Work / Graphic Design

Design studio Civilization filter down complex ideas into clear visual solutions

For the 21st Biennale of Sydney, Seattle-based studio Civilization devised an identity system illustrating the abstract curatorial theme of ‘Superposition: Equilibrium and Engagement’, and make it accessible to a diverse audience. Considering the nature of cycles, the exhibition cycle of a biennale, the number of locations involved, and the need for flexibility along with thematic alignment, Civilization had a complex task. But rather than shy away from it, they brought that complexity into the design concept, and found a solution that had visual simplicity.

In the studio’s project synopsis, it describes how the designers juxtaposed the principle of a superposition – “all states of being existing simultaneously in equilibrium”, as defined by Civilization – with the Wu Xing cycle of creation and destruction. The relationship between the two elements was then translated into “visual dualities: order versus chaos, connected versus singular, and static versus in motion”, which informed the approach to the biennale’s visual identity.

It’s flexible both in the way it can be applied, and in terms of its parts. The intention was for the identity to be able to expand and contract where needed; to be “fluid, amorphic, and ever-changing” representing a superposition, and “adhering to the sequence of the cycle” as defined by Wu Xing philosophy. Animated, abstracted, layered or dispersed forms float around each other, slot in with each other, are layered and held in orbit; alongside boldly placed type and enough white space for works, captions and publicity information to breathe and hold their own.


Civilization: Sydney Biennale, exhibition collateral system photographed by Michael Ellsworth


Civilization: Sydney Biennale, curatorial statement, photographed by Michael Ellsworth


Civilization: Sydney Biennale, exhibition website home screen


Civilization: Sydney Biennale, directional triffid, photographed by Fiona Susanto


Civilization: Sydney Biennale, exhibition photographed by Michael Ellsworth


Civilization: Sydney Biennale, exhibition detail photographed by Michael Ellsworth


Civilization: Sydney Biennale, exhibition way-finding photographed by Fiona Susanto