Design Fragments

Design Journalism / Design Fragments

whisper : a design journalism proposal

Reflections on Fall/Spring

Looking back on the two semesters so far, in order to do the Interim Thesis Presentation, I had a moment of realisation that my work is based on visceral impressions of the city and its peoples, and that it was therefore fitting that it should have a fragmentary aspect to it. This is how a city works: impressions, cultural overlaps, creative overlaps, fragments. It is fitting then that the design provocations I want to produce should be fragmentary also.

Street Photography

Credit: Joseph Sternfeld ‘ Landscape as Longing’
Credit: Robert Frank ‘Snapshot Aesthetic’

Street Photography

This has been quite an influence on me recently. Chatting with Romane Baldou has reminded me that photography is a medium that lends itself to capturing fleeting impressions, overlaps, moments in time. I used to do a fair bit of urban photography but at the time I didn’t know how to progress it beyond the urban gritty / industrial imagery that sometimes becomes the specialism’s default. I don’t know that I know better how to achieve something more subtle but I know now that there is a way out there, I just need to work on my skills through practice on the streets and reflect on what I capture each time.

Summer Thoughts

I plan to seek out those other designers tuned into the rhythms of their environment, aided by my design journalism proposal ‘whisper’. I aim to have these stories gathered and distilled over the summer so that I can then produce a range of provocative design fragments that will then provoke others to look at their city afresh, to encourage a different, more subtle form of creative response to their city. When I say subtle I don’t mean quiet as the word ‘whisper’ might suggest, I mean simply a creative response more attuned to the rhythms of the city – it could be gorgeously vibrant graphic design or textured black and white photography or anything in between. We will reflect as we go along whether ‘whisper’ is the right word but, for now, let’s stay with it.

Practice based research is one way that I will record and reflect on my own reaction to the city that I am in at a given moment, and this will feed into my own journalistic drive to seek other designers and other creative / environmental rhythms.

My aim is to create alternative narratives of a city, based on my own observations and reflections on others’. Where their own existing work or their graphic design responses to my probes comes into this is yet to be determined. I suspect it will form its own path once I get cracking at a new set of interviews (in the works).

It is dawning on me that exploring what contributes to independent cultures in one location will be dependent on how graphic designers in turn respond to this. Each of them will have their own sense of themselves, their environment, their local culture. This the space I will be working in, and their versions will be different to mine.

So it will be about what makes up their sense of themselves in that place, how this feeds into or is visible in their work, and perhaps comparing a range of these perspectives.

A final note to methods of capturing the city. I will use urban poetry and photography to record and gather, and together with interviews, distill all of this into design fragments as described above. I had thought that I might collaborate with a film maker to explore another way of recording interviews /and the city itself. If I do this for the interviews I may separately record the city itself as the former will be an objective recording of the interview, while the latter is a more subjective capturing of the city…to be decided…


visualising other voices

After our Design Walk (explain), I took the pictures I’d taken on the day and collaged these together with handwritten quotes from the first interview. The aim was to convey a flavour of the walk, the landscape, that it had been raining, how I got there.

I took a photo of the map at Scott Street, printed it and used that as a backing page for a pen drawing of the spot on the Fraser River where we’d chatted.

This is Sahil himself, and this picture sums him up: a warm and friendly person! I wanted to feature a picture of the designer himself and then overlay quotes in a photocopied, analogue way to avoid the A4 page, and traiditional Adone software – for now at least.

Before I started this course I had been experimenting with my version of neon writing – using el wire to replicate its effect at a smaller scale. I love the strangeness and loneliness that neon writing conveys – for me it captures the oddness and giddiness of coming to a new city. One of my works is below ‘giddy’. My aim is to ask Sahil to handwrite one of his quotes from the interview which I will then render in this neon-esque style. My aim is to play on the individual in the midst of a neon city, neon being one of the key typographical languages in many cities, but especially Vancouver.

Interview 2: Catherine Falk

This interview was carried out over the phone, it was a getting to know you conversation and should be followed up by a Design Walk.

Interview 3: Sarah Hay

This is my third interview and will be a stand alone as opposed to the two stage process. I’d anticipate in future that I would interview certain people a few times, to build more of a narrative.

Reflections so far

  • What is the connection between a person having a sense of place and this showing in their design output?
  • Can someone tell this or is this better seen by outside observers…so is gauging this better done by viewing their work ?
  • How would I gauge this? Do I have a sense of Vancouver? Not yet…so how would I tell this?
  • I think I can sense a different vibe in French graphic design but Vancouver specific is much harder for me to tell, so how do I recognise this in someone elses’s work? If I saw a range of independent design work fromVancouver designers would I sense a common theme?
  • I have the idea that great independent design is like fresh fruit sourcing. You have to get to know locals, find out the spots. What if is just as simple as asking lots of designers for local recommendations from their own backyard? Is it a matter of gauging if their work is influenced by sense of place? And then working out how to promote this wider?
  • Is what I am doing a form of Design Enthnography?

Sarah Hay

Walking along beside False Creek, a stunningly beautiful day with the grounded, calm, designer extraordinaire Sarah Hay. She was so clear in her values of mindfulness, calm and peace and living in harmony with the landscape. And when one of her favourite designers is Charlie, Whisky, Tango – a group based in Brooklyn – you might wonder what the connection is to Vancouver. The answer is simple: durable design made to last. And suddenly one aspect of Vancouver was clear. Yes the place influences local design, design thinking, the movement of sustainability in design. Not the same as the vibrant graphic design of Montreal but no less meaningful.


  • My impressions of Vancouver are forming around a city deeply affected by sustainability. The proximity of mountains and Pacific Ocean foreground the landscape here – and the outdoor opportunities it affords – and Emily Carr has drawn sustainable designers keen to be around a vibrant design group keen to change design for the better. I am going to diagram or trace or map or sketch / document the rhythms as I see them here, tuning in with nature as it happens and searching still for what graphic design means here. There is an aspect of independent cafe culture here and I need to tap into that. I wonder if the relaxed ( is that the right word?) vibe feeds that independence?
  • I think I need to be more specific with my enquiries. If I contacted graphic designers in Montreal, Asia or New Orleans and found distinct design, how would I celebrate and promote that – materially/visually etc