Leeds School of Arts

It matters what stories we tell

The BA (Hons) Graphic Design course at Leeds Beckett is taking a stance to be more representative. The lecturers have decided to make students’ involvement in these issues much more transparent. So this year, students have been involved in sourcing and collecting information to help build up the module’s resources that support equality, diversity and inclusion. 

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Key debates and broad learning outcomes of the module have focused on representation as a theme. The students were tasked with writing an illustrated referenced Wikipedia entry for an unrepresented Graphic Designer or Creative Practitioner, accompanied by a written argument presenting the case for the significance of their selection within the module’s theme, referring to sources from their research. 

Taro Gent, a student on the BA (Hons) Graphic Design course who took part in the module said,

“The artist I chose to write about was Dawoud Bey. I came across his work when I looked for information for the module’s resources. Dawoud Bey is an American photographer and educator. He produces striking, large-scale colour portraits of teenagers from a range of economic, social, and ethnic backgrounds, creating a diverse collection of portraits of a generation that challenges teenage stereotypes. 

I found Bey’s work, especially in The Birmingham Project, to be quite visceral and moving, so his name stuck with me. The Birmingham Project (2012) is a selection of prints providing a historical context of the Birmingham bombing and revealing the political and social turmoil that placed the American Civil Rights Movement in the media spotlight during the months leading up to the explosion. Commissioned by the Birmingham Museum of Art, the project was created in memory of the children killed in Birmingham that day, nearing the 50th anniversary of the tragedy. It features portraits of children at the exact age of the ones killed in 1963 paired with a portrait of an adult at the age the child would have been in the year 2013.

The brief mentioned that we should create a Wikipedia page for an artist or practitioner that doesn’t already have one; however, this is not the route I ended up going down. Dawoud Bey’s Wikipedia page already existed but it mainly spoke of his academic achievements and awards instead of his photography. I had seen his work and how good it was that I felt the need to pursue expanding the Wikipedia entry. I thought the nature in which Bey conducted his work and the context and intention behind it was unrepresented.

Writing for a Wikipedia page was interesting and enjoyable, it was different to anything I have written before as we were writing to historically and factually contextualise something. 

Representation as a theme was introduced, and in my opinion, it’s an important topic to consider, particularly when tackling social projects. The groups and identities that your design becomes a voice for should significantly influence the design itself. This is something that I will now take into account when conducting my work in future.”

Kiff Bamford, BA (Hons) Graphic Design module leader said,

“The task allowed students to find a diverse range of people and projects to talk about and many new sources were identified. An increasing number of students are now confident talking about activism and addressing current issues. It is no longer seen as a ‘niche’ subject matter or that you have to be a certain sort of designer to think or work in this way. It matters what stories we tell and it is just the beginning of more important work to be done.”


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By Leeds School of Arts
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