Murmurations: representing a community during lockdown
Each year, the identity for the Central Saint Martins graduate show is designed by final-year BA Graphic Communication Design students. Although our annual show is launching online this year with our Graduate Showcase, 2020 is no exception. Here we catch up with our design duo Scene Peng and Julia Luckmann about their scheme celebrating collective creativity and the challenge of adapting from physical outputs to solely digital ones.
Can you talk us through the ideas behind your identity?
JL and SP: The identity celebrates the moment when focus shifts from the individual to the community – as all the students in the College come together as a whole. Made up of hundreds of individual elements, the fluctuating visuals were designed to resemble a sort of murmuration, reflecting the time when we all gather together at the end of our studies.
During our time at Central Saint Martins, we have experienced the College as a shifting, progressive environment. For our identity, we coded a particle system which imitates this ongoing energy and resilience that surrounded us in the building every day of our studies.
The fluctuating, circular formation is our way of representing graduation as that beautiful moment where everyone comes together to bring the unknown into existence – the beautiful chaos of students collects around the void.
How did you approach the task of representing your whole graduating year group and a range of disciplines in one identity?
JL: Our first piece of research was looking at complex systems: structures and graphics that represent everyone without necessarily referencing everyone. This was a beautiful base in which to embed the University’s values of community and sustainability, which we believe should be the core methodology of anything put out into the world anyway.
SP: When we were initially looking at the three-show structure of the Foundation Show, Show One: Art and Show Two: Design, it was important to us not to create three individual design languages, but rather to recycle design elements and activate something new with the start of each show. We wanted to bring the sense of progression to life, so we created an overprinting machine as a physical attempt to unfold the nuances and complexities of the Central Saint Martins student body.
How did you work as a team? Do the two of you have different skillsets or focus on different elements?
SP: I think that both of our individual practices belong on the outskirts of graphic design disciplines. We approach each project as more of a questioning process. Before working on the identity, we hadn’t done a lot of coding. We just naturally sat down together and started learning how to code a complicated particle system. We also both installed the overprinting machine. I would say, we go through every detail from merged or parallel perspectives, rather than one of us being particularly good at one element or having a particular skillset.
JL: The fluent thinking and ease of exchange between us made it possible to work on all the skills we hadn’t developed yet. Rather than relying on knowledge we already had, we found the processes which suited the concept best, and figured out how to bring our words into actions – also with many of other helping hands in the College!
We don’t think a design degree should just prepare students with a pre-packaged skillset, but with the resilience and thinking ability to solve the new, future-thinking challenges that clients might propose.
Usually the Degree Shows are in the College and there are elements to the design identity which involve engaging directly with the building. You have both had to adapt quickly to uncertain circumstances. What has been the biggest design challenge?
JL: The identity was initially designed to be live-activated during the physical Degree Shows, as the visual language is reused and overprinted from show to show. Our overprinting drawing machine was going to be installed in the College. As the pen moved across the paper, “over printing” on documents from Show One to Show Two, it was going to turn the journey of the shows into a live spectacle. It’s been especially challenging to immerse visitors in a similar concept, on a flat screen. But to be realistic, everything is changing right now, and I really appreciate our extra curvy learning journey! And also the continuous trust from everyone involved.
SP: It was a sad to say goodbye to our physical creations. It’s been a fresh but tough journey to work on all the design adaptations remotely. We have had to support each other virtually. A key part of our design was the overprinting element as well as the performative act of the drawing machine. Instead, we have been immersed in turning these ‘drawn’ marks into type layers, gradience, dots, all being “overprinted” secretly and automatically. We have translated the physical act of overprinting into a digital one, so the progression from the Foundation Show to the Graduate Showcase is still visible.
What plans do each of you have post-graduation?
SP: I have been busy forming a multi-persona collective, and am hoping that more collective events will be organised in China and Europe. And, of course I’m looking forward to more duo moments with Julia!
JL: Working remotely from the building a bit sooner than everyone expected, I have kept myself busy working on a Cloud Collaboratory. This is structured to celebrate collaboration in the virtual realm – beyond the written word. It’s a great way to spread around the world, allowing people to become closer virtually. And hopefully Scene does not spread that far away too!