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Work / Graphic Design

A lesson in exhibition design from creative practice U-P

Earlier this year, U-P – a Melbourne-based creative practice founded in 2004 – designed the identity for Common Good, an exhibition of contemporary design from the Asia-Pacific region at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. Defined by five key themes – Life Cycles, Return to Craft, Community Engagement, Connected Experiences and Design Fictions – the show presented works from “a new generation of socially-engaged creatives presenting design-led responses to social, ethical and environmental challenges in the region”.

Working across a variety of media – from environment design, websites and digital tools, and publication design; to photography, videos, illustration and objects – tackling an entire exhibition identity, environment and publication wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for U-P. In terms of the identity, the studio described their goal as being: “to create an identity that simulated conversation by posing questions rather than imposing answers”. This principle manifested as “a multilingual, dialogue-based design that was intentionally ‘under developed’. Typography is restrained, and in many ways ordinary, imaging was documentative in style and layouts were varied and interchangeable with none of the standard hierarchies applied.” Their aim was for the design approach to underline that of the work on show, and to create an accessible, open environment, “communicating directly without exclusivity or imposition”.

When designing the environment, the studio worked in collaboration with the museum team, “stripping the exhibition space back to its raw state to give a sense of it being ‘unfinished’”, and intertwining craft techniques and digital technologies. Rather than relying solely on captions, U-P directed a series of video interviews between the exhibitors and the exhibition designers, and presented them as “conversational wall tabs”: “The effect for visitors was as though the designers were informally talking to them.” And when it came to designing the publication, U-P took a similarly involved approach; seeing it as a reference tool for the exhibition, rather than a photographic catalogue, allowing to unpack the work in even greater depth.

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U-P: Common Good, Powerhouse Museum

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U-P: Common Good, Powerhouse Museum, photography by Zan Wimberley

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U-P: Common Good, Powerhouse Museum, photography by Zan Wimberley

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U-P: Common Good, Powerhouse Museum, photography by Zan Wimberley

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U-P: Common Good, Powerhouse Museum

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U-P: Common Good, Powerhouse Museum

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U-P: Common Good, Powerhouse Museum

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U-P: Common Good, Powerhouse Museum

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U-P: Common Good, Powerhouse Museum

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U-P: Common Good, Powerhouse Museum