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Graphic Design Journal

Week 2: Industry today. Local design spaces. Geotagging

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

For this week's task, we are to learn more about three design consultancies that operate in our area, and research and describe their outputs, methods of working, ethos and the nature of their business. We're also conducting research on three design producers, such as printers, etc. We're using our data to create geotags in Falmouth University's map about the location of each business.

Design Consultancies

Origin Digital. Location: Holywood, BT18

Origin is based slightly out of City Centre, choosing the nearby seaside village of Holywood as its home instead. (Despite it's religious spelling, Holywood is pronounced "Hollywood" like the far more well-known one in LA... just one example of strange Irish pronunciations). As Belfast neighbourhoods, go, however, Holywood is definitely on the more glamorous side. Holywood is an artistic, cultural place where the old blends with the new. With pricey house costs, a vibrant High Street serviced by many coffeeshops and lunch spots, and a large population of young people, Holywood is a good place to locate a design studio, in terms of attracting talent.

SIZE: Origin has ~20 employees, making it one of the larger design studios in the Belfast area.

KEY OFFERING: Origin designs brands, campaigns,UX/UI and websites.

CUSTOMERS: Origin works for some multinational corporate brands, including some who would desire more traditional design, such as these large brands in the financial services industry: Danske Bank, Allstate, Fidelity and Zurich.

Origin's work gives very solid imagery, bringing the impression of credibility, experience, and trust. Their designs are stripped back and modern.

Origin also has some more culturally-focused clients, such as Belfast's iconic Grand Opera House. They created a new impactful website for the GOH. The layout, with large images and limited text, is visually appealing.

Origin's office space has a modern industrial vibe, with lots of gray, exposed brick, and the use of their orange logo, plus a funky piece of urban art on the wall. Below the pictures of the office, I've included two galleries of images of the surrounding vicinity, Holywood. There's lots of design inspiration right outside their gate.

The Foundation. Location: Belfast Harbour Estate, BT3

In contrast, The Foundation is located on the dockside on the opposite side of Belfast Lough to Holywood. Rather than being an area to live and work, this area is entirely industrial. It's essentially a series of old warehouses in a grid-based system of small streets. It's really lacking in any charm or aesthetic qualities, even though a lot of non-industrial businesses, and even some shops, have moved in. It's not far from City Centre, and there's a huge benefit in free parking spaces, however, the area is drab and it lacks any creative flair. It's a shame, because this Duncrue Estate could be made a lot more lively and interesting, especially because our newest film studio (Belfast Harbour Studios) occupies a large piece of land on the waterside just nearby.

SIZE: The Foundation has around 16 staff members, making it a large design consultancy for this area.

KEY OFFERING: Their brand identities nearly always involve some unique typography, making their branding stand out. They also offer more than just graphic design, with many disciplines listed on their website that fall under the marketing umbrella, such as content creation, etc.

CUSTOMERS: The Foundation works with many small, specialist, local companies. Many of their clients are in the food/drink sector, which isn't surprising since agriculture is Northern Ireland's largest industry. I really liked the work they did with Ristretto, a coffee producer. I also loved their logo for Buzz, an Irish magazine. The use of quote marks as z's is very clever.

Mint. Location: River House, Belfast Centre, BT1

Mint is a small consultancy that I have commissioned for various pieces of work over the past 8 years. They specialise in creating branding identity, websites, brochures and other forms of digital content. They're located in one of the newest buildings right in the heart of Belfast, called River House, which has a flexible working model where you can rent desks in shared spaces that are well-designed and beautiful. Most of Belfast's best pubs, restaurants, hotels, cafes and cultural attractions are within walking distance of here. It's right down the street from The Mac theatre, on the edge of the trendy Cathedral Quarter, where people go to eat, drink and party. Also located in this quarter is Belfast School of Art at Ulster University.

SIZE: Small, only 4 or 5 staff members

OFFERING: UX, branding, website design, print and digital communications

CUSTOMERS: Despite being small, they have some key flagship accounts, such as Queen's University Belfast and Catalyst. They've made strides in the tech sector, and many of their clients would stem from Belfast's burgeoning tech startup scene. Mint brings a reputation for being "cool" and modern.

Here's an example of the work I've commissioned from Mint for one of my tech clients, iTouch, and one of their projects for another tech company called Concert.

A note about Belfast's design history

Despite doing a lot of digging, I have struggled to come up with many sources that discuss the history of design in Belfast. Brand identities have been shaped here by different cultural events to other parts of the UK, where WW2 was the dominant event of the 20th century. Here in Ireland, we had the Diaspora (the emigration of huge swaths of the population sparked by the Great Famine but continuing right through the 1900s until the present day). Then we had the Titanic disaster in 1921.

At the time, Belfast was one of the leading shipbuilding centres in the world and the Titanic was the jewel in the shipbuilding company, Harland and Wolff's, crown. Today, H&W's iconic yellow cranes can still be seen from all over Belfast, but not a lot of shipbuilding goes on anymore. However, the heavy industries and agriculture are still our biggest sectors. It also goes without saying that Belfast was impacted by The Troubles which ranged from 1960s until the Peace Agreement was signed in 1998. All of these forces led to Belfast being a very working class place. So the stripped-back, sans serif fonts that are iconic in many Belfast brands, stems from this history of lean times and working class pride. Since the Peace Agreement, Belfast has had a flood of new business openings and it is regularly listed as one of the best places in the UK to start a business, due to a lower cost of living. There's a vibrant startup scene, particularly in tech, healthcare, and financial services. It's a great time for creative businesses. Above is an image of the old buildings where the Titanic was designed, the H&W cranes and the Titanic museum.

Design Producers

Scorched Earth Designs. Location: Belmont, BT4

Scorched Earth is a shop that does laser engraving of many surfaces: wood, slate etc. You can walk in and order items directly, or from their website. They've had a few pop-up locations across Belfast but Belmont is their current home.

Baird's Print Shop. Location: Ulster Folk Museum, Cultra, BT18

Baird's is inside the Ulster Folk Musuem, as part of a recreated village from decades past. It's a working print shop that recreates the process by which images were printed in the early 1900's, using the following presses:

  • a large and ornate Clymer and Dixon - Columbian Eagle platen press, dated 1844

  • a Minerva Cropper treadle, platen press, dated 1900

  • Albion platen press by Hopkinson and Cope, c 1868

Museum goers can sometimes get free prints directly in the shop, or you can purchase prints in the gift shop. The prints are often seasonal, depicting events like the Harvest or Christmas. Here's an example of a print from Baird's.

Belfast Print Workshop. Location: Cathedral Quarter, BT1

Belfast Print Workshop is a creative space in the Cathedral Quarter where the public can purchase prints and get involved in printmaking through a range of classes. Their upcoming classes include lithographic printing, aquatint, screen printing, viscosity and cyanotype.

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