Tag Archives: research

Four Deadlines & a Dinner

Ellie Woodman – Folie à deux

Four Deadlines & a Dinner was a MOTH collaborative practice project working with 20 Stage 2 Graphic Design students within the School of Communication Design along with external partners from medicine, palliative care, writing, design for the live environment and VR. During this four week period, students worked across a range of death & design projects, they discussed and delivered ideas and potential solutions relating to end of life experiences.


With Dr Mark Taubert Clinical Director/Consultant in Palliative Medicine at Velindre NHS Trust, Cardiff, we explored how visual communication designers and medics could benefit from sharing knowledge and skills to impact on policy and practice with regard to end of life matters, in particular with patients with life limiting illness and their choices regarding DNACPR. The work produced from this will be exhibited at the Bevan Commission Health and Social Welfare Conference in Wales in September 2017.


In collaboration with Ben James, Creative Director at Jotta Design and Anna Kiernan a Senior Lecturer in Writing, we considered our own personal eulogies and innovative ways in which to store our digital selves as either a digital future or digital archive beyond our physical life.


MOTH hosted a Death Over Dinner party, where our guests were invited to eat and engage in meaningful conversations and questions about the end-of-life, we also held a film night where we screened Afterlife, by Hirokazu Kore-eda: Newly deceased find themselves in a way station somewhere between Heaven and Earth. With the help of caseworkers, each soul is given three days to choose one memory from their life that they will relive for eternity. The project also included a tour of artist’s graves at Falmouth Cemetery run by Glyn Winchester from Falmouth Art Gallery.

Theo Penrice – Childish Perspectives:
Wrong But Not Forgot
James Cook – To Top it Off
Poppy Andruskevicius – I’m never drinking
Haruka Kondo_ What do I want to do?
Joe Arnold – Pair No 8

ReDo; making things happen!

‘…How do we re-do our design education, our design practice, and our design research so that our knowledge comes to have an actual effect on how we live, from the micro level of the domestic to the macro level of politics? How do we train our students to become do-ers and to confront the challenges that face the world in terms of social inclusion, climate/environment, and economic growth? How do we impact our disciplines and beyond?…’ (Cumulus 2017)

The ReDo biannual Cumulus 2017 conference in Kolding aimed to playfully inspire, challenge and develop the role, relevance and scope of design, art and media in a global world with sustainability for people, planet and profit in mind. The overall aim of the conference was to create lasting impact in design and design education and initiate (future) actions. Senior Lecturers Dion Star & Andy Neal were both invited to deliver their paper ‘Rethinking Graphic Design Process’ as part of the conference, and benefitted from four days of challenging discussion with a wide mix of contributors from all over the world.


Highlights included Bo Stjerne Thomsen (Head of the Centre for Creativity, Play and Learning at the LEGO foundation), who talked about the importance of play as a trans-disciplinary activity, and the pressing need for us to communicate creativity’s value to society (so more people will create). Christian Bason (CEO at the Danish Design Council) reflected on design’s capacity to challenge existing power structures if we fully embrace institutional/societal change. Mathilda Tham (Professor of Design, Linnaeus, Sweden) highlighted design’s responsibility to both meet the needs of the current generation, without jeopardising the needs (and rights) of future generations, and Margrethe Vestager (European Commissioner for Competition) talked about design as a mechanism for putting people first, and as a facilitator in empowering people to become involved in the processes that are changing our lives. ReDo_07ReDo_08ReDo_06ReDo_05

There were over 300 delegates in attendance, from over 40 countries, delivering over 60 papers, plus keynotes, films and posters, all with the focus on three key questions;

What do we wish to ReDo?

How and with whom do we ReDo?

How do we teach students to ReDo?

Full papers from the conference are available online, and are worth looking through if you have an interest in design and/or design education.






Various Writings + CAST

Various Writings is an art- and design-based research project initiated by Maria Christoforidou, Lizzie Ridout and Dion Star. It is both a research platform and programme of projects investigating acts of writing.

In February Maria, Lizzie and Dion were invited to undertake a short residency at The Cornubian Arts & Science Trust (CAST), an educational charity based in Helston, Cornwall. The residency was an opportunity to explore what writing is and what writing might become, through the creation of a taxonomy of writing acts and gestures. Various Writings asks the question, how do we write in the first place and why? What are the tools and surfaces that we find ourselves using? How do we define the media that we write with and how does that media, in turn, define us?

As a result of the CAST residency, many of the tests, responses and critical observations have been developed into workshops for a Collaborative Practice project. Various Writings: Collaborative Practice is a four-week project in which Stage Two students elect to work in conjunction with staff on specific research projects.

Acts of Writing

Dion, Lizzie and Maria will deliver a collaborative performed presentation in April at Please Specify!: Sharing Artistic Research Across Disciplines, the annual international conference of The Society for Artistic Research. This year the conference will be held at the University of the Arts Helsinki, Finland.


In July they will also be delivering a paper about their research and collaboration at MIX2017 – Writing Digital, a conference to be held at Bath Spa University and examining the intersection between creative writing, storytelling, media creation and technology.


Dion Star is Stage Three Coordinator and Senior Lecturer on BA (Hons) Graphic Design, Lizzie Ridout is a Senior Lecturer on BA (Hons) Graphic Design and MA Illustration: Authorial Practice and Maria Christoforidou is a theory lecturer across Fine Art, Illustration and Graphic Design at Falmouth and Plymouth Universities.

STUFF Student collections Moth Design & Death + The Studio Society

Following on from the Staff STUFF Collections, which were exhibited at the end of last year, students from the School of Communication Design were invited to exhibit their personal collection of STUFF. This collection could be one which has been added to over time, bequeathed to them, multiples of objects accrued as a result of habitual buying, a chance encounter at a boot fair.

MOTH: design & death has been interested in working with staff and students instigating projects which encourage enquiry using objects and artefacts as triggers for hidden memory, micro/macro, parts and whole, constructing and de-constructing, a passion for ‘rejects’ and fragments. This projects extends into The Studio Society which seeks to promote opportunities for the community of the Graphic Design Course to share, comment and contribute to the course beyond the curriculum.

Over the last four weeks students have shared some of their collections, giving insight as to why they have this STUFF and what it means to them.

Collection_01 | Jocelyn Affleck | Story Book


‘Everybody has a story to tell, but it’s tricky to find it. I take this book with me everywhere as a conversation starter and from there on people feel like they are part of something – part of this wide network of stories all held within the broken binding of this book’  Jocelyn Affleck

Collection_02 | Louise Osborne | Royal Memorabilia | Victoria Boyle | Black Cat & Socks | Chris Rees | Keyrings


‘No amount of frills, ribbons or official crests can disguise the naffness of these objects. Such an ornate form of tat, they are simultaneously beautiful and hideous. Quite an impressive combination in all honesty. Essentially I find them amusing, a completely bizarre thing to have in your home. However for such a simple object they open a variety of discussions and memories’ Louise Osborne

Collection_03 | Su Lee | Eating Habits | Sylwia Cwieczek | Trophies | Ciaran Saward | Calendar of Blades


I could never even think about my trophies as a collection. You can’t buy those objects, get them as a gift or find them in the middle of the field. Even though you might like their shapes and colours it’s not why you own them. You don’t decide to collect them, they’re actually only a side effect, a proof, something that reminds you what happened.Sylwia Cwieczek

Collection_04 Friday | Charlotte Skerratt |Sea Glass | Lucy Carpenter | Bottles | Armelinda Beqiraj | Imperfect Images


‘I’m so in awe of how nature has managed to create something so alluring, turning our waste into beauty. Although mere fragments of glass, they’re special to me as they remind me of happiness, the feeling I got when I found a special piece or rare colour. The people I was with, how the beach looked and sounded one evening. Within each piece is a snippet of time holding years of history and wonder.’ Charlotte Skerratt



STUFF – Moth Design & Death + The Studio Society

Objects have history, and each one shapes us in particular ways. Objects that we have as children, the stuffed penguin, silk from the blanket are all destined to be abandoned. Yet they leave traces that will mark the rest of our lives. They specifically influence how we can develop a capacity for happiness, an aesthetic experience and creative play. They demonstrate to us as children that objects in the ‘eternal’ world can be loved. D.W. Winnicott (an English pediatrician and psychoanalyst who was especially influential in the field of object relations theory) believed that during stages of our lives we continue to search for objects we can experience as both within and outside the self.

The use of transition objects continues through our lives as we imbue objects with meaning and memories that are associated with other ideas, places and people. Photographs, mementos and other memorabilia are used to remember good times and friends. Virtually all possessions have a value in creating the self. What is ‘mine’ is that with which I have a defining relationship, that not only defines the object but also defines me. Possessions can vary in the degree to which they have this effect, and ‘treasured possessions’ have a far more significant effect on the ego if they are lost.
Winnicott, D. (1953). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena

Call for SoCD staff submissions
Do you have a collection of STUFF, which you would like to share? It could be a collection which has been added to over time, bequeathed to you, multiples as a result of habitual buying. It is that the collection represents multiples of an object which are thematically linked.

The proposal is that, if you would like to contribute to this project we would invite you to submit to moth@falmouth.ac.uk an image of the particular collection of ‘Stuff’– (part or whole) along with a word document (500 words max) which gives an insight into your collection. This could be a narrative or a list cataloguing the objects, including a reveal about why you have this STUFF and what it means to you.

The collection will be displayed in the atrium in the lockable glass cabinets which might restrict the sort of objects displayed (we are anticipating that potentially 3 collections could be displayed at once). However, if you have a collection of larger objects, these could be photographed and the images mounted and displayed on the boards. Along with this submission please include a photograph of how the collection is usually stored/displayed/archived.

Basically a conversation is needed with us to resolve how we might accommodate your collection of STUFF.

Each collection will be on display for a week:
WK 7 Friday 28 Oct. | Wk 8 Friday 04 Nov. | Wk 9 Friday 11 Nov.

Following Christmas this will be extended to students.

Please submit your collection proposals via email to
moth@falmouth.ac.uk by Friday 14th Oct.

We look forward to hearing from you.
Nikki Salkeld and Ashley Rudolph


Collaborative design research project tackles stigma of mental health

During National Mental Health Awareness Week, a global collaborative research project has completed its first phase of work; investigating how design communication and story telling can challenge the stigma of mental health issues.

The project instigated by graphic design staff at Falmouth and psychiatrists from Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, saw an initial branding project develop into a global service design challenge. This challenge centred on bringing shared insights from doctors, designers, carers and patients together; using storytelling through film and UX design to deconstruct and challenge the language and insights that so stigmatises those facing and living with mental health issues.

dr feedback session

med student workshop

Part of the project’s investigation unearthed the scale of the invisible epidemic facing the world, with mental healthcare spend and problems growing exponentially over the coming years.

By 2020 the NHS will face the reality of the problem being one of its biggest healthcare priorities. Globally it remains one of the greatest challenges in not only industrialised nations but developing economies too. As an example, China has upwards of 95 million cases affecting its citizens, 50% of which are created before the age of 14. In the UK, alongside physical medical conditions of the brain, day-to-day, 1 in 10 suffer from anxiety and depression. Longer term, 4 in 10 will experience depression in their lifetime and alongside the social and family challenges this brings, 70 million workdays are lost each year, having massive effect on the economy and life of our nation. The true reality of this epidemic has to be opened up for discussion and the Falmouth project; ‘Communicating Mental Health’ aims to confront the dilemma.

The scope of the project soon developed with a further two student design teams at Chinese Universities in Anhui and Jiangnan being briefed in China by designer and research lead Bryan Clark from Falmouth in March. Professor Dr Qingjun Chen and Professor Dr Barbara Wong were to manage the Chinese teams in their two respective Universities and the two psychiatry leads in Cornwall were Dr Adrian Flynn and Dr Rohit Shankar. Additionally, medical students from Exeter University joined some of the project team’s research investigations and co-discovery sessions. Technology support was aided by educational technologist Adel Gordon from Falmouth, setting up online web portals to share learning and insights. A key contributor to the project was Robert Woolfe, Director of Cornish service design company Made Open. Robert’s experience of working with Government, Design Council and communities around the UK, bought valuable project experience to the work of the Year 2 students at Falmouth, where he is also employed as an associate lecturer.

The last stage of work will see the integrated design solutions, campaigns and digital outputs shared with the project teams in Falmouth and China. Further testing will be run with doctors in Ghana, Ethiopia and Singapore for feedback to affirm potential impact and learning.

Head of Graphic Design Bryan Clark notes; “This has been an important project for us, addressing a truly global question through collaborative research, teaching and innovation. It also comes at an important time for the School and our learning, as we launch a new masters course in Communication Design. This explores the emerging landscape of design for human need in the context of a rapidly changing world and how the global creative industries and individuals can respond.  Cornwall too is on the map nationally with major new health funding from the Design Council coming to the South West. The project team aim to examine the opportunity of this news in the context of work undertaken to date and build on the great collaboration so far between design and science communities both in Cornwall and beyond”.

Moth Talks: In the face of death

Moth Talks were hosted by the School of Communication Design at Falmouth University on Friday 8th Jan. Moth is a research group established by Ashley Rudolph and Nikki Salkeld, Senior Lecturers in Graphic Design at Falmouth University. The work explores, through the discipline of Graphic Design, visual language associated with death and end-of-life experiences – creating visual ‘toolkits’ (analogue and digital) as devices for change in: attitudes, conventions and context surrounding death issues.





The talks also incorporated an exhibition and launch of the publication for the current Moth Project In the face of death. This was a collaborative project between Falmouth University and Augsburg University of Applied Sciences working with Prof Stefan Bufler MA(RCA) and Prof Michael Wörgötter along with communication students from both institutions. The students were asked to design a graphic system of symbols, creating meaningful and applied visual language to print, artefacts, digital and social media platforms. It focused on ideas and beliefs at the end of life, (the moment at which we die) and the consequences of that.




The show continues until the end of Jan 2016

The Moth talks brought together, writers, philosophers, diplomats, sociologists, innovators designers, artists, teachers and historians: Ashley Rudolph , Nikki Salkeld, Dr Stephen Cave, Prof. Tony Walter, Joe Macleod, Lucy Willow and Mercedes Kemp.



Dr Stephen Cave who is a writer and philosopher, has written essays, features and reviews on many philosophical, ethical and scientific subjects.

His internationally acclaimed first book, *Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization, was published in English and other languages in spring 2012.



Prof. Tony Walter. Facing Death, Facing Loss. Vernacular symbols of loss in a post-Protestant society.

Protestantism has profoundly shaped western European cultures of mourning. Banned from caring for their dead, Protestants could (officially) only remember the dead. In reaction, grief’s emotions came to be creatively expressed in vernacular symbols: nature, the romantic, the gothic, candles, music and angels.

Tony Walter is the world’s only Professor of Death Studies. He was a freelance writer for many years, before becoming Lecturer, then Reader, in Sociology at the University of Reading 1994-2007.

Over the past twenty five years he has researched, written and lectured on death in modern society, e.g. funerals, afterlife beliefs, personal bereavement and public mourning, human remains in museums, new discourses of spirituality, death in the news media and in online social media.

He joined the University of Bath in 2006. From 2011-15, he was Director of the University’s Centre for Death & Society. Now an Honorary Professor, he continues to work with CDAS, gives presentations around the world and is writing three books that bring together his past 25 years’ work.



Joe Macleod. Closure Experiences

We are now encouraged to drunkenly stumble from purchase to purchase, with any sense of longevity and responsibility removed. Long term side effects of this are exampled in the Product, Service and Digital landscapes that we frequent. The consequences of our behaviour results in a changing climate, industries fined billions for mis-selling and individuals casually eroding their personal online reputations.

Joe Macleod has been working in the mobile design space since 1998 and has been involved in a pretty diverse range of projects. At Nokia he helped develop some of the most streamlined packaging in the world, he created a hack team to disrupt the corporate drone of powerpoint, produced mobile services for pregnant women in Africa and pioneered lighting behaviour for millions of phones. For the last four years he has been key to establishing ustwo as the UKs best digital product studio, with 180 people globally in London, New York and Sweden, while also successfully building education initiatives, curriculums and courses on the back of the Include Design campaign which launched in 2013. He now works independently on projects and is currently focusing on his work around Closure Experiences.


Lucy Willow & Mercedes Kemp. Senior Lecturers in BA(Hons) Fine Art. The Falmouth School of Art. Café Morte.

Lost for Words is a culmination of the work of Café Morte to engage in and encourage discussion around the subject of death with a wider community of artists, curators and healthcare professionals. It has been curated with the intention of creating a thoughtful and contemplative space for both artists and audience to reflect on their own personal interpretations on death and how it is represented in art and literature. The works are varied, expressed through a variety of different media and address through physical means the often, unthinkable concept of absence and loss.




[Photography By Beki Nash]


Process & Liturgy; California-style

Over the past few years, many of the graphic design course team have been re-evaluating their sense of what ‘research’ means, how it fits with their teaching & design practice, and have been encouraged to take steps toward defining a clearer personal research agenda. With a changing educational landscape, and a wide variety of opinions regarding the place and definition of research, this process has (on a personal level) been somewhat overwhelming, and I have found myself asking really big questions about, well, pretty much everything.

Mid-way into this process, and almost a year ago to the day, I found myself at the receiving end of a couple of small (yet successful) internal funding bids that enabled me to visit Los Angeles, San Francisco and Redding last July to explore what have become two key areas of focus for the work that feeds who I am.

I had already started a project interviewing graphic designers, specifically exploring their personal design process (the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind the what we do – speaking with Angus Hyland at Pentagram, Phil Carter at Carter Wong and Fred Flade at Soon_ in the Spring). This has been, and continues to work towards a ‘mapping’ project that will eventually express those processes visually. The resulting ‘Process Dictionary’ will compliment a number of other process-based projects already under way and will (hopefully) culminate in a book with colleague Dion Star unpacking ‘process’ more holistically.

California is home to an eclectic mix of individuals & companies who represent schools-of-thought that were either; significant in my own design education, are current world leaders in their respective fields, or paint a much broader picture of the reach of design today. If you start just south of San Jose, and drive one hour north on the 101 to San Francisco (or use the 280, which is way more beautiful), you will probably pass the head offices of most of the leading communication & innovation companies in the world. Never one to name drop (and I might get sued if I do), I was able to spend time in conversation with the head of one of the largest communication media networks in the world, a design director from one of the most influential personal computer companies in the world, a design lead for a company re-inventing the way we think about travel accommodation, the head of product for a team re-imagining recruitment, several creative directors who have flown the UK nest and are thriving in the US, head of a new digital start-up that is challenging the conventional design agency model, two independent industrial designers who each build custom motorcycles (but both for very different reasons), and several academics who represent polarised schools of thought on design education in the 21st Century. What was overwhelming was their unified passion for what they do, their shared belief in the power of design to improve the world around us, and their willingness to share their ideas. At present, the interviews have been transcribed (thanks Heidi), and the journey to now convert some of the conversations into meaningful ‘process maps’ begins…

Alongside the core interviews, I was also able to attend (what is in conventional academic terms) a very unconventional ‘conference’ – with the aim of establishing a clearer vocabulary for broader themes I have been exploring for a while.

The bigger ‘research’ story has led me to question how to integrate my formal interest in design (23+ years), my informal & disjointed experience as a musician (28+ years), and how everything I do is underpinned by my belief that we are spiritual beings and were designed to be in relationship with God (over most of my life in one way or another). This has moved towards a practical exploration of how the broader arts can frame, enhance and compliment communities that seek to connect with God (what musician Michael Gungor calls ‘Liturgical Space’). An immediate example of this is the way in which stained-glass windows have, in days-gone-by, described biblical stories so as to make them accessible to (what would have been) a largely illiterate community. I’m curious as to what the modern-day equivalent of that may be – particularly as we have moved culturally from illiteracy, to literacy, to an increasingly visually-driven method of communication, yet the established modern church has still to fully embrace the arts beyond the trivial. The ‘conference’ I attended in California was organised by Bethel Music – part of Bethel Church in Redding, CA and was attended by a wide variety of creatively-biased individuals interested in how the arts (particularly music in this case, but with some reference to the visual arts) can further our experience, understanding and expression of God. The time away covered a wide variety of themes; from personal character & identity, to making good use of your resources, exploring the creative muse & self-doubt as an artist, to practical sessions on guitar effects (always a highlight), song-writing and the importance of community.

On both counts (process & liturgy), the trip was a definite career highlight, and the impact of the time away, conversations had, and life experienced will (I hope) have a significant bearing on the work that I produce over the next few years. As ever, the broader battle is to now find the time to actually move the projects forward in a meaningful way, but the framework is there, as is the will to do so, so watch this space

AN Dec. 2015-12-09

(Footnote; Particular thanks to Nolwenn Baot, Jon Unwin and Stuart Westhead at Falmouth University for their advice, support and guidance in making the trip happen. To Heidi Ball (again, at Falmouth) for making sure I didn’t end up in Mexico! To Neil Robinson at Chapter SF for opening up his black book of connections, and to The Giddens Family in Redding for opening their home and hearts (especially Rosie for giving up her room).

graphic designers research symposium 20-11-15

Article in Eye Magazine: http://www.eyemagazine.com/blog/post/graphic-designers-research

Academics and practitioners meet in Falmouth, Cornwall to discuss the issues affecting research in graphic design

15.11.12 Symposium article 1 Spread from In the Land of Punctuation by Christian Morgernstern and Rathna Ramanathan, Tara Books, 2014.

On Friday 20 November 2015, academics, publishers and practitioners in graphic design will meet at the University of Falmouth in Cornwall for a symposium on graphic designers’ research, writes Jessica Jenkins.

When graphic designers speak of research, they normally refer to the process of scoping ideas for their work. In universities, research has become increasingly important in terms of the kudos of an institution and its academics, who are called upon to sharpen their research profiles, and solicit funding. Getting funded to explore graphic design in a non-commercial context sounds like a perfect brief. But when strict criteria apply with reference to ‘peer review’ and ‘impact’, it can be hard to place graphic design research.

While many established practitioners seek to define and expand the remit of graphic design – through self-initiated projects and through the art of re-thinking the client’s brief – design practice, design history and theory often seem to occupy separate worlds. Success in one may be measured through prestigious awards and invitations to show-and-tell conferences; success in the other may be marked by REF points accumulated by the publication of erudite papers in journals barely known to the professional designer. Of course, this caricatures both realms slightly and many individuals successfully combine research and practice, but nonetheless, an understanding of what is meant by ‘research in graphic design’ is rarely part of academic or professional debate.

The Falmouth symposium aims to be a new venture into this territory, spanning theory, practice, history and the profession. There are still some tickets available, and it is free, so please join us in Cornwall for some fresh air and fresh ideas.

15.11.12 Symposium article 2 Book design and typography for The Murty Classical Library of India, by Dr Rathna Ramanathan, 2015.

15.11.11 Moth icons Falmouth lecturers Nicola Salkeld and Ashley Rudolph’s research project ‘Moth’, 2015, in collaboration with Augsburg University.

Rathna Ramanathan, head of communication design at the RCA, known for her expertise in intercultural communication design and typography, and Eye editor / co-owner John L. Walters will talk about design and publishing. Alice Twemlow, a design critic, historian and founding chair of the Department of Design Research, Writing & Criticism at the SVA (School of Visual Arts) in New York, will deliver a talk on her own experience of graphic design research. Falmouth University’s own senior lecturers Nicola Salkeld and Ashley Rudolph will present their teaching research project ‘Moth’, a collaboration with Augsburg University on graphic symbols of death. Social designer and academic, Joanna Choukeir will also present her experience of integrating teaching and research.

15.11.12 Symposium article 4 One of several digital billboards displaying Rebecca Ross’s ‘London is Changing’ project, 2015.

15.11.12 Symposium article 5 Cover and coal dust jacket for Craig Oldham’s In Loving Memory of Work, 2015.

15.11.12 Symposium article 6 Craig Oldham, ‘If Maggie Gets Up Your Nose, Picket’ from In Loving Memory of Work, 2015.

The Graphic Designers Research symposium will take place at Falmouth University on the Woodlane Campus, Fox 4 Lecture Theatre, Falmouth, TR11 4RH on 20 November 2015.

Jessica Jenkins is a designer and writer based in Berlin, Paris and London

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.

Conference on Visual Cultures in Socialism, University of Hamburg

Dr Jessica Jenkins
Conference on Visual Cultures in Socialism.
Organised by the University of Hamburg.


My own PhD research uncovers the art and design of public spaces in communist East Germany, and Visual Cultures in Socialism gave me an excellent opportunity to learn about related research areas. This overview gives a brief insight into this academic conference, which although not titled as such, presented design history research, with a focus largely on forms of visual communication in a number of state socialist states in the post war period up until the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe in 1989.

Firstly, a thought on Hamburg, the German city made wealthy through its position as a gateway to the North Sea. Although the city lies actually 100km from the sea, the capitalisation of the harbour has defined Hamburg for hundreds of years. It was the abundance of water and wealth that struck me on my visit, but at the same time a social dimension typical for Germany. Students don’t pay fees, universities are run as places of learning, canteen food is cheap and healthy, nurseries are modern and well equipped, public transport is efficient and affordable, and the cost of a beer at a prime spot overlooking the Elbe was no more than anywhere else.

None of this of course, has much to do with the subject of the conference. East Germany was situated far away from Hamburg, and even today there is a huge divide in perception and experience between East and West. On the other hand, in fact, the “social contract” in Germany is part of the Cold War story. West Germany’s political strategy was to make Capitalism attractive, and thus weaken the case for the Socialism of neighbouring East Germany, once part of the same country. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this need to prove West German superiority also fell away, and whilst the sense of public provision is still tangible, the social contract has been eroded over recent years.

The conference covered all sorts of visual subject matter. Imagining the visual histories of socialism, certain images come immediately to mind: Stalin portraits, red flags, the hammer and sickle, posters of female tractor drivers, and bits of material culture emanating from economies marked by shortages. However, the richness and diversity of the visual culture which spread across this vast territory for forty years and more is a fascinating resource for design and visual culture historians. The conference asked: how was socialism visually defined and represented? How was it made recognizable? How can we understand the relationships between the control and production of images, the consumption of images and mass culture, the interaction between “high” and “low”, in addition to the management of cultural and ethnic diversity in the socialist societies of the 20th century and the visual cultures tied to ruling practices?

During the conference, one of my thoughts was how little, even within graphic design which is at least 50% concerned with images, we actually critically engage with images. We have a flair for finding and using images, but how often do we really stop and think about the significance of our choices, and the culture we are immersed in and which we make it our task to perpetuate?

Now for the images…

JJ 1


Christoph Lorke, WWU Münster.

Thinking the Social: Social images of ‘poverty’ and the construction of ‘self’ and “otherness” in GDR society.

Christoph Lorke examined officially sanctioned images of 1) the elderly and 2) large families in the GDR, Bulgaria and the USSR. The socialist states were keen to present old age as a time of social and personal flourishing, (in contrast to the image of poverty from the West, see far left). Large families were promoted as places of good moral and social education where all members contributed to the well being of the family unit. Mothers who bore many children were presented with medals in some countries.

JJ 2


Christine Gölz, GWZO Leipzig.

Merry pictures of the little folk: The cartoon magazine ‘Veselye kartinki’, or what’s left from the Socialist ‘children’s world’

The Merry Little folk of Soviet socialist comics. Initially the brief was to be fun and apolitical, but from the late 1967s there was an increasingly socialist agenda in the stories.

JJ 3


Paweł Miedzinski,
Institute of National Remembrance, Szczecin, looked at the Polish sate photography agency. Top, images of Polish advertising techniques. The trusty technique, sale through sexual association is used, as well as the now less common focus on the product.

Below, Micha Braun, University of Leipzig
presented the bizarre counter state activities of surrealist and performing arts groups in the 1980s who satirised state socialism. The public action “who is afraid of toilet paper” where sheets of toilet paper were distributed to the public was a reflection on shortages of basic necessities.

JJ 4


Sabine Stach, German Historical Institute, Warsaw/University of Leipzig.

Personae non gratae or How to stage hidden heroes. Visual representations of Jan Palach.

Stach looked at the changing reception of the icon of Jan Palach, the young student who burnt himself to death in 1968 as a protest against the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. Once a potent symbol for “socialism with a human face”, today he is politically neutralised as a symbol of democracy.

Beata Hock, GWZO Leipzig presented images of women in socialism as: Casualties of remembering communism/ Above, the female Soviet cosmonaut who set the Russians ahead of the Americans in the gender race in the 1960s. Below left, a still from the late 1980s film of the deviant Russian woman, “Little Vera”. Below right, the extraordinary photographs commissioned by Life magazine, contrasting a Dior model, albeit invited to the Soviet Union by Khruschev, with the simple, headscarfed Russian women in 1954.

JJ 5


Nadine Siegert, University of Bayreuth: Images of nostalgic and utopian Socialism: visuality and counter-visuality in Angola & Mozambique.

Siegert presented an extraordinary range of socialist propaganda images from Angola and Mozambique from the 1960s and 1970s, which showed influences from Soviet socialist realism, American pop art, Polish poster design and West European activism.

JJ 6


Carmen Scheide, University of St. Gallen:
The visual construction of Soviet Ukraine.

How was Ukraine constructed as female, as opposed to the male characterisation of the Soviet Union which ruled the country? As folk image, as innocent, as pre-modern, Ukraine was to play cultural feminine to the Soviet modern and hi-tech masculine.

JJ docks

View of central Hamburg.