Author: LauraWhitehead

HMP Huntercombe Prison poster design


Huntercombe Prison have worked alongside Reading University’s typography students to create communication materials for the prisoners for many projects. Huntercombe is a Category C, foreign national deportation prison for adult males in Oxfordshire. The client wanted to improve the attitudes towards violence and make the inmates aware of the consequences in a clear, structured way that would be understandable even for inmates with poorer linguistic abilities. In order to ensure this, we collaborated with two English Language students from Reading.


The brief for this project was to create an A0 printed poster on violence reduction which would replace an existing board of text heavy information that is regularly dismissed. The poster would aim to educate inmates on the importance of avoiding and resisting violence. Principally by explaining the consequences of committing such offences and provide information on who they can speak to in the prison for support or help.


All communication to the prison was done through Suzanne Portch, a teacher for the University’s Linguistics department who had previously worked at Huntercombe Prison. Suzanne supported us with the design of the poster and was readily available to answer any questions as communication to the prison is very slow. We also conversed with our supervisor about design and typographic features, though he admitted that most feedback about the suitability and content had to be done by the prison staff.

Visit to the Prison

On 30 January, we went on a trip to visit the prison to talk to the staff and inmates about what specifics they wanted from us. Upon our visit to the prison, both inmates and staff highlighted some features we needed to consider when designing the poster:

  • No complex language can be used due to many of the inmates having very limited language skills.
  • Inmates are not allowed to loiter in the corridors so therefore cannot stand and read the poster for a long duration of time.
  • Prison staff mentioned avoiding colours and imagery of a stimulating nature.
  • The inmates expressed a wish for the new design to be visually engaging as it is to replace the existing, boring notice board. This was made up of A4 sheets of white paper with large blocks of all-caps, black and red text.
  • The correct prison specific terminology must be used.
  • There must be an area of the poster not designed on, allocated for the staff to stick their own images on of people the inmates can turn to for help.


After visiting the prison, the team discussed the angle we wanted the poster to take. The poster needed to explain to inmates how their violent actions have consequences, such as impacting time they are serving or having their privileges removed. However, we decided that the poster would aim to connect with the inmates on a more emotional level which would help them properly understand the consequences of violence in a more human context. During the visit one of the inmates had made a comment saying avoiding violence is a choice that every inmate can make. This decision not only has an effect on them, but their family too as visiting privileges could be removed, or more severe punishment may be implemented. We decided this is a really important message to convey, particularly as it was bought up by the inmates themselves. It was therefore decided that we use this concept of ‘choice’ to inspire the design and the direction we took not only visually but linguistically.

Both design students brainstormed and sketched out a few ideas and as we progressed made sure to compare and discuss our potential ideas. Together we decided on our two strongest ideas which we presented to the rest of the group [fig.1&2]. Ultimately we decided the signpost concept was more effective [fig.1]. Though this design does not directly illustrate violence, it focusses more on the idea discussed previously of the inmate having the ‘choice’ to take the correct path for them and their family. Though the second idea [fig.2] of the fist is more obviously linked to violence, the imagery has the potential to be inappropriate or even stimulating for some inmates. This could risk encouraging violent tendencies and having the opposite result to the purpose of the poster.

Figure 1
Sign post concept: Representing the idea of choosing the right (non-violent) path.


Figure 2
Punching concept: Fist punching the text, symbolising the idea of breaking the norms.

To combat the poor language skills of some inmate’s and the fact they cannot loiter, we tried to use as little text as possible, in the simplest terms. This was challenging however as we were required to use the correct terminology. Therefore, in order to aid understandability of more complex terms we experimented with the use of icons. We designed them as simply as possible, so they were easily recognisable yet conveyed a lot of meaning. As the poster is so big there was room for the icons to have some detail and still be clear. Meaning the finished icons were both useful and visually interesting. We experimented with colour pallets to see what worked best for the text and icons to be most legible. Eventually deciding on a background colour scheme representative of a sun setting, which was chosen due to the calming manner of the tones. The text is largely set in navy blue as this colour is dark enough to be legible but not too harsh against the background.

In a further effort to increase readability we had to carefully consider the typeface used. During research we looked at typefaces used for education purposes that are highly legible, created for children who are developing their language skills. We considered using one of these to improve the readability of text. However when testing these typefaces found they were too juvenile and considering the subject matter and the adult audience would be inappropriate. The font we used for the final design is a bold sans serif typeface called FatFrank Heavy. This font has a similar feel to the educational ones we researched as it is quite thick, rounded and clear, yet it is not childish.

Working with linguistics students presented some challenges as well as benefits. It was useful to have more people with ideas and to get feedback from, but their job was far simpler and at times felt unnecessary. However, it was good to get experience working with and organising a team of members from multiple disciplines. Particularly as we gained valuable skills in communication both with clients and team members who are not designers.

Final design

The poster aims to make the prisoners think twice before lashing out or getting involved with violence. We hope this will make them consider the consequences and result in a reduction of violence at Huntercombe. The use of colour and imagery will make the poster stand out from the dull prison walls meaning the information is more likely to be read and absorbed by the inmates. We placed A4 rectangles at the bottom of the poster where images of staff members can be stuck who can support the inmates in dealing with violence. Having these areas blank mean that the images can be easily changed so the poster does not go out of date so fast. In comparison to the existing notice board of text heavy sheets of information, this poster embodies that same information in an interesting, calm manner that is useful and understandable for the inmates.

Final poster design


Once the poster was finished, we had hoped to go and visit the prison again to showcase the design and receive feedback from the staff and inmates. However, due to complications with COVID-19 we were unable to deliver it in person. Despite this we still received positive feedback from Suzanne who thought the emotional direction of the poster was thoughtful and more beneficial for the prisoners. In addition, the overall design succeeds in presenting violence in a calm manner and bringing an element of colour and life into the prison. The feedback implies that the poster will be effective in this way and benefit the prison in tackling violence. 


We found that working in a team of multiple disciplines was challenging at times, but it gave us the opportunity to learn communication skills and the importance of properly organising a team. We learnt that working with people other than designers means adjusting the design process slightly and being sure to articulate ideas and concepts as well as possible.

In terms of difficulties we faced when designing, tackling prison terminology was challenging, especially for programmes that are specific to Huntercombe. For this we communicated a lot with Suzanne, who had some knowledge of this, and the prison staff who were very helpful and ensured that the information on the poster is accurate. This element of the process was a good experience of designing within strict constraints, considering the appropriateness of all design elements and keeping good communication with the client.

We found that talking directly to the inmates was the most effective way to discover how the audience would respond to the poster. Male prisoners with limited language skills are an extremely niche audience to design for, meaning we had to consider things that other projects simply never present. By talking to the inmates, we learnt about prison life, the rules there, and how some inmates manage their mental health in an effort to avoid situations of violence and other offences. The group of inmates we worked with were of the highest level of education and comprehension who explained that they are more conscious of getting out of prison to see their family than committing any violent act. However, they explained that this is not the case for all prisoners and that is why this poster is so essential. This experience was extremely insightful and gave us an opportunity to design something that has the potential to educate and make difference to someone’s life. Encouraging and informing someone who has made mistakes to make good decisions and take steps for a better future.

Art for Research Reading 2020-21


Art for Research Reading is an organisation that runs yearly to raise money for Cancer Research UK Children and Young People, by running an art competition for 4 to 14 year olds. It is reasonably newly founded, with 2019/20 being the first year of the competition. There were many entries in the first year and the aim is to get more and more as the years go on, though this has been difficult to achieve this year with Covid-19. Art for Research Reading enrols students to compete in the competition through their schools, so the advertising material targets the schools as well as the students who will compete. Every child pays a small fee to enter their work and donation to pick it up again at the end of the exhibition, so it is really important to have as many children competing as possible in order to raise the most money. I joined the committee for the year to join in with monthly meetings, and fundraising events as it is a great way to stay up to date with what is happening in the project, as well as it being rewarding to help for charity.

Unfortunately for Art For Research Reading, Covid-19 has made it difficult to gather entries for the competition, which is really what makes it successful as this is how they raise money for cancer research. The committee decided to postpone the competition from March 2021 until June 2021 so there is more time to gather more entries and organise the event. The event will now be held it online where entries are submitted and displayed through Facebook.


This project involved making a poster, flyer and programme to support Art for Research Reading’s 2021 children’s art competition. The poster aimed to advertise the competition and encourage children to enter work into it. This was completed in May 2020 and sent out in June, nearly a year before the closing date for entries. The flyer originally aimed to get people to come to visit the exhibition, but since the charity changed their mind to hold an online event rather than a physical one, it was more informative of how this would work. The programme contains all the information about the children’s work, judges and the charity. Despite only now having an online event, the committee still decided they wanted a programme showing information about the charity, the competition and all the entries, so that children could see their hard work and awards presented formally and it gives them the opportunity to print it out themselves. Art for Research Reading also hopes that this will encourage interest from more people in the competition for following years.


Art for Research Reading already had a strong visual identity when I joined the team, which had been established by a previous University of Reading typography student. Therefore, I had a reasonably clear starting point when creating material to fit in with this.

The theme for this year’s competition was the environment, so the main focus that the client wanted was for it to fit into the theme. After researching into the branding of charity events, material aimed at children and the previous year’s identity for Art for Research Reading, the client decided they wanted a child appropriate approach with clear information and bright colours, as this was the primary target audience.

The design process and development

The client was clear in wanting the target audience for all designs to be for children, 4 to 14 year olds who might enter the competition. Despite this, all entrants are enrolled to compete through their schools so all material has to go through schools and parents to encourage them to get children to enter the competition, before it even reaches the children. Therefore, the target audience is not only children but their schools and parents, with home learning being done as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The client was reasonably open to approaches in the design style as long as it fitted with the theme of the environment, was child friendly, and had a consistent design that could work across multiple formats to represent this years competition.

My original design clearly mimicked the previous year’s poster but including a strong environmental theme. The client fed back that they liked the illustrative style but wanted more environmental imagery to get contestants thinking about sustainability and recycling as well as nature.

Art for Research Reading competition poster from 2020
Original concept idea
Examples of some experimental styles explored when looking into the identity for the 2021 competition

To follow on from this I created multiple variations with a new design in which the client could choose from. They decided they liked the brighter designs and wanted me to experiment using the colours from cancer research, pink, yellow, blue and grey. I also looked into using different features with the overlapping illustrations such as overlaying the colours and having different textures instead of block colours.

Overall the client decided that this design would be the most appropriate as the illustrative style and bright colours help appeal to a child audience, and the individual illustrative blocks can easily be conveyed to other material. This makes the design easily pliable in different contexts enforcing consistency between all the material for the 2020/21 competition, making it easily recognisable.

Communications with the client

The client was very open minded in allowing me to experiment with what would work best as an approach. Though they had clear constraints and ideas in which were to be included in the material, they were open to all my ideas. The committee have been very supportive in giving me clear feedback and were very active in the design process, allowing us to work together to figure out the approach they wanted. They have also had very clear deadlines in which everything must be done by, helping me to manage my time appropriately.

When I first began this real job, I was given the opportunity to join the Art for Research Reading committee, which I accepted. This ended up being one of the most beneficial parts of this project as not only was I able to connect with the client on a personal level but also stay up to date and contribute my ideas about fundraising and the exhibition. This has allowed me to get a full understanding of the client’s needs and the users I am working for. I also helped share my knowledge of social media and ideas to get the most contestants contributing, which was crucial for the client this year due to the exhibition being held online. Due to having a friendly and trusting relationship with the client it has meant that I have had speedy responses and excellent constructive feedback. As this is a charity everybody is there because they want to be, and the committee are always happy to help out. This has made the real job very positive and fun to be a part of.

Covid-19 restrictions

Due to Covid-19, the client made the decision to postpone the exhibition and hold it online where entries are submitted and displayed through Facebook. Despite this, they still decided they wanted a programme showing information about the charity, the competition and the entries, so that children could see their hard work and awards presented formally and it gives them the opportunity to print it out themselves. They also hope that this will encourage more people to be interested in the competition for following years. The committee decided to postpone the competition from March until June so there is more time to gather more entries and organise the event online. Because this is past the real job deadline, I have created a programme template using the text and information from last year’s competition and will continue to work with them after the real job deadline to create a programme with the up to date information on time for the online exhibition in June.


Overall, I have found this project to be very rewarding. The support from the client has meant it has been really enjoyable and I have gained valuable skills in sticking to very short deadlines, where the client needs something to be completed within a few days, as well as very long ones, where I have six months or so before something needs to be completed. There have been moments in this project where no design work needs to be done but in this time I have continued to attend committee meetings to support with the development of the competition.