This is a progress update report for a project being completed for University of Reading’s SportsPark, which is still ongoing at the time of writing. Though the original intention was to submit this project complete at the end of my degree, the interruption to the academic year and closure of public resources (caused by COVID-19) have impacted the concluding stages of the project. As the project is not yet fully complete, this report not only reflects on the progress up to this point, but also highlights the future intentions for the ultimate conclusion of this project.
After being allocated the job, arranging to meet with the client in person was a top priority. I needed to introduce myself to the client, as well as gain an understanding of who I would be designing for. With a number of parties involved in the production of the publication on the client side (including a researcher, writer and project supervisor), I requested that we had an initial meeting with all parties present. This would allow us all to build a foundational understanding of what each person would be responsible for and ensure everyone was on the same page. It also provided the possibility to share opinions and thoroughly talk through initial ideas through verbal conversation that emailing back and forth would have complicated.
The Restated Brief
Restating the brief before diving into designing is good professional practice and is a key aspect of the design process when completing any project. By restating the brief, the designer can establish exactly what is required and expected from them, both from a design aspect as well as in a professional capacity. It is key for showing the client – and yourself – that you have understood what they are after; and if not understood, it means any misinterpretation is addressed before designing starts. It also provides the client and designer alike with a point of reference throughout the design process, keeping the project focused and on track with a mutual agreement stating how the job will ideally progress. With an initial face-to-face meeting with my client lasting over an hour and then follow up emails providing additional information to questions raised but not able to be answered at the time, creating an accurate and comprehensive restated brief was made easier.
The brief was to produce a commemorative short run booklet along the same lines as the 80 Years: University of Reading booklet, approximately 40–48 pages in length, about the history of sport at the University of Reading between 1892–2018. Commissioned by UoR SportsPark and overlooked by the Director of Sport, the booklet would be written by a retired professor of English at UoR based on the research conducted by a retired UoR Historian. The goal is to hand out the booklet to anyone who attends the launch of the new active campus strategy during the second induction to the sporting hall of fame in the summer of 2020; at which there will also be three celebrity ex-athletes in attendance. It must communicate the University of Reading’s rich sporting history with incredible sporting success and will help encourage and promote the improvement of health of the young, as well as academics, through sport.
Although outlining the required deliverable was made relatively straight-forward due to the initial in-depth consultation, one of the more challenging aspects of restating the brief was creating a prospective schedule of deadlines. The project had an open and distant deadline, one much longer than I have been restricted to in the past. This made it hard to know exactly how long I should be giving for each stage of the design process. I learned that starting by outlining what would be required on the completion of the project and then working backwards from the final deadline was a useful way to tackle this challenge of a long deadline. This process not only made me have to consider my own time and project management skills, but it also pushed my leadership qualities as it would be my scheduled timeline that the client would work to when holding up their end of the project.
It was my challenge to create a traditional and classy design with a modern twist. The historic and academic aspects lend themselves to a traditional style of book design, however, the sport aspect gave the opportunity for exploring an experimental, modern and dynamic piece of editorial design. The design process can be slit up into 5 key sections: Research, Document Setup, Copy, Imagery and Cover Design.
Upon meeting the client, it was made apparent that most of the thorough research regarding the content of the booklet had already been completed. However, the writing of the prose had not yet been finalised, with refinements and fact checking still being completed. Although not provided with the text in the early stages, I was provided with copies of some of the raw research files to get started. While I was awaiting the writing of the final copy, I took it upon myself to do a bit of background reading of the research notes and started to think about the potential feel of the booklet, as well as source some of the easier to find images referenced in her findings. Through doing my own research using resources such as the Reading University Boat Club website, I in fact raised the issue of some discrepancies in a couple of areas of research, identifying where dates had been miswritten and some facts were mistakenly repeated for multiple dates. This meant the mistakes could be addressed before designing occurred, elevating a potentially larger knock on affect. This taught me that being proactive in the early stages of the project, even in a time where there is seemingly little to do, in fact is useful to the progression of the project later down the line.
When thinking about the possible design of the booklet, I was informed that there were no University branding guidelines to be adhered to. Having said this, the client was very keen for the booklet to take inspiration from the 80 Years: University of Reading booklet. It was indicated that the client was after a similar composition; utilising a comparable timeline system as well as the manipulation of images, captions and pull quotes. This gave me a great starting place in researching potential formatting through an existing publication. I first read through the booklet leisurely to get a feel for the style, before then looking back over the design with a critical eye and trying to identify the underlying grid system and paragraph styles.
The client specified in the briefing that they would like the design of the booklet to resemble that of the 80 Years: University of Reading booklet. This was helpful for me as it not only gave me a clear structure and template to follow, but it also meant I had the possibility to start setting up the document before I was supplied with content. In preparation for the copy, I set up the file to the fullest extent I could including: page size, margins, the grid, a few paragraph styles and furniture. I also thought about the rough composition of how text and image elements interact. Having this prepared in advance of receiving the copy was hugely beneficial, as it meant I could simply feed the copy in as and when it was provided.
Allocated this job in June 2019, at the end of my second year of studies, my hope was to get a first draft of copy set before going back to study for my final year. Knowing I would be hit with a lot of university work from October onwards, it was my aim to spend my 4-month summer break working on the booklet to get as much done before returning to study, however, this was not to be. Unfortunately, I was informed that the copy was still being written and initial draft copy would not be available until October 2019. While this still gave a fair amount of time before I would have to ultimately submit in the spring of 2020, dedicating time to designing the booklet would now have to be fitted in around five other projects and dissertation writing. While this disrupted my initial plans, it encouraged me to develop my time management skills by allocating a set time every week to work on this job.
Once I got the copy, there was a lot of ‘cleaning’ required with an abundance of random tabs, double spaces and incorrect use of punctuation such as en dashes – sifted out by using the ‘Find and Replace’ feature. This kept me busy for a while as I tried to get each element of the text ready for flowing into the .indd template I created. My primary focus was ensuring the type was set perfectly with paragraph styles, before worrying about addressing the flow at a later date. I also knew the copy was subject to change through revisions, so did not want to spend long adjusting the flow only for it to be changed. When the copy was revised by the client, the full word document was sent me, instead of just indicating the changes. To help identify what the changes were, I utilised Microsoft Word’s compare documents feature which clearly highlighted differences between the two documents. This meant that I could manually enter the small changes directly into the .indd file, instead of having to repeat the process of cleaning and formatting everything from scratch again. This was a new technique that I learned on this job and it helped to drastically improve my work rate.
Only when I received acknowledgement from the client (after multiple copy revisions) that all the copy was final, other than possible minor spelling or grammar fixes, I began to address the flow of text across each spread. After setting the text as desired I showed the progress to my supervisor who said “It’s coming along nicely, but refinements are still possible” regarding the typographic detailing. I then went through the copy with a fine-toothed comb to pick out all the fine typographic details originally missed as well as improve the overall aesthetic of the text blocks. This included instances of tweaking hyphenation and justification for certain occasions, manually inserting thin spaces where required and inserting forced line breaks to make a text blocks visually flow better. This process helped to improve and develop my understanding and application of good typographic practise.
Although the primary research was complete, it was my job to trace the images referenced as well as source my own images where required. Sourcing imagery was one of the most challenging tasks of the whole project. While some relevant images were referenced in the research files, many of the images were originally published in newspapers and were too poor quality to scan and reproduce. Although I sourced some images at the beginning, I would not know exactly which images would be useful until I set the copy and identify how it ran in the booklet. Because of this, I decided to wait to source further specific images until I had the copy set. While it was important to source as many images as possible before beginning designing, the research phase of collecting content was an ongoing constant in this project, sourcing images as and when they were required.
With the copy set, I could begin adding in some of the images already collected where relevant. This left me with a clear indication as to what images would still need to be sourced for which pages. To help source some of my own images not referenced, I was introduced and given access to the UoR asset bank, an image catalogue new to me. This resource proved vital for sourcing and downloading high resolution and loyalty free University of Reading images. I also used other image banks such as the Reading Museum’s archives as well as university associated websites such as the RUBC website. This process of trawling through archives to find, often obscure and low profile, images of historic events dating back to the early 20th Century significantly improved my knowledge of image sourcing. As well as this, a lot of the images needed correcting to become clearer and to appear visually consistent throughout the booklet. An example of a before and after is shown below.
While sourcing images was going well, I decided I would pause my search to focus on completing other university projects. My intention was to return to finalising imagery by sourcing books referenced from the collections at London Road once I had some free time after submitting my other projects. However, the three months I put aside for this have been scuppered by the current circumstances of COVID-19. I have been left unable to access all the initial research files and my personal notes on the project left at my university address before the ‘lockdown’ but still tried my best to source the images. Due to the closure of public resources including libraries, it was not possible to access a book in the collections, from which a number of the images were referenced. I did not let this hold me back though and strived to see what I could do to acquire the resource. I found what I thought was the referenced book online and ordered it for delivery to my home address. Unfortunately, it would appear that it was in fact a different publication with the same title and did not contain the required images – although by chance, one image which was useful. At a time in which I was unable to access physical collections, I had to return to the internet as a key resource for sourcing images. However, this was not without its frustrations too, with access to the key resource of the asset bank unavailable due to maintenance for the past two months. In order to get the book closer to being finished, for the purpose of submitting as complete project as possible for my degree, I had to unfortunately use some sub-par images. Some images are currently placeholders until I can regain access to a better solution. This has left the imagery in the booklet in a position of looking complete in terms of no missing/blank pages, but it is my full intention to replace these when times return to normal.
In hindsight, I could potentially have alleviated the issue of having to source replacement images had I made a conscious effort to source more of the images earlier. However, I do not believe I could in any way have accounted for three-month disruption caused to the time I set aside for this project at the back end of my studies. The most notable point from this is that, even if you plan your time well, unforeseen circumstances can still occur. Instead of giving up, it is important to show commitment to the task at hand and continue to find different possibilities to resolve issues and strive to complete the work to the best of your ability.
While the cover of any publication is important, in this instance, there was slightly less pressure for the cover to sell the publication as it would be given out at the event. Having said this, creating an intriguing and striking cover would set the mood for the rest of the publication. The current cover design is a nod to the Sports Hall of Fame housed in the Sports Pavilion on University of Reading’s main Whiteknights campus. This ties the cover visually to the event at which it will be distributed while still being slightly ambiguous to intrigue the audience. The current cover is shown here but is possibly subject to change further down the line.
Due to the present circumstances, I am currently unable to send the booklet to print, not only due to additional image sourcing still required, but also the fact that printers are currently not operating. I did however still learn new production skills as I had to complete a print specification in order to receive an estimate for the job. Although production is often seen as the final stage after the design is signed off, this process taught me that it is integral to the whole process. Acknowledging aspects of the production such as physical format, stock materiality, printing processes, binding methods, print run and costs is vital to influencing design decisions.
Unable to print and photograph the completed publication, I have created a series of mockups to showcase the prospective final deliverable in a manner which resembles its ultimate intended format.
It was vital to establish how best to stay in contact with the client right at the start of the project. It was agreed that emailing regularly would be the best way to keep up to date with progress reports and for the client to provide me with content. We also arranged to conduct meetings in person at various landmarks in the process. While it was possible to send over basic queries and reports, the most useful conversations happened in person. It was possible to send over PDF files to provide context to a question, but assessment of the final feel of the book could not be asses like this. For this, we had multiple physical meeting in which I delivered draft spreads trimmed to the eventual size for us to be able to evaluate together. This meeting in person helped to forge a strong client–designer relationship and was a good way to assure the client that the project was under control.
With an open deadline, it is very easy to have the mind set to put the project aside, forget about it and worry about it at a later date. To ensure this did not happen, I made sure that I stayed in regular contact with my client informing them of my progress. While progress was slow at times, I made sure to email my client to let them know where I was with the project to keep them in the loop. I believe I stayed in contact well with the client throughout the long process by communicating clearly, effectively and professionally on a regular enough basis.
As of writing this report, there are still further details that I need to continue to address, however, I believe the current submission is a comprehensive representation of the final intended outcome. In evaluating the outcome, I believe I have created a polished booklet which, with a few minor alterations, will be exactly what the client requested. This project strongly helped me to continue to develop my advanced editorial skills with a number of typographic and pictorial variables and challenges tackled.
Although not currently finished, I believe I can be proud of how I have worked throughout the process up to this point. I have thoroughly enjoyed the pleasure of being able to work on a project with a topic which I have a genuine interest in and feel a personal connection to having competed in sport during my time at University of Reading. While this project has been submitted in an incomplete state for the purpose of my degree, I fully intend to continue to improve this project to deliver the client with exactly what they are after. I am motivated to not only prove to myself that I can do an improved job, but also to deliver the client with the perfect publication that they deserve.
I learned a lot from this project, not least that working to a distant deadline can in fact be just as difficult – if not more – than a short one! This job has tested my commitment levels and I believe I have passionately shown my pledge to providing my client with what they want, no matter the circumstances.