• Recent Posts

  • Categories

  • About the Author

    Sarah is co-director of Malvolio. She brings her creative skills to the business, and loves concept development in commercial projects, illustration, and working on various self-initiated paper craft projects in her spare time.

  • Category: Design Explained

    Graffiti with Purpose

    This is a paper I wrote quite a long time ago on graffiti with purpose, but I have never published it. Enjoy!

    Design is all around us, even where we least expect it. Almost everything in our environment is designed in some way, shape or form – whether it is billboards and buildings, or even garden layouts and graffiti. Contrary to popular opinion, graffiti is its own art form. Although graffiti is often done in illegal places (such as laneways, train lines, walls of buildings), much thought is put into the design of detailed work.

    A misunderstood form of art and design, “graffiti” is derived from the Italian graffio – meaning “to scratch/scribble on a surface”. Graffiti is a colourful art form, promoting the artist’s beliefs, opinions, and interests to their sub-culture peers and the public.

    However, graffiti isn’t always illegal, and can be used to help the surrounds. Walls are often commissioned to graffiti artists to put their talent to accepted use within a community. When a high-quality graffiti artwork has been produced for the public to see, other graffiti artists will often respect the work and not paint over it. And because it is a clean and related mural, the surrounding environment isn’t degraded from poor graffiti that lowers the value of the suburb or city.

    But not all graffiti is done as a “pretty picture”. Some graffiti is highly political, such as the message “No jobs on a dead planet” boldly painted onto an industrial chimney in West Melbourne. The Greens Party were the instigators of this large-scale message, specifically painted onto the chimney, relating it to the pollution the chimney once emitted – giving the message immediate meaning and recognition. However, it is also placed on that particular chimney, as it is in a prime position for many people to see it.

    The message is painted in white, to contrast against the brown chimney for optimum exposure. If the message was printed in black, or even another colour such as blue or green, it would not be as visible as it is in white. However, white is also the colour of peace, implying the message is an appeal to the community, an advertisement for awareness. This is further reiterated with the use of the peace symbol at the end of the message.

    And then there is stereotype graffiti, typically found in laneways and along train lines – places that aren’t policed 24-7. Stereotypical graffiti is often colourful, done in spray paint, and is a name or a word in an extremely freeform style of typography, presenting the public with an artwork made up of letters more than letters made into an artwork. This piece is painted onto a roller-door of a shop in the tiny Degraves St – a shop that isn’t even open on a Sunday, clearly being susceptible to graffiti. An interesting choice of location, however, as the outer edge of the shop “frames” the work, as if it was a painting in an art gallery. However, the tin would have been an issue to paint on, with the curves affecting the angles of lines and paint coverage.

    This piece holds some “fashionable” aspects of graffiti from the present, being the use of clouds and sparkles behind the typography. It gives a dreamy feeling, assisted by the highlights with white and the use of the colour blue. The word used in the graffiti could be the artist’s alias, a word of meaning, or a bunch of letters meaning nothing (but look nice when put together). According to the publication Spraycan Art, Australian graffiti artists are known for using random, useless words in their works – whereas overseas in places such as New York, the words used in their graffiti are often the artists’ names, trying to outdo each other with the most well-constructed and artistic piece possible.

    But when you look a little further into the graffiti of Melbourne, specifically into the laneway Centre Place – famous for its unique and sophisticated graffiti – quotes scatter the walls in obscure but deliberate places. They are specifically there for others to read and gain knowledge from, such as “before one acts, one should ask one self, ‘what would happen if all others were doing as I am doing?’” (pictured). This is placed on the dumpster near some crates – the access point to climb to do graffiti on the highest sections of the laneway. This means their intended audience would see the message on their way to doing graffiti in the laneway, and as it is in a place where a person would have to stop to climb, chances are they would stop and read the philosophy of graffiti. A quick scribble in permanent marker turns into a timely thought-provoking philosophy for everyone who sees it.

    Then in the same laneway, part of the back wall is commissioned art space: the “Citylights” project. Created in 1996, the four illuminated light boxes have been host to many street artists, giving them a new medium to work with, and a new space of “legal” wall to display their work on. Some of the art presented has been rather political, and has been well-known for causing controversy – such as Regan Smith’s Citylights display “Crime Walls”. This edginess is typical of graffiti artists, publicizing the tougher side of life that many of the public tend to ignore. This piece was of the Melbourne underworld figures George Williams, Mario Condello and Dominic Gatto – including one panel which had the “I ♥ NY” logo with “Melbourne” replacing the scribbled-out NY.

    Many people in Melbourne walk through Degraves St daily, and directly go past Central Place and see the Citylights project. It stands out in the darkened (but short) laneway, being lit all day and night. The boxes are made of metal and glass, so they are durable to the weather and aren’t too complicated to change the artwork in. They are high up enough to avoid most vandalism, and have lighting only strong enough to draw attention to them in the laneway, keeping maintenance costs down.

    Graffiti artists are always finding new ways to present their art in public, whether it’s legal (like emerging projects such as Citylights), or illegal – like the sweeping craze of sticker art. Sticker art is cheaper than spray paint and quicker to place on a wall, rather than a large and complex mural-style masterpiece that can take days to complete. The stickers are made of paper with a print on them – typically white paper with black print – the cheapest print possible. The present trend is to use cartoon-style characters, part-whimsical, part-Japanese anime style.

    They can range from tiny stickers to large-scale (up to 1 metre or more), and are plastered onto any surface that will let them adhere – walls, ceilings, doors, fences, and even glass. The fact they can be stuck onto many more surfaces than spray paint opens up new ideas of composition and location of art for the graffiti artists. For instance, this example (Cnr Elizabeth St and Flinders Lane) is positioned so it feels as if the character is walking across the windowsill, giving it new depth and life that spray paint cannot achieve. Sticker art has also begun its rapid rise due to the lower charges if the artist is caught pasting on a sticker, rather than the much higher fines given out for painting on property. This is because stickers are temporary and can be removed easier than paint, which is so permanent it could last for months to years depending on the weather conditions of the area, and the quality of the spray paint.

    Graffiti is everywhere around us, whether we choose to notice it, or ignore it. It holds important messages and beautiful artwork, just like the professional design of billboards and shop fronts, although most of the public despise it as the majority of graffiti is deemed illegal. An art movement that is comprised of simple materials as spray paint, stickers, a free space and a little bravery, with the locations and colours being very important aspects of this often misunderstood movement.

    Actual Centre vs. Optical Centre

    One of those “design things” that you might not realise is a thing, but can bother your eyes: actual centre versus optical centre.

    What am I talking about? When an image, a heading – anything visual – is centered perfectly on a page, our eyes don’t agree. It may feel like the image is lower than it should be. If you let your computer do the centering for you, it will make it perfect centre, but it won’t look perfect. It’s also called the mathematical centre or geometrical centre.

    So what position makes our eyes happy? It’s called optical centre, and it’s just slightly above the actual centre, and slightly to the right. It’s ever so slight that you won’t notice it’s not mathematically correct – but it makes all the difference. Our brains process images that are placed in the optical centre much more positively; it’s comfortable for our eyes.

    Just one of those little random design tricks for you today!

    Style Guides – Keeping Your Brand Consistent

    For those of you who are local to Somerville, you may have noticed that our big accountants in town have recently had a make-over! New name, new branding, new signage…new everything. We are the designers behind the new brand.

    But the one important thing I stress about branding? Keep consistent. So for LBW Advisory, even more importantly as they have a number of staff, a style guide for use within their office was developed. A style guide is a handy reference tool so you don’t have to guess colours, fonts or anything else relevant to the brand.

    Using colour as a key to save space

    A common issue in print design: too much content and not enough space.

    The typical solutions are editing content so it’s shorter, or going for a bigger sized brochure/poster/booklet. But sometimes we need to think sideways – sometimes, a larger document size isn’t available, or the content can’t be cut down any further. So what happens then?

    This is where a key (or legend) often comes in handy. Keys and legends aren’t only used on maps, they can be used to categorise all kinds of information. Icons and colours are common elements that are used.

    For the A Gender Agenda calendar, we were limited by space (A4 page) and had a set amount of events we had to make space for. A legend made up of colours worked best to save us space in this design. It also has the added benefit of being easy to quickly find events in each category. Design can be used in clever ways.

    The importance of branding

    A few weeks back, I presented a talk on the importance of branding for small businesses to members of Mornington Peninsula Weddings. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post little snippets from the presentation – little bits to help you!

    The top struggle I come across with small businesses, is that they think they are too small to worry about their branding. In actual fact, being a small business can work in your favour – you have more control over your brand and have the opportunity to make it unique to you.

    Branding Your Business

    Your brand isn’t just visual, it’s not just your logo or your website or your photos…the way you communicate and the words you use are just as important. There is also a human factor in every brand – the personality you share through your business (especially through social media!), counts as much as the visual aspects of your brand.

    Start small. I often speak to start-ups who are totally overwhelmed by all of the things they think they need to get started, where really, most only need a few items to begin building their customer base. Nearly everything in life is easier in small steps, and branding your business is no different.

    Don’t forget brand recognition. I know it can seem like a fun idea to regularly change your colours or logo, but a brand needs to be seen at least 3 times in 3 different places to be recognised. If you don’t have a consistent brand, the opportunity to build recognition is lost.

    A strong brand for a small business can be huge in building trust with you, before a potential customer even makes contact. Make that first impression count. A quick template logo or something put together in Word might be the quick and cheap option, but it could be losing you customers you didn’t even know are out there.

    My last tip: keep consistent. You can be a small business and have a great brand, with a bit of clever thinking and planning. It’s about being memorable, being trustworthy, being a brand your customers/clients/followers love.

    Graphic Design for Tradies

    We keep design simple, which although important for all clients, it is something which our trades-based clients seem to appreciate the most.

    Often, tradespeople come to us without a logo, a brand, or anything much more than maybe a template business card or a newspaper ad. They usually want it to be no-fuss, so no fancy brand style guide, or complicated website…but they want to look good. So we focus on their brand looking consistent, choose colours that help them stand out from their competitors, and make sure all of their stationery and advertising (both digital and print) look professional.

    We have had a number of tradespeople approach us over the years because they have used an online design template or printing service, and then found they can’t use the images on anything else…or there aren’t templates that look the same for everything they want to print. Designing a logo they can use anywhere is hugely important, as well as then knowing they won’t find another business using the same design, which often happens with online design templates!

    When it comes to being online, we help with social media, Google business pages and their websites. In most cases, their websites are kept simple: often treated as an online brochure just so people can check out who they are and what they do, and see examples of their work. And then we update their website when they need, so they can focus on their work.

    Our favourite part of working with tradespeople is that most of their businesses are as local as you can get, which makes working in Somerville even more amazing.

    Promoting intimate local events

    We often design posters and advertising for large-scale events, but we do occasionally design items to help promote much smaller events.

    Events such as business networking sessions, VIP nights, open days and fundraising events are some of the types we’ve completed some graphic design for, but more recently we’ve been designing posters and flyers for special dining nights at The Winey Cow in Mornington.

    One of these events was a cheese and wine night. As each event is themed, we create artwork to match the theme, while keeping their brand consistent throughout – so every event they run, the posters still look like a collection if you were to put them all together. Sometimes people get carried away with themes and forget about the presenting business or organiser on artwork. It’s worth remembering their brand is often just as important as the styling of the theme.




    Choosing recycled paper for printing

    When it comes to printing a project, whether it be a business card, a poster or a publication, there are a lot of paper options out there.

    I have noticed an increase of interest in recycled paper stocks, but there’s a little bit of a gap in knowledge about what recycled paper looks like, and what the limitations are.

    It’s quite a mixture of pre-conceived expectations that clients have about recycled stock too – it’s not just one thing. The top expectations are:

    • Recycled stocks should have a particular “recycled” look about them.
      Many clients have been surprised to find that recycled paper stock these days can look quite refined and smooth.
    • Brown paper must have a higher environmental rating than white paper.
      This sounds logical in theory, but in practice it is not always the case. As an example, Buffalo Kraft (which is brown) uses 18% recycled fibres, whereas Cyclus (which is white) uses 100% recycled fibres. Looks can be deceiving!
    • There should be a laminated option for recycled stock.
      This one floors me. Laminating, whether gloss or matte, is the application of a plastic film across a paper product. The plastic film used in laminating is non-recyclable, which would make a brochure printed on recycled stock with a laminate coating a contradiction.

    I spend a great amount of time helping clients through the paper selection process, and make sure they understand the paper’s specifications, especially when choosing a recycled stock is of importance to them, their business and their project. It’s worth spending that little bit of time at the start to choose the right type of paper.


    Mobile responsive websites

    One aspect of webdesign that people are asking us about more and more is mobile responsive websites, so I thought I’d do a bit of an introduction on the what, why and how.


    Now that most of the world seem to spend a lot of their time using their mobile phones for more than just making calls, websites are often looked at on those tiny little devices. I won’t deny that it’s super-convenient while you’re out to look up a business on your phone – it might be as simple as checking out their opening hours. It’s even more handy when the website is set up to be easy to view and navigate on a mobile.

    When viewing websites became a thing to do on mobiles, it was standard to create a completely separate “mobile sized” website. These mobile websites often had different content to the main website, and often caused a double-up of having to update the content on both websites whenever information changed.

    But HTML and CSS (the coding used for websites) has come a long way, and now it’s possible to create one website that morphs and resizes to suit the screen it’s being viewed on – and this is what is meant if you ever hear someone throwing the phrase mobile responsive into a conversation.

    We are continually building websites with mobile responsiveness now, as well as converting existing websites to becoming mobile responsive. It’s a very important thing to note – you usually do not need a whole new website layout for it to become mobile responsive. So you can keep the website you love, but make it accessible for everyone, no matter what type of device they are viewing it from. Technology advances are amazing and wonderful in one!

    Creativity is not just artistic talent

    A few nights ago I watched Life at 9 on ABC – the episode was about creativity.

    DO1303H002S00_460What was most interesting was seeing how 9 year olds think creatively versus how adults think creatively. They were given a number of tasks that required problem-solving, and how the children and adults went about the tasks was amazing – along with how they perceive creativity.

    What was most interesting about the tasks was that the children got straight into working it out – trying things, breaking things, trying things again – and not giving up. They were into experimenting and figuring out what works, but not being scared of what could potentially be a mistake.

    The adults however, all talked in a group about how to solve the problem, and then began working…and then often found that their idea didn’t work in practice. There was too much planning and not enough experimenting. And creativity is all about experimenting – not being scared of trying something different, or trying something new. The children didn’t have fear of failure – just a will to make it work – and it was a beautiful thing to watch.

    The other part of the documentary that was interesting, was the notion that both the adults and children had about what creativity is. Neither group really thought of creativity covering thinking and problem solving – they just assumed that creativity is only artistic talent. Creativity definitely isn’t only artistic talent, there is so much more. Creative thinking is really most of the process of every project!