Taking design students out of the ‘digital’ classroom and into the noisy, machine-driven world of mechanical printing provides an insight into the process that can turn a plain piece of paper into a work of art.

For the fourth year in succession, and narrowly avoiding ‘cancellation by coronavirus’, Baddeley Brothers hosted two students from Ravensbourne University in South London for ‘Im–print! Im–press!’ – a now-regular feature of the uni’s design curriculum that incorporates the whole process of coming up with a design, through planning, costing, and finally production.

The live-brief got teams of students from different design courses to explore the relationship between paper and printing processes as well as the context of the people within the process, designers collaborating with printers, students with professionals, and the actual workflow of a costed production process.

Graphic Design student James Ranger from London and Rachel Chambers from Hampshire were winners of an elective unit involving 60 students from the Department of Design Practice at Ravensbourne University earlier this year.

The university has collaborated with London printers Baddeley Brothers, paper merchant G.F. Smith and foil specialists Foilco, and James and Rachel were tasked with creating a paper object installation inspired by the G. F. Smith Gmund Bauhaus black and white paper range.

The Bauhaus, an early 20th century German Art School, had a profound effect on modern design and played a key role in the students’ research and reflections. The paper described as ‘modern, straight forward and reduced to the bare essentials’ amplified this message. Bauhaus, an early 20th century German art school which had a profound effect on modern design.

The paper, budget and finish specifications create an interesting exercise in limitations and freedoms, since there were absolutely no restrictions on images, typography or other graphic elements.

James said “It was an interesting topic to explore. We had to create a paper structure which uses foiling and other graphic design and physical techniques to build something that would have the essence of the Bauhaus and that movement.

“A lot of the original art and photography of the Bauhaus, during its early days, really experimental structures relating back to the Golden Ratio which is a geometric pattern you find in nature.

“So often, all our work is done on computer, I learned a lot about working with foil, and it was interesting to learn how the software we use in a design course setting differs from that in a production environment.

“We built a modular polygon design. It looks like a steeple and has silver foiling going all around it. What’s cool about it is that you can stack the pieces on top of each other. It’s quite a basic shape and expands from there.

“We wanted to have some natural theme in ours, so the foiling design is like water rippling.

“Baddeley Brothers talked us through the best way to use paper, what weight of paper to use for different part of the creation. We went to their factory and watched them putting it together.

“We really like the way it came out. It was like working with Lego.”

Rachel, who is study fashion buying and brand management, said: “It was more hands-on than I expected. It was so different to what I do on my course, and I wanted to push myself to do something that I wouldn’t usually go for and it worked out pretty well.

“Whilst we were developing the piece, we realised there were so many ways it could form, which made it something special.

“We wanted to be really careful to enhance the material because it looks pretty.

“And the feedback we got was that we actually managed to celebrate the foiling as well as the paper. We had brought them together with just the right balance.

“Baddeley Brothers were amazing. Throughout the project they came in and give us an insight into the machine they’d be using. And seeing it all working in the factory was really quite cool.

“It was all very fiddly to make. It was a case of trial and error. We went through so many stages. There was lots of things that didn’t work!

James and I quickly realised we shared the same vision that we wanted the end product to be perfect. We worked well together.”

The piece will go on display in the GF Smith show space. Although the design was completed before lockdown, and some of the printing done, the final ‘construction’ stage has yet to be done.

Maaike van Neck, Course Leader BA (Hons) Graphic Design, said: “We’re so lucky to have this ongoing collaboration with Baddeley Brothers, G. F. Smith and Foilco. Every year the project changes but the challenges remain the same: how do you explore creativity within constraints, may they be budget, format or production related. This live brief has a lasting impact on the students who engage with it. This is evident in the self-initiated projects in Year 3 and the career choices graduates make when they leave Ravensbourne”

Commercial director at Baddeley Brothers, Charles Pertwee added: “It was really satisfying to work for the fourth time with students from Ravensbourne again. James and Rachel were worthy winners this year, it was clear they bounced ideas off each other, developing their ideas and learned from their experience.

“The effort they put into perfecting their design, reiterating the finest details until they were just right is exactly the same principles that have kept our company going for 160 years. Attention to detail is such a desirable quality for young people to have as they embark on a working career in design, and the two have demonstrated they have what it takes.”