and many others). There are also some library guides available as which can help in managing and citing referencing.

‘The different tools Karen spoke about will be really helpful, I didn’t know about all of the library resources which are available’ – Caitlin, Part 1

Overall the past two weeks have offered some very key information which is applicable in all areas of study. From Part 1 and 2 essays and reports all the way up to Part 3 dissertations, Typography students at the University of Reading now have a much more solid understanding of how best to structure and communicate written information.

Making a ZINE: ‘I am, we are… different by design’

Our second Baseline Shift session was run by Camara Dick, Seniz Husseyin, Malaika Johnson and Martha Macri, members of a group of students who have been working collaboratively over the past year to promote new perspectives on diversity in creative disciplines. Former students of the Department, Ziana Azariah, Fay Biggs and Lily Brown were also part of the team. The “I am, we are” team have been helping reshape some of our teaching, including building an entirely new module for Part 3 students. They’ve also captured a snapshot of key diversity topics in creative industries through the writing, design, and publication of a zine.

The team all share different experiences and opinions of diversity within design, motivating them to come together with the hope of creating changes they can be proud of. They’re challenging the dominant western canon within our discipline, seeking to counterbalance this tradition by broadening our curriculum and introducing new perspectives. As well as opening up new career opportunities, another motivation is to evolve a stronger sense of community within the department and hopefully encourage students to both find their individual voice and move beyond our ‘cultural comfort zones.’

Building a module

Brainstorming ideas for the new module

The new Part 3 module, Design for Change, was co-designed between the team and academic staff in order to promote the critical engagement of social issues and the exploration of these through a practical self-selected design brief. This module encourages students to engage with a range of current debates and perspectives on diversity, inclusion and global perspectives in design. Students studying on the module produce a practical project that aims to inspire change by engaging users in a cause.

Engaging students of the future

In order to create awareness and share ideas, the team ran an activity on undergraduate applicant days in which prospective students would share their interests within design. These were then displayed on a series of polaroid-style designs in order to show the vast range of design opinions and passions within the group of applicants. The idea was to start building a community among applicants even before they are offered a place to study here, but also to stress that we welcome people who might define ‘design’ in a range of different ways. In the future, the team plan to use this polaroid scheme with all students, in order to create a discussion about respective cultures and different inspirations.

Beyond Typography undergraduates

Whilst the team are all students within the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication, they have worked with a variety of groups and individuals in order to achieve their outcomes. They interviewed staff and students from all three departments in the School of Arts & Communication Design, as well as graduates and other professionals with links to the University. The insights gained form the basis of their ‘I am, we are …’ zine.

Future goals include:

  • encouraging students across the School to embrace their diversity and explore different perspectives within their own creative practices
  • diversifying the range of jobs available within the department’s real jobs scheme, with one aim being to reach out to Reading’s refugee community to provide design services with direct benefits to individuals, such as CV formatting.
Presentation at the 2017–8 RUSU Teaching and Learning Showcase

The zine

Working on the Zine

Following receiving funding from the University’s Partnerships in Learning and Teaching scheme, the team decided to publish a zine in order to spread awareness of diversity and inclusion in the creative sector. To showcase a broad range of practices, they decided to include content from members across the School as well as graduates. After interviewing students and practitioners about their work, the team began to put together and design the zine. With budget and time restrictions in mind, the team then began to make decisions including the grid system, format and paper stock. They chose an A5 format as their aim was to print a lot of copies, and this allowed that to be possible whilst sticking within their budget. As there were multiple people working on the zine, it was important to design a grid system with this in mind so that the final pages were consistent and cohesive. In terms of paper stock, they chose a matte finish as they wanted it to stand out against a ‘typical brochure.’

Finished product

The team said they felt incredibly satisfied and proud with the final outcome, receiving lots of feedback about how inspirational they, and the zine, were.  In the future, they aim to create a bigger and better zine, by including more content and space for them to be able to finesse their typography. They also hope to develop a theme for the next zine and extend its publication across print and digital channels so that they can engage a wider audience with diversity in design.


After their Baseline Shift presentation, the team gained a lot of interest from new and current students looking to get involved. Growing the team will allow for the project to continue and evolve.


Moving forward

This talk opened up the discussion of diversity within the department and allowed attendees to gain insight and become involved with how we can shape and develop this project for future students.

“As someone who never really second guessed the lack of diversity in the department teaching and the discipline of Graphic Design as a whole, the talk gave an interesting viewpoint on to this, shining light on the issue. The Zine itself was a great publication, and I hope it continues to be produced, getting better and better each year. I’d also like for the department to showcase speakers from different backgrounds to bring this idea of diversity forward into all aspects of our learning, as I think we have a lot to learn from each other!” – Laura Marshall, Part 3

As a student currently taking the new ‘Design for Change’ module I found it incredibly interesting to hear their thoughts and aims for the module, and have been really enjoying the discussion, debates and different perspectives within the seminars. After the talk, I spoke to other students who had attended and discovered they found it equally fascinating and hope to get involved in future projects.


DK at the University of Reading

Our first Baseline shift Wednesday morning session kicked off this week and Typography students were lucky enough to receive a visit from two members of the design department at Dorling Kindersley’s Knowledge team. Kit Lane, who is alumna of our department, and Karen Self, art director at DK, gave a very interesting talk covering many different aspects of the company, as well as promoting the varied internships they offer to students.

‘It was very useful to have industry professionals come and talk to us so early in the course. It was good to know about internships I could apply for sometime in the future’ – Ruth Bartley, Part 1

The DK difference

DK offered students an insight into the exciting world of publishing, from their own unique perspective as market leaders across a range of areas. They covered their practical design process as well as the design thinking that goes along with everything they do, emphasising the importance of considering the consumer (not just the reader) at every stage. The lasting impression was that DK operates very differently to many other competitor publishing companies. This was exemplified by the fact that the majority of design is done in-house, with comparatively huge amounts of time (often four or five months) are spent designing each book, spread by spread, as opposed to flowing text into a prebuilt specification.

Design challenge

Students were given the opportunity to take part in a workshop led by Kit and Karen in the afternoon. This involved generating ideas for a new book named ‘Urban Detective’. Students worked through a design process starting with some initial research into the theme before sketching out rough ideas for book covers and inside spread layouts.


These ideas were then refined through peer discussion and input from Kit, resulting in a handful of clear concepts. A group crit let everyone to receive feedback on their work. Throughout the process, students kept in mind the audience and aim of the book, in true DK style.

‘I enjoyed the workshop, as it made me consider more about book design, than I might have otherwise considered on my current project’ – Alex Ganczarski, Part 1

‘I really enjoyed the workshop and am taking away a greater understanding of how to plan my ideas and concepts, as well as how the 2nd and 3rd-year students plan and execute their work. It’ll help me a lot over the next 3 years of the course’ – Rory Tellam, Part 1

Portfolio reviews and interviews

Some students also took the opportunity of having a mock interview and portfolio review with Karen. This gave a feel of what an interview is like in a professional context, preparing them for heading out into the world of design beyond university.

‘Karen made the experience calm and professional, offering great feedback on how to improve my portfolio’ – Laura Marshall, Part 3

‘It helped me to understand the process and content of a professional interview in a relaxed and casual context’ – Fay Rayner, Part 3

‘I am so glad I took on this opportunity. It has made me feel much more confident and prepared for future interviews’ – Jacob Hawkins, Part 3

Overall, our visit from DK was a big success. Around 65 Typography students were offered an insight into what life is like in the graphic design and publishing industry, which will be very useful when considering career paths later on – and much sooner for our students in Part Three!