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27.06.11

Supergraphics:
Morag Myerscough


The Editors

Morag Myerscough started Studio Myerscough in 1993. Since then, she has produced an eclectic – and sometimes eccentric – body of work that is frequently unclassifiable but which always offers a high level of communication and engagement. She combines formal graphic design methodologies (typography, image making) with highly individualistic craft skills. 

But it is her work in the integration of graphics within architectural settings that is her strongest claim to recognition. She has produced many award winning schemes including wayfinding and environmental graphics for Westminster Academy and the Kentish Town Health Centre, which has won a RIBA award, and was shortlisted for both the World Architecture Festival and the Stirling Prize. 

Kentish Town Health Centre, 2009
Architects: Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Photographer: Tim Soar

Is Supergraphics more of an architectural term than a graphic design one? 

Architects often use it when they talk about wayfinding and signage. And then there’s this term ‘environmental graphics.’ But I suppose that’s when you’re putting more of the narrative in and then it becomes neither wayfinding nor signage, it is just graphics within the environment. 

Do you subscribe to the classical definition of ‘Supergraphics’ meaning graphics on a building that are too big for the building?

I think it depends. Take the work that I’ve done at the Barbican in London. I’d say that the numbering system we created was an example of Supergraphics. But really, it was just a case of making big numbers. I really think that today, Supergraphics just means big graphics.

What was the first supergraphics piece that you did?

Without going back to college days, I think it was when Tim Molloy (Creative Director, Science Museum, London) asked me if I’d done any banners before. I said no, but I’ll have a go. I ended up doing a 230m long hoarding in the Science Museum. At that time my sister was at the Slade and through her I got all these young artists – all quite well-known now – and we worked through the night painting the hoardings. I think that’s when I got the bug. And the next thing was the hoarding competition in Design Week for British Land with Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Architects and that’s when I started my relationship with them in 1995. We used the photographer Trevor Key. He was fantastic. He did it just before he died. 

Can you talk about working on a giant scale. Does it need a different mentality from a 2D print project – a brochure for instance? Do you find you have two different approaches?

Well, I find I’m not very good at print. There are lots of people who do print better than me. I think in a spatial way. For example, currently we’re working with Foreign Office Architects on a project in Paris, and when we’re doing it we’re thinking about how people are actually going to use the space. We’re thinking about all the social things: what they’re going to get from the space; what the light is going to be like; how they’re going to walk through the space; what response they’re going to get when they go in. At each point we think – what are we trying to say here, and what will fit in the architect’s space? 

Transforming the Barbican Centre, 2007
Designers: Studio Myerscough and Cartlidge Levene
Architects: Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

Can you talk about the Kentish Town Health Centre (KTHC) in North London. At first glance it looks like a cool interiors project, but is it serving a higher purpose?   

At the healthcare centre, the architect Paul Monaghan wanted me to create some icons to identify the services in the building. I looked at the space and said – that’s a bit boring. Then I thought, why don’t we look at this differently. We came up with an approach that did take the icon idea and developed it. I suppose it’s like a big mural. The architects gave me a scale model of the space, and I put our design on the model and Paul said – come on, bigger. So it was a sort of joint decision. I don’t really impose my ideas on architects. I don't say – oh, look at that nice wall, I’ll have that one. It’s all about working collaboratively. What’s so brilliant about the Health Centre project is that in Dr Roy McGregor, partner of the James Wigg Practice, we’ve got an amazing client who has a sense of adventure, and who really wants it to happen. Then the architects and the designers need to want it to happen, too. And that’s what I mean by collaboration. 

It is amazing the effect the graphics has had on both the users in Westminster and Kentish Town. With Kentish Town I think it is the amount of colour that makes people happier but is also the space and the light I can’t put it all down to my stuff but if definitely plays a part. But Roy Macgregor has said how people feel better after they have visited the building and that is not just down to their treatment!

There’s always someone that hates things, but generally I think it's been well-received. Alan Bennett opened the centre. He’s a patient there and he said that people arrive feeling down, but leave feeling much happier. Now obviously, I don’t think that’s just the graphics. I think it’s the natural light. I think it’s that they have a space that is much nicer to be in, and one they are proud of. It’s the sum of all the parts. There’s a danger that you just look at the graphics in isolation – it’s actually a coming together of all the elements, really.

London College of Communication wayfinding, 2009

It sounds as if it’s important that when you are working on a building, you have to be working simultaneously on it with the architect – rather than brought in at the end?

I really want to work on challenging projects where everyone trusts each other, and we can create a visual language that is aspirational and goes beyond people’s expectations, so that the building belongs to them and they want to belong to it. I’m finding that really fascinating at the moment. 

This is an edited version of a longer interview that can be found in the book Supergraphics – Transforming Space: Graphic Design for Walls, Buildings & Spaces [Unit 02]

 

217 x 280mm, 320 pages, paperback
ISBN 978-0-9562071-1-1
Editors Tony Brook & Adrian Shaughnessy
Design Spin

Only available here and in restricted bookshops. 

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