Psychedelia and Graphic Design

Our first lecture with Dr Simon Bell was focused on the psychedelic period (late 1960s), looking at why people of that generation had their particular view on the world and how this had an impact on the posters made in that time.

We initially looked at the 1960s, trying to understand why it was such an important era for graphic design. Up until about 1966 it looked back to the 1950s (post war times), 1966-67 had a life of its own, then the rest looked like the 70s. The overlap meant different creative styles could live side-by-side, responding to, and in turn generating, sub-cultures who could become easily defined and targeted. If your audience is very wide, your work can become bland and difficult to design, because you simply don’t know your audience.


The Byrds Poster by Wes Wilson, 1967

So why were posters from that era so difficult to read and unlike how you would expect a poster to be designed? In the mid-sixties, much of the youth had grown up listening to the stories of current events such as the Vietnam War, the assassination of prominent figures (such as John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King) and the Civil Rights Movement. This shaped a troubled society who were very inward-looking and self-absorbed consequently trying to find a way out, which happened to be music.

This was a very closed society who did not want to be involved with the government. Artists recognised this as an opportunity to create posters that did not need to be read to be understood, the posters weren’t trying to broaden a community or sell things to as many people as possible. Instead they acted as reminders to those already in the know about the events, reinforcing the exclusive and self-absorbed union of the hippy generation. This meant the text could be hand drawn, almost illegible to those glancing at the poster and the designs could be extremely colourful, with a lot going on and no single concept.

Canned Heat Poster by Lee Conklin, 1968


This lecture really got me thinking about psychedelia, a word I had never even heard before! It made me realise that a posters function isn’t always simply to sell a product or make people aware of whatever it’s trying to tell them. Design can be used for the exact opposite of what you may think. Perhaps sometimes it’s most effective that way!

Brief: Create a poster for KENZO using collage in your design

For our second brief in Design Contexts (we won’t talk about the first brief…) we had to create a poster for the promotional campaign for KENZO’s new collection Animalism: Survival of the Fittest. We were not allowed to show any products, we simply had to interpret the theme and create an arresting, exhilarating visual response using collage.

Earlier that day we had looked at the different types of collage you can get including isolation, juxtaposition and repetition:


Isolation – singling out a part of an image to make it the focus of attention.

“If one were to displace a hand by severing it from an arm, that hand becomes more wonderful as a hand.” – André Breton, 1928

Magazine cutout to represent isolation – scanned in from my sketchbook


Juxtaposition – to merge two separate images together with contrasting effect.

“There I found brought together elements of figuration so remote that the sheer absurdity of that collection provokes a sudden intensification of the visionary faculties in me.” – Max Ernst, 1920

Magazine cutout and physically altered to represent juxtaposition – scanned in from my sketchbook


Repetition – one object or shape repeated.

“A day will come when, by means of similitude relayed along the length of a series, the image itself, along with the name it bears, will lose its identity.” – Michel Foucault, 1983

Magazine cutout and modified in Photoshop to represent repetition – scanned in from my sketchbook

To begin with I researched previous KENZO posters and decided to tie in with their previous style to try a mix of juxtaposition and isolation.

First idea

My initial idea was to use an image of a model and overlay an image of an owl on her face. I decided to use the theme of a ‘masquerade’ to suggest class and elegance in the product.

The feedback I received from my classmates and tutor suggested I try a model with a more ‘fierce’ ethnicity, try using space to accentuate the model and try a different, more daring background colour. This lead to my next idea of combining different animals into the masque.

Critique development from my initial idea

I combined a few different animals that are higher in the food chain to form the masque, creating a hypersensitive super-animal effect. I used a deep red background to represent ‘blood’ however this didn’t print off as shown on screen so instead of lightening it was suggested I use a brighter, more vibrant colour. The emphasis was on isolation in this design, using the plainly coloured background as a feature as suggested. I also shaped the text to continue the shape of the wrists and arms to blend it in with the isolated image of the model.

Final Piece


To complete my poster I shaped the masque to fit the models face better and replaced the red background with a lighter blue one to give it a more ‘KENZO’ feel. I also used Arcon, a Helvetica style typeface, to portray simplicity and cleanliness rather than the typewriter style typeface previously used.


To create this poster I used Adobe Photoshop as this is the software I am most familiar with. I hope to expand my knowledge soon in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign.

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail at it?

This question I overheard today really made me think about what I should focus on in my life and what my end goal is. My answer was ‘something creative’. I’ve always felt I don’t have enough originality and individuality to pursue a career in design, that I don’t have the ‘eye’ for it. Looking at other people’s work I’m so impressed and think to myself how did they think of that!? Once I started studying graphic design at Coventry Uni I was thrown into being creative, trying out different techniques and outputs. In the first term we looked at the history of typography and used letter presses, tried out mono-printing and dry-point printmaking, were given a range of ‘mini’ briefs from designing a map for a local art gallery to improving an existing advertisement and so much more. This has encouraged me to continue with my creative development as there is so much variety in design and that with time and determination I may just be able to become ‘someone creative’.

My first go with a letterpress!

In Typography, we had a go at a letterpress, using our initials to create the word and printing with a soft gold ink. We had to line up our letters into a tray and secure them into position so when they were put through the press they didn’t move out of position. We then rolled the ink over the letters and carefully placed paper on top, making sure not to smudge the ink onto the paper. It was then rolled through the press, the paper was lifted and this was the final result!

First print using a letterpress

I really enjoyed this activity as it took me back to the origin of uniform type and taught me to appreciate Gutenberg’s hard work, patience and perseverance. It was great to get ‘hands on’ with this technique and I would like to practice this again to improve.

My first submission

After handing in my first set of coursework on Tuesday I felt now would be a good time to start documenting my journey through studying Graphic Design at Coventry University, as I’ve officially handed in my first lot of work! I’ve already learnt a lot since starting in October and I’m so excited to learn more and expand my mind!

A bit about me… After leaving school in 2011 I threw myself into full time work, working behind tills then following my passion for baking to make cakes and other treats at a local patisserie. The patisserie discovered my creative flare and got me working on product development. This lead to me working part time in the office producing leaflets, handouts, brochures and more. Since then there was no stopping me! I started throwing myself into anything creative I could get my hands on; invitations, thank you notes, pregnancy announcements, celebration and greetings cards… Until it hit me that I had to study this further, this was what I should be doing for a job, and as Jessica Hische said,

 “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life”

So I applied to my local university (which just so happens to be in the top 20 design universities of the UK!) and I got in! My first day I was a wreck, full of self doubt, thinking I had made the wrong decision or that I had been accepted by accident but I soon realised that everyone had different skills and ideas, there is so much talent that I can learn from, so many people with great ideas and I’m now in my element. Every day I’m inspired by the lectures and briefs, I leave in the afternoon looking at the abundance of design around me, the effort that has gone into each and every object, the typeface on a road sign, the layout of a poster, the colours in a logo! It’s like my eyes have been opened to this other dimension that I was totally unaware of.

Here I can document what I’ve learned, review what I have designed, get opinions, and be inspired by other people’s work! So please bear with me, I’m trying to juggle uni, a job and a life, and I’m terrible at writing, but my intentions are good! Anyway I didn’t go to university to become literate, I went to DESIGN!