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Design School students explore the impact of air pollution for LIVE+BREATHE campaign

Photograph of a park and large tower block.
  • Written byChloe Murphy
  • Published date 10 October 2022
Photograph of a park and large tower block.
Image credit: Tia Buana-Cokes and Anna Howell.

Creatives not only have the power to imagine new worlds, but also to shape alternative futures. At London College of Communication (LCC), we encourage our students to make an impact on wider society from the very beginning of their time with us – exploring issues ranging from sustainability to social justice, and thinking about the ways they can tackle some of our most pressing contemporary challenges.

Air pollution is particularly significant for those of us who live in heavily populated cities, where the simple act of spending time outside can potentially have a detrimental impact on our health. The issue centres on the release of particles and noxious gases into the atmosphere, and while some emissions can be traced back to natural sources such as the sea, soil and plants, others – many of which are more harmful - derive from human activity such as the combustion of fossil fuels.

Over time, exposure to air pollution can contribute to health problems ranging from asthma to cardiovascular diseases, and it’s estimated that over 36,000 people in the UK die every year due to its long-term impact. However, this issue doesn’t affect everyone equally – people from ethnic minority backgrounds such as Black or Asian tend to be disproportionately affected, with more diverse neighbourhoods tending to be located closer to inner city areas where pollution levels are highest.

LIVE + BREATHE brings together communities from across the boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth to advocate for safer, cleaner air across South London. With members ranging from dancers and skaters to poets and painters, the campaign informs and educates about the issue while calling for real, tangible change.

In Summer 2022, LIVE + BREATHE collaborated with LCC students on the Diploma in Professional Studies (DPS) to develop contributions to a community event at Southwark Park, which aimed to generate 'a joyful space where audiences could celebrate our streets and reclaim our air’. Working with creative agency Purpose alongside musician and activist Love Ssega, they were given the opportunity to pitch proposed ways of channelling creativity into action around environmental issues.

Students who pitched successfully were then supported to bring their ideas to life, and given the opportunity to showcase their work to audiences at the final community event.

We caught up with 2 of the students involved in the project, Megan Garfitt Christensen and Tia Buana-Cokes, about the ideas behind their successful concepts, and their thoughts on the importance of using design to catalyse positive action.

LIVE + BREATHE | Make Noise For Clean Air In South London

Tell us about your creative practice.

Megan: I like to work within themes of nature and science, communicating how they come together through the beauty of natural phenomena.

I often do so through mediums that I feel are related to the subject matter and require activation – enabling audiences to become part of the design experience.

Tia: I currently specialise in branding, which is the process of creating visual identities for brands (businesses or people) that reflects their essence and resonates with their audiences.

My process typically starts off with getting to know the brand owner, the brand as a person (its personality, values, and purpose), and its targeted audience. From there, I use my findings to start researching while looking for visual inspiration, which becomes the foundation of both the creative and art direction of a particular project.

I'm able to explore a range of different creative disciplines within the area of branding, and one that I’ve come to increasingly enjoy is editorial design: specifically, art directing a visual style and putting all the elements together digitally before seeing it printed into a tangible piece. To me, it’s a really engaging and rewarding process that bridges digital design practice and our senses, as you get to think about the texture and weight of the paper, the method of printing visuals and, of course, ultimately how an object will look. I would love to explore this further along with many other disciplines in my last 2 years at LCC.

Why did you decide to apply for your degree course?

Megan: I applied to Design for Branded Spaces because I liked the idea of being able to deliver a story and convey a message through an experience within a physical space. I also liked the idea of enhancing a space using modern technologies, in contract to how a lot of the experiences that we share today have become digital and online.

Tia: I chose to study Graphic Branding and Identity because of its focus on brands. When deciding which course to apply to, I found that specifically exploring branding would give me more direction and clarity in what to design and produce for hand-ins, rather than answering a broad brief – and all whilst exploring a range of creative disciplines across graphic design.

The course also stood out from the other graphic design courses that I’d applied to as it had elements of business and marketing, which I also really wanted to learn about. I studied Business Studies and Graphics for my GCSEs, and from then on, I knew I wanted to do something in the future that combined those 2 subjects. That’s how I discovered the behind-the-scenes and creative side of business – art and creative direction, photography, and graphic design - particularly editorials, campaigns and branding.

I was able to find all of these aspects in my course, and I’m looking forward to more opportunities to explore them further as I progress.

Zine spread filled with environmental images.
Image credit: Tia Buana-Cokes.

How did you find out about the LIVE + BREATHE campaign, and why did you decide to get involved?

Megan: I found out about Live and Breathe from an Earth Day talk at the College, where we were introduced to the campaign and its values.

Air pollution is a topic that I’ve had interest in for a while in terms of its global effects, but it was interesting to hear of its impact in the context of a specific community and their daily lives. So, when the brief called for experience design, I was so excited that there was an opportunity for me to apply my practice to such a compelling cause.

Tia: I initially found out about the opportunity through Sarah Temple, my DPS tutor. She emailed to detail what our DPS Preparation session would involve, which took place on Earth Day and involved a briefing from some of the people involved in LIVE+BREATHE: Purpose, a creative agency, and the musician, Love Ssega.

I was immediately engaged – the visual style and branding of the event caught my attention, and both Purpose and Love Ssega spoke with so much passion about the project, about community, about representation. Love Ssega encouraged us to express our creativity and tell our story with our creativity, and I felt like he was talking to me. That's when I knew I wanted to take part.

What inspired the ideas behind your concepts?

Megan: I chose to incorporate the values and messaging of the campaign into a playful, experiential design. This consisted of a physical interactive poll, which I designed as a positive take on the usual air pollution statistic maps by instead showing what people love to do outdoors.

Audiences took part by throwing balls covered in coded paint colours taken from campaign branding at maps of Southwark and Lambeth, which I’d interpreted to look like a pair of grey, wonky lungs that are symbolic of the crisis this community is in. This was then turned into a colourful, joyful map by people’s interactions with the activity throughout the event, which expressed their love for being active outdoors.

Tia: When we were being briefed, I knew that I wanted to create a zine that was centred around people’s relationship with the outdoors, as people who are out and about are the main ones affected by polluted air in Southwark and Lambeth. However, as the Live + Breathe event was designed as a celebration with a positive message, I also wanted the zine to be positive too, so the main idea that fuelled my concept was that we should all be able to enjoy and experience life outside without risking our health.

My zine featured photography that was shot and edited by my friend Anna Howell (a BA Photography student at LCC), along with testimonials from people I know who live or have lived in Southwark and Lambeth - sharing what they enjoy doing outdoors, or memories they’ve had of life in the borough.

A girl takes part in the lungs activity.
Image credit: Megan Garfitt Christensen.

How did you realise your ideas, and what kinds of activities did you take part in?

Megan: After developing and visualising my accepted concept, I was challenged to realise the design in tasks such as creating a budget and planning the construction for its final deliverables.

I was able to coordinate this by communicating with different people effectively - specifically by having meetings with the Purpose team.

Tia: I first had to pitch my zine idea to both the team at Purpose and Love Ssega. I was actually close to not taking part in this opportunity at one point, because I started to feel the pressure to complete a course project as the deadline got ever closer. I’d even sent an email to pull-out, but I pushed through thanks to the support of Sarah [Temple] and God.

I then prepped a simple outline of my idea over the weekend before pitching on Monday. It went well - everyone was really friendly, I stayed within my 5-minute limit, and I came to find out on the day of my hand-in that I got through.

After I’d pitched successfully, I had calls with Sarah and Megan to discuss pricing, materials and timelines, which was all really new and daunting. I also had update calls and emails with the team at Purpose too, and shooting days with my friend Anna. Ultimately, I produced 100 copies of my pitched zine, and had to bind each one by myself, which was quite therapeutic despite the heat of this year’s summer!

Everything was really new to me - even pitching, as each course project that I've pitched so far has been so different. All-in-all, taking part in the opportunity with LIVE.+ BREATHE enabled me to access a range of great learning opportunities.

Zine spread filled with environmental images.
Image credit: Tia Buana-Cokes.

What were your highlights of taking part in the project?

Megan: I think my highlight was the day of the event itself.

I really enjoyed getting to see people engage with my piece and have fun with it while also seeing the amazing work that others had created and working with such a great, supportive team of people.

Tia: The whole opportunity was a highlight, to be honest. Seeing my idea develop from a little note on paper to a pitch, edited photographs, and a completed, printed zine was an exciting experience.

I really enjoyed collaborating with Anna: she was so patient, and able to catch my vision of art direction for photography and editing - even helping to elevate it with additional ideas. And even though we had an obstacle with one of our early ideas, I was able to find a solution which added to the theme and concept of the zine even more. It was also super eye-opening and humbling to speak to the DPS tutors about my work, as well as the team at Purpose, who really liked what I was doing.

Another highlight was seeing people’s interest in the zines at the event, where Sarah also encouraged them to be a part of another potential edition. Throughout the project, she really helped me see myself as a designer and creative - to be confident about my work, and to learn how to speak about it to people.

I applied to DPS so that I could learn to see myself as a designer, and the ways in which I got to engage with tutors, an agency like Purpose, and event visitors helped me to see what I do as a real craft and potential career.

What have you most enjoyed about your time as an LCC student so far?

Megan: The LIVE+BREATHE project was the biggest highlight of my time so far, as I was able to finish Year 2 of my degree with a successful live project about an issue that I care about and will continue to want to work with.

Overall, it’s given me a lot of confidence for the future career path that I’m studying towards.

Tia: Some of the highlights of my time at LCC so far have included things like:

  • Working as an Outreach Ambassador for the Insights team
  • Starting my DPS year and being supported by my tutors
  • The Live + Breathe project
  • Using LCC’s facilities and meeting friendly technicians who always encourage you to create for expression and exploration
  • My Year 2 tutor Sandra - she was really helpful when I was struggling with my project, and gave me great constructive feedback which I could implement in both my future work and personal creativity.

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