Student Spotlight: Rhiannon Wood

Studying Graphic Design at Manchester School of Art, third year student Rhiannon Wood has given herself a broad depth as a designer, making sure to work in a variety of styles rather than just stick to one. This means she’s created a wide range of projects so far on her course, working in numerous forms and responding to a variety of briefs. She often uses visual puns and metaphors in her work, and enjoys combining wordplay with witty imagery. We caught up with Rhiannon and discussed her projects, studies, and goals for the future as a graphic designer.

What made you want to study Graphic Design at Manchester School of Art?

I’ve always been interested in art and design. I grew up trying to copy my sister’s drawings and never lost my interest in creating things. I studied graphic design at college and it just felt like the right choice for me going forwards. When I went on the open day at Manchester I knew it was where I wanted to be. I loved the building, the atmosphere of the place, and the tutors’ attitudes. Some of the other places I visited felt quite corporate and almost closed off, but Manchester felt like a place where you could follow your own direction and develop the kind of work you wanted to do.

What projects have you completed on your course?

I’ve done about twenty projects since starting university, and they’ve ended up as all sorts of different things, from pitching an opera for plants, to a dance piece based on seventeenth century music. I’ve made type pieces based on a Navajo code system, a magazine about bras, book covers, posters, a video, even some poetry. It’s been interesting to say the least. I never thought I’d end up doing so many different things when I started the course, and it’s one of the things I’ve really come to enjoy about graphic design – there are all sorts of potential directions to go in and I’ve learnt so much from each of them. It gives you a lot of opportunities to explore.

“When I came up with the ‘anti-capitalist’ description, I started thinking about anti-capitalist organisations like Anonymous and ways I could play on that for imagery.”

I really like your ‘Don’t Be A Dic-tionary’ series – it’s very witty and clever. How did you come up with the ideas?

Thank you! The brief was to protest something we care about, and I’m a bit of an English nerd so I decided to base mine on punctuation. I wanted it to be quite a fun project though (no one wants to be lectured about their grammar after all), so I came up with light-hearted little phrases to describe some of the ways people misuse punctuation. Since I had the terms, it seemed only right to make a dictionary out of them, considering the subject. Then when I came up with the ‘anti-capitalist’ description, I started thinking about anti-capitalist organisations like Anonymous and ways I could play on that for imagery. I thought it might be funny to try drawing it in punctuation marks and lowercase letters. From there, type as image was the direction I wanted to go in, so I just had to think of images for the other definitions!

Is there a project that you’re most proud of?

The ‘Don’t Be A Dic-tionary’ project is definitely one of my favourites. I loved the subject and I’m really pleased with the way it turned out. Other than that, the magazine about bras I mentioned, ‘Lashes,’ was one I loved. It was a group project with some of the girls on my course, along with an illustration student, and we just had so much fun making it. It combined a lot of things I really enjoy: writing articles, visual jokes, photography, layout, etc. We were trying to make something relevant for women that was funny and relatable, the kind of magazine we’d pick up ourselves, and it was a great opportunity to put our personalities into it. It was a really great team to work with too, which I think is important in a group project. I think we were all pretty happy with the way it turned out.

What are you currently working on?

Another English-based project actually! We’re all doing our personal projects at the minute so we have free reign. I came across a website called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows where a man called John Koenig creates names for some of the collective emotions we go through but have no word for, and from that I’ve been looking a lot into words, how they’ve changed, what makes them ‘real,’ and so on. I’ve even started coming up with some of my own words now, and thinking of ways to represent the meaning of words typographically and through other media, sometimes without using any words at all. I’m still experimenting so I’m not sure where it’s going yet, but language is something I love, so it’s nice to be able to play around with it and see what happens. I’m also doing a little project on the side, creating branding for three of my favourite authors, so there’s a bit of a theme to it all at the moment.

Do you think it’s more important to develop your own, recognisable visual style, or to be very diverse and able to create a range of styles in your work?

It depends on the work you want to go into really. I used to panic a lot about that because some designers (some of the people on my course too) have a very distinctive style, and I used to worry that I wouldn’t stand out enough as my work is more a bit of everything. But now I think that’s okay. Some people will seek out a designer with a particular style they want to use, but others want that diversity, which means you can tailor your approach to the client. And it’s not just about what the client wants either, it depends on the work you enjoy. If you have a particular style or medium you love, go for that! Keep developing it and making the kind of work you love, but if like me, you don’t find yourself drawn to one particular style, that’s fine too. For me it’s good to be able to play around with something new for every project I do. It keeps things interesting.

“I don’t mean I want to save the world with the power of typography, although that would be nice actually.”

How have your design style and abilities developed while studying?

I think I’ve really branched out in my approach, that’s the main thing I’ve identified. I’ve tried a lot of new things. Back in college I did a lot of illustrative work, it was always a picture and some text, and I wasn’t too great at laying them out back then. But I won’t dwell on that. One of the main things I’ve learnt over the past three years is that how I say it is just as important as what I’m saying. Just because I enjoy illustration doesn’t mean it’s the best way to say what I’m trying to say, or the most interesting. And actually, I enjoy some of those other techniques that I used to be a bit reluctant to try just as much as I do illustration.

What do you want to achieve with graphic design? What do you want your work to say, and what kind of commissions do you want to work on?

I think what’s important for me in graphic design is for everything to be meaningful. By that I don’t mean I want to save the world with the power of typography, although that would be nice actually, but I mean that it’s important to me to have a reason behind what I do. Whether it’s for a clothing brand or a charity event, I want the choices I make in a project all to have a purpose, to be conveying meaning. Not just “oh this colour looks pretty,” but “oh, it represents this about the client.” I think it goes back to my love of English, I like a good metaphor, so I treat every element of my design like symbolism for the message I’m trying to get across. In essence, I want to do work that is threaded through with meaning and has reason in every choice. As for commissions, I think the main thing I’d want is variety. I want to try all sorts of things!

What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learnt as a student?

Get enough sleep. Caffeine is not an effective replacement. Also, you can do it! Sometimes when you start a project it seems impossible. We all get to that place where it seems like it’s going nowhere. Or it’s going in so many different directions at once you can’t keep up. And sometimes you have to take a step back, go back to your research or something you tried out last week, and start again from there. I once got three weeks into a project and realised I didn’t like what I was doing and I needed to do something else. It’s hard to let go of something you’ve worked hard on, but if it’s not working, sometimes a different angle is what you need. But you’ll get there.

Do you have a dream project for the future?

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to explore anything I want for my personal project, which kind of encompasses the dream project I guess. But other than that, I think it would be nice to develop ‘Lashes’ a bit more if I got the time. It would be great to work on another couple of issues and see where it took us. My main project though is to get myself a job in a design studio I love and carry on learning as much as I can.

Check out more of Rhiannon’s work on her behance or instagram.