As degree shows across the world pop up and down during these summer months, one university’s approach to designing an identity and wayfinding has caught our eye. On the looping roundabout of Elephant and Castle sits London College of Communication (LCC), an art college housing a variety of experimental and traditional creative degrees. To visualise the breadth of LCC’s students, this year the institution brought on board two designers, John Philip Sage and Carlos Romo-Melgar, who had a totally new approach to the usual grad show design, merging graphic design and performance.
John and Carlos’ partnership is built from similar interests and common backgrounds, both studying architecture in Spain as well as both being LCC alumni. Describing themselves as having a certain “foreignness” to graphic design, their differing backgrounds has “given us a way of understanding design more as a questioning process,” the pair tells It’s Nice That. In turn, Carlos and John often find that their interest lies “in questioning the underlying structures that support formats, processes and workflows, and that end becoming ’the normal’,” they explain. “This idea of normativity is something we want to challenge when we work together. It doesn’t mean that we aim to make something unconventional, radical or disruptive, it’s rather understanding the politics that incline us to take particular design decisions.”
With this in mind, the pair’s unconventional approach to the usually formulaic task of designing a degree show’s identity begins to make sense. Picking up on how the main aim of exhibition design is to help an audience navigate a space, Carlos and John decided to develop an approach “from two complementary perspectives”. The first was to “understand the space as a stage,” a canvas for the work of the graduating students but also “a narrative device simultaneously.”
Settling on this concept early on, the designers were then able to format it specifically through the eyes of LCC, asking questions such as “what and who is a degree show?” as well as, “what is LCC today?” Looking to the institution for the answers, their approach builds on the work of Shaz Madani and James Gilpin back in 2014 and Nina Jua Klein in 2017, expanding their previous concepts. “We thought that this time, it was necessary to emphasise the existing diversity of disciplines taught at LCC,” they add.
To visualise and house this within LCC’s exhibition space, Carlos and John’s design was in itself, “an event where interactions, visuals and performance coexist while testing the boundaries of what, who and how a degree should be.” By realising that a degree show needs that little extra push aside from the visuals of its graduating classes, the show presented a format of six acts for visitors to experience. Developing a wayfinding system using the floors, the system became activated by a group of performers “delivering practical information and provocative questions to the audience in their interactions,” the designers explain. “This way, the opening night became a choreographed event in which the different actors (the work, the public, the performers, the institution), interact and expand the experience of a degree show which was live-streamed to social media platforms.”
The six acts also allowed the university’s show space to become more comprehensible, dividing the building into six sections “according to the complex geometry of the LCC building,” which had confused previous visitors. The wayfinding performers, wearing tunics featuring key information and choreographed by Christopher Matthews in a “maître d” style, not only solved navigational problems, but provided “a confirmation of the narrative (even lyrical) approach to the navigation of the show.”
Finally, this approach translated to print by communicating “the temporal and theatrical component of the exhibition design,” but just at a smaller scale. Deciding to communicate any information through printed matter by using a folder-like leaflet, the outside presents John and Carlos’ fluid, colourful identity. The contents, however, cleverly reflects their approach to designing the inside of the physical space, displaying information in a saddle-stitched libretto. It’s touches like these that display how, no matter the format it is presented within, this year’s LCC grad show identity has alternative communication at its heart.
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