Katherine Gillieson  Design & Writing

Critical Design infographics projects on show at Science World for Green Month


A selection of sustainability-themed information design projects by 3rd year communication design students is on display at Science World to coincide with Green Month. The work was undertaken as part of the Critical Design core studio I taught in Spring 2015.

Students conducted research into a range of environmental and sustainability issues to determine their chosen topics, and were encouraged to think broadly about their theme and how to translate it visually using information visualization, illustration, and graphic and information design techniques. The resulting themes are diverse and many touch on sustainability issues relevant to Vancouver; these include oil and alternative energies, lifestyle, household and consumption choices, animal life in BC, and more.

Exhibiting students include:
Daniela Buitrago, Cassie Chuang, Karim Kadi, Megan Kwan, Jodie Lavery, Hyo-Jin Lee, Taysia Louie, Hailey Park, Ji Eun Park, Claudia Pasaribu, Prateeba Perumal, Alejandra Rivera, Kaeley Slaney, and Erin Waters.

The exhibition takes place from April 20 to May 26, 2015.

Ontological Catastrophe


The newest volume in the New Metaphysics books series is Ontological Catastrophe: Zizek and the Paradoxical Metaphysics of German Idealism by Joseph Carew. Published by Open Humanities Press, the book is available here.

This is the fourth title in the New Metaphysics series, designed again in collaboration with Tammy Lu. A brief case study about the series was published in last year’s edition of Current, Emily Carr’s design research journal; read the piece here or download the Current app.

York University design workshop: mapping identity

I visited Toronto in November to take part in the 2nd annual RGD Design Education Conference, and added onto this trip a fantastic visit to York University Department of Design; I was able to present some of my work in a public talk and 2-day mapping workshop which builds on past work in the area of mapping public spaces (see Virtual Itineraries), as well as the Granville Island mapping workshop undertaken at Emily Carr as part of The Commons event for 3rd year design students.

The workshop is exploratory and encourages participants to analyze  and re-interpret some aspect of a constrained geographic space; at York this was the campus itself. The goal is to achieve a speculative re-thinking of the space, in addition to representing it in some way. The student group was very diverse and enthusiastic and the outcomes of the project were similarly diverse; sound recordings, a book on the campus’ empty spaces, symbolic space diagrams and a mobile app are some of the outcomes produced. Thanks to the students and staff at York for making this visit possible!


The latest volume of the New Metaphysics book series

Timothy Morton’s book Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality is now available online, and will be available as PDF and in paperback form soon. I am the designer for the series which features the work of Tammy Lu on the cover. The New Metaphysics series is edited by Graham Harman and Bruno Latour and published by Open Humanities Press. All the books in the series are freely available as open access electronic books as well as in paperback form.


Geographics: the AIGA Design Education conference in Hawaii

I was lucky to be able to make it to the AIGA Design Education conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, in December. It was a lovely break from our rigorous travels through Northern winters! Here is a review of the event for the Eye magazine blog.

The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design

A few years ago I spent some time writing some short pieces on the history and significance of a series of classic pieces of graphic design for a compendium to be published by Phaidon.

The publication got delayed and I was sorry not to see this work in print. I have just heard however that the work is due for publication in September 2012! The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design will not be a book, but an archive box containing 500 loose cards. My contributions include Byrne’s The Elements of Euclid (1847), the pie chart, the typeface design Chicago (1984), Sutnar’s Catalogue Design Progress (1950), and more. The wide variety of pieces included in the volume aims to reflect the breadth of classic and exemplary design objects produced since the age of mechanical reproduction. This is a tall order; I look forward to seeing the final product.

Virtual Itineraries
Concept, project, workshop on public lettering


Virtual Itineraries is a project about environmental lettering; the workshops encourage learning through a direct exploration of the city. Participants are encouraged to roam around urban sites to document examples of signs and lettering using mobile phones and digital cameras. They then share the results online using social software, to create freely accessible, geotagged databases of public lettering. The project, which I developed with the help of Eric Kindel, was funded by CETL (Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning) and builds on a tradition of teaching about lettering and signs in the Department of Typography in Reading.




At the core of this workshop is the creation and sharing of public lettering in a shared virtual space. Participants venture out into parts of the city to record examples of lettering, which range from the monumental (stone carving, incised metal plaques) to the vernacular (hand made or generic neon signs, graffiti). These include commercial signs, historical artefacts, wayfinding signs, and more.

The resulting collections are uploaded to the social software media-sharing site Flickr and tagged according to our series of descriptive categories for lettering, construction techniques, and genres. They are also geo-tagged, enabling the mapping feature in Flickr. The resulting media pool is a virtual lettering map that traces the journeys of participants, and that serves as a database of public lettering in the city. See for instance the Reading pool of 2010/2011, and the collection assembled by screen typography students at the University of Cooperative Education in Ravensburg, Germany.




VI may be run in small groups, which promotes conversation around individual sites and helps participants to trace and re-interpret their unique itineraries for the shared virtual space. The process preserves yet translates the materiality of environmental lettering in the urban landscape. Journeys are recorded with the help of common devices such as mobile phones and cameras, and the process of building of the digital archive occurs in real time and space. The workshop intentionally makes use of free, commonly available media-sharing sites so that the resulting pool of geo-tagged material is also available as a public resource on the internet.


Background and history

The Virtual Itineraries idea grew out of study trips taken by Reading staff and students to Italy. There, student groups studied and recorded civic inscriptions and ‘lettered’ sites in the extraordinary cities of Rome and Florence. Although the study trips are no longer taken, Reading was intent on retaining elements of the experience. The project also builds on the Department’s extensive archives and collections of public signage and lettering. Originally a collaborative venture between Reading and The Central School, the teaching archives of lettering of varying periods, forms, materials, locations, methods of making, etc, were entirely physical collections: photography, rubbings, publications, and more. The Virtual Itineraries workshop evokes the lettering collection but creates a participatory version through the use of social software and the exploration of locations nearer to hand. The digital aspect also helps to involve students in contributing to collections and archives, as the Department’s historical lettering collection becomes digitised. A Virtual Itineraries exercise offered both continuity to the notion of lettering tours and itineraries, and contributions to collections through the organised collection and sharing of visual records of sites.

Virtual Itineraries workshops have been held in Ravensburg, Germany and in Manchester, UK as part of the Futuresonic Social Technologies Summit in 2009; the project has been presented to the Sign Design Society and is regularly run as an undergraduate module at Reading, taking in sites throughout southern England.

See more:

The Reading pool for 2010-11

The Reading pool for 2009-10

The Ravensburg pool for 2008-9

Information Design Conference 2012

I’m looking forward to the Information Design Conference 2012, which is taking place tomorrow and Friday on the stately grounds of the University of Greenwich. It will be good to see old colleagues and take in the great diversity of topics that are included in this year’s programme. As a committee member of the Information Design Association I’ll be chairing a panel Friday, and look forward to some lively debate on ‘Collaboration in Design’!

AtypI 1976 souvenirs in the Department of Typography

After my second leave, I returned to the pastoral grounds of the Department of Typography again last week. Some lovely and deceptively old specimen sheets, created during the ATypI conference held here in 1976, are on display in the main hall.

The Science Project revived

Having just returned from maternity leave I am pleased to share my newest post to The Science Project, a short introduction to the NCBE at Reading; thanks to Alice Bell for keeping the blog alive for the better part of a year!