Design Finds with Nicole Phillips

Nicole Phillips presenting at Design Finds Visual Communication

Libraries are sometimes an overlooked resource in a designer’s toolkit.

We are pleased to share Queensland designers’ experiences of exploring the State Library’s excellent collection of books, objects and other ephemera.

APDL spoke to graphic designer, Nicole Phillips, of Typograph.her who spent some time exploring the treasures held within the State Library’s repository and presented her “design finds” to an audience that were then exhibited in the Design Lounge.

The focus of her research was Brisbane’s art and crafts heritage which inspired the development of a book Stationæry progress: arts & crafts is both Brisbane’s heritage, and our future. The book captured her sketches and thought processes.

Snippet of the creative response by Nicole Phillips

What was your approach to finding objects in the SLQ collections?

I felt like Alice in Wonderland. My curiosity ran rampant as I fell into new worlds. I began looking at examples of local typography and then filtered my search by place, time, collection (and eventually) craft.

Rather than searching for something specific I really wanted to embark on a journey of discovery by finding things organically. It wasn’t the most efficient approach (as documented in my response) but it allowed for a rich learning experience.

Were there any unexpected surprises in your dealings with the SLQ collections?

Yes! I did a lot of my preliminary shortlisting of items at home via one search. I was particularly excited to view box 11484_O/s. It was listed as containing printing blocks and glass samples from the Moroney estate. But the retrieval team couldn’t find a record with that number. I was fortunate to have the assistance of Joan Bruce the Queensland Literature Coordinator from SLQ’s Queensland Memory team.

Joan pulled some other boxes with Moroney items and I spent the afternoon treasure hunting. Sure enough the last (of 11 boxes) had not one but two catalogue numbers and a small label saying ‘fragile: handle with care’… Inside the box labelled 14193, I discovered the missing items. Two of which feature as design finds.

Martin Patrick Moroney Queensland Pottery Sign, White glass with applied media, ACC: 6895

Why did you choose the five objects that you selected?

It began with the sign—the vernacular lettering, spelling mistake, brush work and materials propelled me forward with this line of enquiry for the project. From there it was incredibly challenging to narrow it to just five, (I had a short list of 29 items)! These pieces excited me (visually), piqued my curiosity and gave the best insight into the lives of the people who created them.

What is one lesson or insight that you learned as a part of your investigative process?

The best insight I could offer as a learning outcome from my process would be to cast a wide net before narrowing the focus of your research (and keep an open mind about what you might discover!). The wealth of items in the collection astounded me! I discovered many original, precious items I never expected to be here (I have a very large list of resources from the collection I want to investigate further in the future!).

How was your creative response inspired by the five objects that you found?

The Discovery, Introduction and Craftsmanship chapters of the book document my journey to finding the items and establishes why the items (and the people who made them) are important. The Design Finds chapter profiles the items and records my ideation and reinterpretation of each piece. The Moroney’s chapter helps build a narrative around the family who created the items.

The appendices (for the ultra-curious!) profile The Moroney’s Contemporaries & Collaborators as well as some Local Makers who (like the Moroney’s) explore and celebrate the origins of their craft. Creating with authentic, quality workmanship and traditional processes. The appendices also provide global currency showcasing some of the makers who would have influenced the Moroney’s.

Martin Patrick Moroney Biscuit Barrel (1906), Ceramic vessel with metal rim and handle (Queensland clay) (makers mark on base) ACC: 7863

Why did you decide upon this particular outcome for your creative response?

When I began the process, I started creating a document to record my findings which I hoped would inform a series of letterpress prints as my response… but I injured myself ending up in a cast and unable to print.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t create the letterpress work, but I decided the book could be elevated from a behind-the-scenes process tool to become the primary response.

I hoped the collective examples and ideas would demonstrate the value of craft in Brisbane’s past and future.

Was the approach of finding inspiration from the past similar to how you currently work or different? How did that affect your outcome?

Yes! Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” I believe in looking backwards to see forwards, and so my creative practice often draws inspiration from the past. This reflective research methodology was familiar to me and something I enjoy. I hope the enjoyment is reflected in the response and I also hope my ideation around the objects reflect the character of the era in which they were created.

Would you look to use a similar approach again in the future?

Absolutely—historic printed specimen, type, and design are a rich source of inspiration, I love using old materials and resources and reinterpreting them in new ways for contemporary audiences.

Martin Patrick Moroney Green coloured glass with hand-painted face from the Martin Moroney Collection, Glass with applied media, ACC: 6895