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In review: Graphics Degree Shows

Read a review of the BA (Hons) Graphic Design, BA (Hons) Graphic Communication and BA (Hons) Design for Publishing Degree Show by Graphic Designer and Writer Theo Inglis.

The first thing you see upon entering the BA Graphic Design show, on the 3rd floor of the Guntons building, is a huge shelf of awards the students have won this year. An impressive 25 in total. Prizes are everywhere to be seen, proving the quality of this year’s graduates. There are D&AD awards, regarded as the high watermark of student achievement, and a plethora of winners and runners-up in competitions set by some of Britain’s leading branding design agencies. The prizes are all well-deserved, but the standard throughout is exceptionally high.

The students on BA Graphic Design focus mainly on branding and packaging projects, but there are also plenty of videos, posters and campaigns around, all of which maintain NUA’s strong focus on witty and intelligent ideas.

A long shelf of beautiful bottles is a particular highlight, solutions to a brief set by the global design agency Blue Marlin, which asked students to create a drinks brand from scratch using their hometown as inspiration, the results are highly varied, but all manage to tell fascinating stories.

The right side of the 3rd floor is taken up by BA Design for Publishing, which as the name suggests, focuses on the design of books, magazines and all things print, plus some projects which prove publishing doesn’t have to be confined to print.

A handful of students this year had success in the prestigious Society of Publication Designers student awards based on their magazine designs, including a fantastic Second Place for Matt Adkin, who wins the B.W. Honeycutt Award for his magazine spreads about Edward Snowden.

NUA student Emily Courdelle also had some success in another essential competition, having made the shortlist in two categories of the Penguin Random House UK Student Awards for her book covers for Animal Farm and Noughts & Crosses. Design for Publishing’s show features an entire wall of arresting book covers.

The course fosters a strong reciprocal relationship with the art department at Little, Brown Book Group, whose art directors and designers come to run workshops and often give graduates internships of jobs.

Some of the covers on the wall were developed in a two-day workshop led by award-winning book designer David Pearson earlier this year. The two publications produced by students from Publishing – in the form of colourful fold-out posters – are worth picking up, as they give more information about the programme, its ethos and the series of talks by established designers who regularly visit NUA to talk with the students.

Two floors down, below BA Illustration, is the BA Graphic Communication space, their show, Unbound ( is visually striking, with student work being almost exclusively posters, many hung centrally by fishing wire. Students have worked on projects that aren’t posters, but the consistent medium gives the exhibition a cohesive feel.

The work is very engaging, with a lot of topics covered and a wide variety of different approaches, all with an emphasis on typographic craft and conceptual thinking. There was a well-deserved D&AD win for Rok Hudobivnik, who produced a calendar which used no ink, all done through embossing, to answer a brief set by a paper company looking for ideas to promote their products to designers.

I also enjoyed Rok’s poster advertising a lecture at NUA by Berlin-based graphic artist Patrick Thomas, which features an impressive screen printed circular rainbow gradient, which if you have ever dabbled in screenprint, you will know is no easy feat! Libby Bond’s wall of colourful typographic posters about false newspaper headlines and James Ashe’s book about the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement were also particular highlights amongst a strong year group.

“The overall range of such socially-motivated design was really impressive, and it is refreshing to see students, in the volatile times that we find ourselves in, using their design skills and ideas for social good, to inform, debate or provoke.”

Theo Inglis

One notable theme amongst the work, across all three courses, is a social or political subject matter. From Trump, Brexit and ‘Fake News’ to gender neutrality, gender equality and sexual education, a lot of this year’s students decided to tackle important topics in a variety of different ways, some vital and urgent, others more strategic and about long-term change. The overall range of such socially-motivated design was really impressive, and it is refreshing to see students, in the volatile times that we find ourselves in, using their design skills and ideas for social good, to inform, debate or provoke.

Often the division between work which is commercial and social is very defined, but lots of the work shown in this degree show proves that this doesn’t always need to be the case, with many students on Graphic Design tackling environmental or social issues through branding, packaging and advertising campaigns.

Notably, two such projects won prestigious D&AD Pencils. Holly Taylor won for her project, ‘The Big Debrief’ a campaign that hopes to encourage young women to be more confident to ‘de-brief and attend their smear test’. While a team of three (Maddy Russell, Lily Arundell and Amy Joslyn) won at D&AD for ‘Buy One Get or Gift One Free (BOGOGOF)’ a clever idea where supermarket food deals could be gifted to those in need, rather than contributing to the growing problem of food waste in the UK.

The Graphic Design show also features a wall of competition entries to the BrandOpus Chrysalis Award, which asked students to invent a brand from scratch which made use of ‘spent grain’ a waste by-product created in the beer brewing process.

Students came up with ideas such as; turning it into bricks, a crispy coating for breaded fish or using it in beard oils (beer has long been said to be a beneficial ingredient in shampoo). The competition winner, a student from NUA, was Harriet Davie, for her clever and striking design of WEAT – a range of vegan meat alternatives with attitude.

Reflecting on this year’s show, Course Leader Martin Schooley remarked that;“The three graphic shows this year really represent the best of what we do here at NUA and also show a maturing and defining of what makes the courses distinct. As usual, there’s some excellent branding, identity and packaging design on show in the Graphic Design space. This work has clever, often witty ideas and thinking – and an open approach to expressive typography and image play. Design for Publishing demonstrates some real craft in typography, layout, print finishing and dealing with engaging content. There’s also some progressive, experimental work that blurs the boundaries between print and digital technology such as augmented reality. The Graphic Communication show demonstrates that students are increasingly taking on agenda-driven projects around design for change and design for good. There are some incredible core skills in typography and print, but also some great digital work too.”

Having had a good look around the show, I have to concur, the standard is consistently high across the three different courses, with an impressive range and variety, clear specialisms to suit students’ diverse interests and a common core-focus on well-crafted good ideas. All of which is a testament to the hard work of both the students and their tutors. Well done class of 2018, looking forward to seeing what you all get up to next!