Dissertation Prize

Communication Design School of Design

Aaron Leigh (he/him)

My practice is rooted in exploring the connection between designed artefacts and the wider contexts and histories in which they are embedded. My process often returns to familiar designed forms, from maps to wildlife spotting books, combining these with theoretical influences and emerging technologies to develop new, critical communication. This reappropriation frequently explores the relationship between construction and breakdown of identity and meaning-making, applying an almost forensic approach to consider how objects and materials speak to wider contexts.

My work is concept-driven, meaning that my outcomes delve into varied fields of design, from web development to typography; however, I am particularly interested in experimentation with technical digital processes, especially in terms of how these interact with and challenge more traditional forms of communication.

This conceptual focus is driven by a keen engagement with research. My dissertation expanded on these studio interests to explore how geospatial data and its associated technologies perpetuate or contest socio-political inequalities in the Americas, considering the wider implications of a technology deeply ingrained in our everyday lives.

Relational Mapping
Signal in the Noise
The Politics of Type
National Assembly

Relational Mapping

Relational Mapping is an immersive web-based experience which considers how the visual language of mapping can express relationships overlooked by a solely geographical focus.

When traversing urban spaces, particular materials appear repeatedly in different social, political, and historical contexts, forming both the literal and metaphorical ‘fabric’ of the city. By treating these materials as a lens through which to explore and organise the urban environment, Relational Mapping highlights the temporal and socio-political relationships inseparable from these spaces.

Signal in the Noise

This outcome consists of two process-led responses. The first, Fauna, began by feeding random patterns of coloured squares into a machine learning algorithm—trained to identify objects in images—which frequently misrecognised these as wildlife. In the form of a wildlife spotting handbook, this uncanny visual interpretation foregrounds how radically the ‘black box’ of the algorithm’s understanding differs from the human.

The second response, Flora, began by feeding scientific image archives of plant species into photogrammetry algorithms, which are designed to reduce a bank of images into a single structure. In the form of botanical illustrations and specimens, the distorted representations of each species—due to the software fabricating relationships between natural and artificial elements—again explore the discrepancy between organic forms and how they are interpreted in a computational process.

The Politics of Type

The Politics of Type explores how typography is embedded in and influences wider socio-cultural and political relations.

In 1929, shortly after founding the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk decreed a change in script for written Turkish. This replaced the traditional Ottoman script with a Latinised version, as part of wide-ranging reforms intended to ensure the regime’s long-term cultural influence.

An archival image of a hand-painted sign announcing this change of script became the basis for a new typeface, recontextualising the letterforms from a tool of governmental discipline to one open to new modes of communication.

This typeface was then applied to a promotional poster for a forthcoming documentary, which examines the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria and the wider political contexts which made them so destructive.

Collaboration between Aaron Leigh & Tom Mcfarlane.

National Assembly

Across today’s socio-political landscape, a turn towards reactionary nationalism is increasingly prevalent. A key means of procuring support for nationalist agendas is an appeal to particular interpretations of history (often with a heavy dose of artistic license), a process which is by no means new—the formation of many modern nation-states relied heavily on the construction of (pseudo-)historical narratives, around which a unified national consciousness and identity could be formed.

National Assembly interrogates the role of these constructed historical narratives through a speculative museum identity and exhibition catalogue. Set in a fictional future England following the dissolution of the United Kingdom, the catalogue explores how nation-building uses hyperbolic narratives to reimagine objects as national symbols, forming part of a broader process of (re)constructing history.