Today I am going to share the process I went through while working on my final project for college. This course didn’t have any exams, so my final mark was totally dependent on this project. There was a number to choose from but when I found out one particular project was to “celebrate the songs of David Bowie using typography” I knew I had to do it.
I’ve been a fan of David Bowie since I was a child. I still have a copy of that Best of Bowie CD from 2002 so my dad must have introduced me to it around then. Already being a fan of Bowie made this project so much harder, because it was important to me that I created something good. But I don’t think I could have come up with my final design without being a fan.
CELEBRATING DAVID BOWIE
I remember being a kid, listening to that Bowie album in a car. The CD got to Ashes to Ashes, that song has one line where it mentions Major Tom. This was a character Bowie first introduced in Space Oddity. An astronaut lost in space. Tiny me was fascinated by this, not only did songs have a story, but that story continued over multiple songs.
Sometime later, after Bowie’s 2003 world tour, I remember asking my dad if he would do another tour. My dad’s response was something like no, that’s it, he’s done. That seemed pretty final to me. So I found it really interesting when Bowie came back in 2013 with The Next Day. It was these two memories which went on to form the basis of this project.
The brief for this particular project was very open. It literally just said, “celebrate David Bowie”. Which made the project extremely difficult because you could literally do anything. Before the project started one of my lecturers gave me a hint to nail down who the target market is for this book. Because it would help so much with the design.
I was creating a book about David Bowie so the people who were going to buy it would obviously be David Bowie fans. But that also meant it had to be special. A Bowie fan isn’t going to buy any old thing just because it has Bowie’s Aladdin Sane character on the front. So this had to be something really unique, as special as Bowie was.
There was nothing in the brief about the content of the book. But I knew that the content was going to be an essential part of the overall design. The two would have to work together to make something a fan would actually buy. Because it had some new information about Bowie or because it was so unique.
I started by doing research into Bowie. One of the things I was surprised by was how much I didn’t know. This was a little weird because I had considered myself a fan for over 10 years. But there were little things, like Space Oddity being written before the moon landings, and the fact no one really knew if the astronauts would make it back. Heroes was written about the Berlin wall, and Bowie performed the song at the Berlin wall.
I realised that a lot of Bowie’s songs were inspired by the time they were written in. As well as what was going on in his personal life. To elder Bowie fans it must have been obvious, but I wasn’t around in the 70s and 80s. So I missed out on some of the context for those songs because I hadn’t experienced that time. This ended up inspiring a huge part of the concept. The book was to be for younger fans looking back on Bowie’s life.
I then went on to research typography and layouts. Buying magazines was the best way to do this. One I found particularly useful was Oh Comely. This is a lifestyle magazine which was started by a graphic designer as a way to display their typography skills to potential clients. So the layout of this magazine is really nice, very minimal with large amounts of white space.
By this point, I had a concept. Which came from the music, and the essential components needed to create a song. How context for a song can be really important, and how you lose something when that context is missing. The context could either be not knowing the events to which the song is referring to, or the song not having any lyrics at all.
This tied into the style I was developing for the book. From looking at Bowie album covers I had come up with a limited color palette. From this, I was creating textures, then using those textures to create imagery. Cutting and mixing those elements to create a new whole.
It was around this point I had a meeting with one of my tutors and was told to “have fun” with the project. Which I guess is nice because it meant they thought what I had done was good. But also isn’t useful if you go into a meeting looking for helpful feedback and just get told to do whatever. So I did go do whatever, and by whatever I mean, buy a can of neon pink spray paint.
By this point I had a finalised idea for my book, I had the artwork to go in the book, I had also written the content. It was around this point I went to visit the DJCAD degree show which was massively helpful when it came to choosing a binding method.
There was just one slight problem. I still had to create the document, then print and bind it. And I only had a week to do it in. Actually, I had less than a week because I wanted time to take photos of the book and work on a 10-minute presentation which I had to do as well. I don’t know how this all got left to the last-minute. Usually, I’m quite organised and get my coursework done with time to spare. But for this project, my time planning got all messed up.
Honestly, I’m making this sound worse than it actually was. Creating the InDesign document didn’t take long at all. Binding the book together was the trickiest part. I’ll skip all the boring details like having to find a bookbinding shop and buy supplies (Shepherds of London was fantastic). Binding the book took a long time because I ended up doing it twice. Usually, I like doing this because I can keep one copy and hand one copy in.
This time it was a little different because the binding was quite complicated. I had some acetate pages and others were half the size of the actual book. Doing two copies meant I was able to work out some of the little details. Like how the heck was I going to get acetate sheets to stick together. But I got it done.
I really enjoyed working on this project. And I was so happy with the final product. It became less important about what mark I would get. All I cared about is that I made something I was proud of and celebrated an artist I loved to the best of my ability. It was a massive headache at times, but in the end, everything came together so well.