London Design Biennale 2018

Brand Identity, Digital Design, Campaigns

A visual identity inspired by Charles Darwin’s seven universal emotions.

Building on the enormous success of the inaugural event in 2016, London Design Biennale is a highlight on the global cultural calendar, welcoming the world’s most exciting and ambitious designers, innovators and cultural bodies to the capital.

The 2018 London Design Biennale will be devoted to the theme of ‘Emotional States’. National entries will explore how design affects every aspect of our lives – the way we live and how we live – and influences our very being, emotions and experiences.

For the second consecutive edition, Pentagram has created the visual identity and promotional materials for the Biennale. As with the previous identity, a restricted colour palette of orange, black and white is used.

In response to the theme of ‘Emotional States’ and taking inspiration from Charles Darwin’s seven universal emotions, Pentagram created and commissioned a series of arresting masks, handmade by Wakefield-based paper artist Andy Singleton and photographed by London-based John Ross

In 1872, Darwin published ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’, in which he argued that all humans, and even other animals, show a shared universal range of emotions through remarkably similar behaviours. Today many psychologists agree with Darwin that certain emotions are universal to all humans, regardless of culture: anger, fear, surprise, disgust, joy, sadness and contempt.

While a significant amount of research supports the notion that these emotions manifest consistently across cultures, Pentagram’s concept moves away from the literal representations and uses abstract masks – rather than people or faces – to interpret and express the Biennale’s theme.

A universal phenomenon that spans centuries, masks have been used to interpret and illustrate the beautiful, the grotesque, the sublime – and everything else in between. Pentagram’s aim was to create a series of masks that could subtly, yet coherently, communicate this diverse range of emotional states.

In order to conceptualise the masks, Pentagram conducted an exhaustive audit of words, symbols, actions and facial expressions associated each of Darwin’s universal emotions. By compiling extensive mood boards, Pentagram identified reoccurring shapes and forms, which ultimately informed the visual signature of each emotion.

Pentagram decided to use paper – supplied by G.F Smith – to create the final masks, owing to both its flexibility as a material, and its capacity to inspire intimacy from the intricate nature of its craft. Working with paper-artist Andy Singleton in an iterative process of trial and error, the final form of each mask was defined, and subsequently sculpted.

Avoiding over-the-top and explicit depictions of the emotions in question, the masks allow the viewer the space to interpret and decode meaning; subtly reflecting the aims of the Biennale, as well as the competing artists and their exhibitions.

The resulting avant-garde masks, photographed by John Ross, bring the Biennale’s theme to life in a way that is independent of race, gender and age. The striking visual identity delivers captivating visuals that have been applied across the event’s online banners, print, outdoor, social media and marketing materials – which were also designed by Pentagram.

The approach to the identity was informed by Pentagram’s longstanding relationship with the London Design Festival, for whom it designs a new visual identity every year. Both events aim to widen public awareness of the importance and universal relevance of design in contemporary life and culture, and require clear, bold and recognisable identities which appeal to designers and non-designers alike.

Domenic Lippa
Project team
Emma Hickey
John Ross, photographer
Andy Singleton, paper artist
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