Blog: 6 January 2017A trip to Oxford sparks creativity...

Sammy Brennan

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Sammy Brennan

Senior Graphic Designer

Reading office

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Being a Graphic Designer, or any designer for that matter, it becomes second nature to find inspiration from your surroundings. Nature, music, art, even daily life can influence your ideas and direction and become vital ingredients to your creativity.

To re-ignite our creativity, the Graphic Design team, which spans across the Bristol, Reading, and London offices, recently visited Oxford for a days’ study trip to learn from the cities’ rich cultural and historical influences.

The city didn’t disappoint and we spent time exploring its fantastic museums, focusing on the exploration of static signage along with digital and interactive signage and information panels, looking at how these elements work within a historic environment.

We began the day by visiting the University Botanic Gardens, where we were able to wander through the beautiful greenhouses and walled gardens, gathering lots of photographs of textures and rich colour for later inspiration. It was really interesting to see how they had approached the static signage within a public space, using light blue signs as information panels by plant sections. The colour really cut through the various green hues along the gardens, creating a focal point for visitors to read information. The use of round corners and simple posts and positioning helped to make them approachable and friendly, without them being too obtrusive to their surroundings. Traditional botanical illustrations were used in white, creating delicate detail, whilst sitting alongside a simple layout and serif font, reflecting the history of the city.

We then took a visit to the Bodleian library to view some of their digital interactive panels. Large upright panels with interactive interfaces were used to show data about the library and area. The graphic style here was fairly simplistic, easy to understand and very user friendly. The team took some time looking through this to explore navigation, user experience and design. There were also screens which you could take a ‘selfie’ with and input data of your nationality and age – which we had great fun doing! This is a really clever and effective way to gather visitor information using a fun, modern and popular method, allowing the library to capture the vast demographic of visitors they attract.

The Natural History Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum were next on the list. The Natural History museum, similarly to the Botanic Gardens, was full of texture and colour which were at the forefront of inspiration for me. The beautiful iridescent colour of bugs, the feather of a bird, there was so much to look at and gain inspiration from. Signage here was very similar to the Botanic Gardens too, using a serif font and simple layout making it very easy to understand for all ages.

As Graphic Designers, it’s no secret that our curiosity gets the better of us, and Pitt Rivers Museum is the perfect place to satisfy this. Three floors of glass cabinets full of curiosities; from shrunken heads to weapons and armour, this place is a fountain of inspiration from across the globe and eras gone by. I was particularly interested to see the use of pattern, design and materials, which I found was a common theme throughout. Beautiful intricate carvings on handles, beading on garments, and hand painted decorative Easter eggs were on display, alongside the detailed engraving on the handle of a gun. By showing great detail on objects of use, displaying how practicality and design cross over it highlights that not only does an object need to fit a purpose, but it must also look attractive. This was made very apparent on the examples of packaging on display. The primary aim is to sell a product, but the packaging needs to attract and appeal to the consumer and contained intricate detail and amazing typographic design.

Oxford really is a great place for inspiration, and we often find that by looking at the finer details, you can gather so much subconscious visual material. Signage must sit with a degree of empathy to its surroundings, and the team and I felt that the design and typography around Oxford did this particularly well, oozing intellect and timelessness, while still appealing to a wider audience and age range. We definitely came away inspired and refreshed, ready to transfer our creative gains to output.

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